Sam Fisher is back for the fourth time
Ubisoft's fourth entry in the Splinter Cell franchise proves that there's still life in the old guy. The Splinter Cell franchise remains robust and satisfying, but some changes have been made for the worse.
As you begin playing you'll notice three options. These are introduced by the voice of a woman, which is a first in the series. Special Features is nothing special (Credits and the E3 Trailer for Rainbow Six Vegas), but the other two, Single Player and Multiplayer, are definitely noteworthy.
The Singleplayer menu is presented with good old green. It's basically just different shades of green, some fancy character animations and environment fly-bys that works as pointers to what you can expect later in the game. The thing I noticed first was the option called TRAINING. I hopped into that one first, and was greeted to an interesting video while the game was loading. It had no sound, but you saw Sam Fisher waking up in a bed behind guarded doors. This could mean many things, but it has later proven to really mean nothing. The training level seems more like a "dream level", so maybe he just had a dream while being tested or something. When the training begins, a female voice tells you what you need to do. The level is whiter than Michael Jackson, and everything shines with a marvelous glow. Your "mission" is to reach a photo of your late daughter Sarah. Some camera jamming and rappelling from a pipe later, not to mention an Achievement worth 10 points, you'll get to Part B of the Training. Here it's a little more interesting, and there'll actually be humans involved. There's a hostage situation at large, but with only three people to worry about. This is the training level after all. You'll finish this quickly, and get another 40 gamerscore points. The training level wasn't just good for the achievements though. I for one loved the clean colors!
Training is fun and all that, but what about actually getting into some Double Agent singleplayer action???
Well, Double Agent features pretty much the same gameplay as in Chaos Theory, but (as should be expected) with some additions. The animations are very fluid, sneaking around is enjoyable, graphics are great and the AI is clever.
On the very first mission, which takes place in Iceland, you begin underwater. It's not much underwater action in this level, but another level, which takes you to a Lost Planet-like environment, features a lot more swimming underground. A new way of taking out enemies is by braking the ice underneath the enemy and pulling him under, followed by stabbing him in the chest. This is awesome, just like snapping people while hanging in a pipe was in Chaos Theory. However, there's just not enough opportunities to do this. You can do the trick maybe 3-4 times. One of the new moves introduced in Chaos Theory, the ability to jump up and pull the enemy under while shimmying, can be done maybe 4 times. The manual says that you can split jump and do the neck split while holding on a pipe, but I played through the whole singleplayer game without even having the chance of doing this. Seems as Ubisoft didn't feel the urge to show off Sam's array of moves as much as in previous Splinter Cell games. A new move I really love is the ability to attack an enemy about to bypass the wall you're leaning against. A symbol will appear, and pressing A will make Sam chop the unsuspecting enemies throat, throw the enemy into the wall and get him into a hold. The hold is the same as in Chaos Theory, where Sam press his army knife against the enemy's throat (Sam held his pistol against the enemy's head in the first two games) and holds up the enemy's right hand. If you're leaning into a wall where throwing someone into it is not suitable, like an oddly shaped or too short wall, Sam will throw his enemy on the ground, with Sam on top. This is not the beginning of a freaky sex scene, but a brand new hold. Sure, Sam can't move, but it's cool to see the enemy's neck being pushed to the limit by Sam's bicep... Sam might be 50 years old by now, but shows no signs of getting sloppy. It's also fun too look at Sam as he interrogates the enemy. As always, some of the enemies actually know something, whether it's security codes ( these can also be found in computers or simply hacked), the location of an objective or whatever reason they have to work for the bad guys.
I'm the kind of player that wants to go through the game unspotted, and without having to kill anyone. The thought of eliminating unsuspecting guards, and them living to know it, appeals to me. If you're NOT like me, you can easily go on a killing spree. This will usually get the NSA pissed off, not to mention lower the scores you get after each level, like in Chaos Theory. There are some times you're forced to kill in order to defend yourself, however. On the other hand, you have a lot of non-lethal gadgets on your disposal, like gas and stun grenades, flash wall mines and the numerous add-ons for the SC20K. SC20K is the silenced machine gun rifle Sam uses. The rifle hasn't changed much. The scope is different, with a smaller scope that only display a laser spot as crosshair. A nice touch is how the scope is away from Sam's eye, and you'll be more aware of your surroundings as you try and nail that headshot. A bigger change however, is the compatibility with different gadgets. You have the familiar Sticky Shocker (launchable tazer) and Air Ringfold Round (launchable object that knocks the target out for a couple of seconds), but also new gadgets like the Shotgun extension, several grenades, Sticky Cam (the Sticky Cam has the same functions as the old Diversion Cam, with the added function of blowing the sucker up) and more.
