RETRO – What would you do if you were the President of the USA, and terrorist would threaten your country with biological weapons? Send in the Army? Nuke em? Aaaah you did not listen: these terrorists were hiding, and an open fight is pointless. No, here we need a lone super spy, that can sneak into anywhere, and can take care of the bad guys silently so that no one else would die. Sam Fisher from the left, green triple googles: zzz zzz…!
What is better: a realistic – or a macho, and characteristic protagonist? What are we were to mix both? Like Rainbow Six, and their sequels have their original missions, but nobody likes being the “unknown soldier” or ending up in a grave like one. However, the Max Payne heroes with bullet time have become too boring. Sometimes a person just wants raw realism, and the first Splinter Cell was able to mix both of best world. Where you played as an American super-spy, to complete realistically, and “if it was in the news” type missions.
Although Tom Clancy only lent his name to the series, still the stories are perfectly able to match his style of storytelling and quality. The main emphasis is, however, is on the gameplay that is excellent: stealth, tactics, and action mixed so perfectly that has not been done since the old Thief games. I have never felt such a tense moment in video game history when a Chinese or Russian soldier was approaching me while I was in the dark. Will he notice me? Sound the alarm? Or am I invisible enough to not get noticed so that he will move on? Should I just simply knock him out? Grab him, and interrogate him? Or should I just simply put a bullet into his head?
Maybe I can do it more elegantly: If the enemy approaches us in a tight enough corridor I can just jump up and be in a Jean-Claude Van Damme pose, after that when the enemy is below me I can just jump down to knock him out. To me, Splinter Cell was tactical, and action filled at the same time, plus it had great controls: that the first Hitman could not be. I guess you can see why I was waiting so badly for a sequel.
Come on Fisher, your country is calling.
Pandora Tomorrow’s story was once again written by J.T. Petty, who worked on the previous game. Although the main storyline is not on par with Clancy’s work, it is miles better than Splinter Cell 1’s cliché mountains. Although we are still fighting for the USA, and its citizens need to be saved, luckily this time the enemy is not the Russians, the Arabs, but a small terrorist group hired by the Indonesian government.
The main source of the conflict is a small country called Eastern Timor, which is still independent, but the Indonesian government does not like this and tries to overthrow the peaceful government with violence. The Americans do not like this and send troops to maintain the status quo. The Indonesian government does not like this, and hires Suhadi Sadano’s terrorist groups, to scare the Yanks a bit. However what they do not know is that Sodano uses a bit of a heavy weaponry to do this, most notably biological weapons.
I do not wish to spoil any more of the story, but the point is that there will be double agents, sudden turns, and twists. One situation is where Sam has to kill unarmed women who have been helping her because it turns out she is a traitor. Would you be able to do such a thing?
In a nuclear submarine
Sam Fisher was a well thought out character in the first game, but we did not know too much about him outside of his missions. Nothing about his youth, or the issues he had with his daughter, and we will not hear about these in the sequel either. What we will see is longer, more spectacular, and interesting cut scenes that feature Fisher. I especially liked the final cut scene where Fisher gets out of a tight spot pretty elegantly.
The missions are much more reminiscent of old spy movies, then a Rainbow Six unit simulator. The most fun part was when we were on a TVG, and we had to climb under it so that we may reach the other cars so that in the end we may listen to a traitor CIA agent’s phone call while his men cannot notice Fisher. The locations are much more varied, and interesting compared to the previous game. We get to roam around the sewers of Paris, in an Indonesian jungle, the Savannas, the streets of Jerusalem, a nuclear submarine, a tv studio, and finally on the Los Angeles Airport (Which especially fun for me since I was there a few times).
The locations are much more exciting – a bit more open, and less linear compared to SC1. The most prominent example of this is the Indonesian jungle level. While moving forward with Sam in high grass, soldiers patrol everywhere and because of our movement birds fly away, and the patrols suddenly start scanning the area. It is up to us on how we handle the situation.
Of course we cannot go and wander off as much as we did in Far Cry, but luckily I also did not encounter those lame invisible walls, or impassable trees that highlight the edge of the map. Instead the maps are arranged in a way that it creates the illusion of freedom within the levels.
