By dankempster 3 Comments
Without any further digression, let's move on to the matter at hand; my mini-analysis of Splinter Cell. It's the first game in UbiSoft's popular stealth franchise, and follows the exploits of Third Echelon agent Sam Fisher. The plot revolves around a threat posed by a renegade Georgian president. It's Sam's job to neutralise that threat and avert World War III. The game is endorsed by Tom Clancy, and the plot pretty much follows Clancy conventions. There's a lot of political intrigue, plenty of twists and turns and the enemies are (surprise surprise!) the Russians and the Chinese.
I first tried to play Splinter Cell around eight months ago, after picking it up along with sequels Pandora Tomorrow and Chaos Theory for the tasty collective sum of £9. I got about half an hour in, got bored and gave up, choosing to play Vice City Stories instead. After eight months, my interest in the game has been reignited by this Giant Bomb blog, and so I decided to dust it off and try to play it again.
For the first few minutes, and indeed for the first couple of missions, the game seemed to be doing everything in its power to irritate me, to the point where I considered abandoning it yet again (see my last blog entry for details). Don't get me wrong, there are a lot of things I really liked about Splinter Cell, both times I played through the opening stages. The pacing is excellent, the atmosphere is well-crafted and the use of light, darkness and shadows as an important gameplay mechanic marks a huge step in the right direction for stealth games in general. The inventory interface is slick and easy to use, and the gadgetry is varied and, for the most part, useful. The graphics are some of the best I've seen on PS2 (I understand it looks better on Xbox, but the PS2 version is impressive considering it's five years old), and Michael Ironside is the perfect voice for Fisher. The game has an incredible amount going for it.
But, at the same time, there are a lot of things about it that made me want to tear my hair out. For starters, the game is very unforgiving. A mistake is likely to send you to a load screen, because the soldiers you're up against won't think twice about pointing their gun at you and holding the trigger. Of course, this is great in theory; stealth games rely on that feeling you're outnumbered and overpowered, otherwise there would be no incentive to use stealth to progress. However, Splinter Cell's controls make the whole experience far too clunky. It's difficult to get behind an opponent and take them out, because you're just as likely to run into their legs. The guns are awkward to use, due to all control being put on the shoulder buttons. This means shooting an oblivious guard is unnecessarily difficult, and taking down a rifle-wielding soldier is near-impossible. You'll die a lot in Splinter Cell, more often than not because the gameplay conspires against you.
The other big issue I have with the game is its rigidity. The way the game pans out, it seems to offer you a lot of choice in the actions you take; you have the option to sneak by, incapacitate enemies at close or long range with melee combat and weapons, distract stationary guards by throwing objects... the list seemingly goes on. I say seemingly because actually, Splinter Cell is one of the most linear, scripted games you'll ever play. Not only is the level design linear, making it obvious what path you have to take, but there's usually only one scripted way of dealing with each of the game's numerous "set-pieces", especially those involving two or more enemies in an area. This, coupled with its unforgiving nature, means the game often descends into annoying trial-and-error. You'll die several times in every situation as you try each possibility before finally discovering the only one that will work. It's annoying and not really much fun.
However, Splinter Cell is still an excellent game. It really seemed to pick up after the first couple of missions, although I'm not entirely sure how or why. Perhaps it's the flashy new gun you get in the fourth mission that opens up several new combat possibilities. Perhaps the first couple of missions are poorly designed and not as much fun. Or perhaps I just became accustomed to the game and thus started dying less. Whatever the reason, I found the last three quarters of the game to be immersive, atmospheric and full of awesome gaming moments. Splinter Cell requires significantly more patience and perseverance than most games, even other stealth games like Metal Gear Solid. If you're willing to persevere, though, you'll be duly rewarded. Now, I'm off to complete it, so I can get stuck into The Orange Box.
Currently playing - Splinter Cell (PS2)