As you can see, Sam has a lot of gadgets. These can be unlocked by doing some of the secondary objectives. These are usually of the reach-objective-without-any-alerts.
Sam himself, however, also has a a lot of moves. You'll be climbing up pipes, going through little holes and interacting with machines.
The level designs are great as always, with several different environments. Strangely, though, the focus seems to have been shifted from darkness to more of a lit up environment. There's actually a lot less cases where you need to use any of the goggle visions. This is probably why the sound and light meters have been cut In stead, you'll only have three colored dots. Green means your in a dark environment and safe from spotting, unless you start jumping around, yellow means your lit up and might be spotted and red means you've been spotted.
Graphics-vise, Double Agent doesn't disappoint. Some of the environments are spectacular and the graphics hold the standard. However, it doesn't exceed them like the previous games did. If you liked how the rain dropped on Sam in his leather suit as he was creeping in almost complete darkness, you might get a little disappointed in Double Agent. The graphics are showed off in other ways however, very nice sun effects and realistic water. I missed the emphasis on shadows the previous game shad, though.
Sound disappoints a little. The voicework is good, but the voices are too low compared to the rest of the game, and there's no subtitles. You'll turn up the TV, but then turn it down the minute someone starts firing a weapon. The soundtrack is nice, but not the best in the series.
Double Agent is called Double Agent for a reason. Sam is infiltrating a terrorist group, the JBA, to stop them from destroying parts of the U.S. The terrorists are U.S., but are under the impression that the country is run by the wrong guys. This isn't really original whatsoever, but there's some interesting new features. Notably, the Trust system. As a Double Agent, you have to please both the NSA and the JBA, but sometimes the two contradicts each other. You'll have to make some important choices, but not really enough. There's maybe 5 of these choices through the entire game. At the end of the game, I had the feeling that the game wasn't as big as the previous game's, but as I started playing the game again on Hard, I liked it even more. The game isn't shorter than previous Splinter Cell games, but not really longer either. The presentation is at its best at the beginning, with some impressive CGI. The later cutscenes are not CG, but with mo-capped in-game animations.
Multiplayer is also an enjoyable feature. The standard match allows a maximum of six players; three guards and three spies. The spies are pretty much young versions of Sam. They move a lot faster and have some crazy athletic moves. They have a device on their forearms that sends out signals that will break glass, interrupt the guards' weapon systems and destroy lights. The guards are controlled in first-person (unlike the spies and Sam who are controlled in third-person) and have a big-ass weapon with unlimited ammo and grenade launcher. On every map, there's four color-coded computers. The Spies' goal is to download a file from one of the computers with the forearm-device and return to the starting point. The guards goal is of course to stop the spies. Downloading the files take a lot of time, especially when you're pushing the 10 feet connection limit, but you can stop and continue the download. Although a guard is not to mess with, it seems to me like the spies are superior. The maps are laid out so that spies have a lot of room to move where the guards can't. Pretty much the only athletical moves the guards have is jumping and lowering down from heights with ropes. The spies are also extremely fast, and they tend to have enough life to avoid encounters. Guards also don't have the motion detector anymore either.There's other things to do in the multiplayer, however. There's the coop challenges, where you can play with a group of people to achieve more specific objectives. Unfortunately, there's no longer the more intimate coop that was featured in Chaos Theory. It's more about competing than working together, and there's no specific coop levels.
There's also a big bonus system, with stuff like new skins and videos.
Double Agent is an entry in the series that's highly enjoyable, yet some changes have been made for the worse. I loved the light and sound meters and co-op gameplay in Chaos Theory, but this have been altered for the worse. The game is also a lot less about darkness, and this is also where it might disappoint. Only fans that have played the whole series will recognize them, however, and newbies can easily get into it. Splinter Cell remains a lot of fun for people who wants to infiltrate and eliminate.