Still players should not expect Far Cry levels of freedom when exploring, and the main objective is to gather the information and get out safely. A lot of people have criticized the first and second Splinter Cell because of this. Even though it is not an open world game, everything is rendered beautifully, even in the distance. For example when I was on the top of the houses in Jerusalem while I was not able to go everywhere, I could see the houses and windows in the distance. They were rendered in a very detailed way and were not just put there like in a lame FPS. Speaking of which I cannot comment enough on how life like the locations is.
Remember when Soldier of Fortunate II, Prague looked like any other street in the Bronx of America. Well here Ubi Soft Montreal finally showed how to portray a town realistically: we see Hebrew street signs everywhere, posters, merchants, and good citizens. It is cool!
It is awesome that while Sam Fisher is not a secret agent, his missions are still fit into the spying category compared to other games. Instead of simply killing someone or capturing someone, sometimes we only have to get near them and interrogate or bug a telephone conversation. Based on these conversations we can move on to the next objective after the upper management figured out what we need to do next.
The developers did also input a few run and gun sections where sometimes we can only get out if the alerted terrorists are liquidated with our fancy new SC20k. Of course Splinter Cell is still not a Serious Sam: so the enemy can still kill us in one or two hits, and if we are not careful we might end up dead rather quickly. The enemy AI has also been upgraded, and their vision is better (plus they react more aggressively if they see us), so now we have to aim from cover more than ever.
Of course, Sam also has some new moves, which will cause a lot of sorrow for the terrorists. The movement system has been upgraded, and it is much easier to kill the terrorists. My one gripe is that some of the moves were pointless due to the level design.
Spies never watch the sun going down
Last January I was amazed by SC1’s graphics, and recently I installed the gold version that has additional missions. I determined that SC1 has aged well and did not lose too much of its beauty. When I installed Pandora Tomorrow, it suffices to say that I did not see too much of a difference. The textures did not become sharper for certain buildings, and in some cases it looks muddier. The characters are more detailed, but there is not that big of a difference. For some reason, even the fire effects are not that great, or who knows maybe I’m a perfectionist asshole. Although we get a bit of a light source from the flames…
As Fisher mostly works in the shadows, and no matter how great the location is we still have to use that night vision google, that ruins the view. The developers also went overkill with the poor lighting for the buildings. It was hilarious how in the first game the CIA was barely light up. The situation did not get better in the sequel, and we end up with locations that are nearly in the dark. Which ends up being practical for our hero but entirely unrealistic, plus it is not spectacular, or realistic for the player. Luckily the animation of Fisher is well done and is even better in the sequel.
Even with all the complaints the game’s graphics are great, and the music/sound design is also top-notch. The menu music was composed by Lalo Schiffrin, but the dynamic music during game gameplay is also as good as the composers work. Sam Fisher is voiced by Michael Ironside again, which ends up being fantastic regarding voice acting. Other noises are magnificent when a 5.1 sound system is used: from machine gun fire to terrorist patrols, everything can be heard from all sides.
A bit of a déjà vu.
Everything is great and awesome, but am I satisfied with everything? Well, to be honest, It was a bit annoying that the gameplay did change too much compared to the first game. Maybe a bit more variety could have been used for the sequel, as the original formula is too known at this point. Maybe a few more of those hanging on the edge of a train type of situations would have helped the game or some fight scenes, maybe a car chase – or I don’t know.
Also, eight locations feel a bit few for a sequel, maybe ten or twelve would have been the right number. Hopefully, the Gold version is being made by Ubisoft, if we’re lucky we won’t get three missions just like in SC1 Gold version. Otherwise, we’ll send a bald, bar-coded man in a suit, with a briefcase! And he is no joke…
+ Great gameplay (but too samey)
+ Better story, and even better atmosphere
+ More exciting, and interesting missions
+ New moves
– A bit more variety would have been better
– Too many dark locations
– We did not like the multiplayer
– Some new moves are pointless
Publication: 2004 Marc. 23