Ever since Konami unleashed Metal Gear Solid in 1998, the sub-genre of stealth-action has been all the rage. Several games tried to copy Kojima-san's formula for success, but none seemed to have what it took to challenge the king of stealth, Solid Snake. That is until Sam Fisher of Splinter Cell came along. As an operative for a secretive branch of the military known only at Third Echelon, Sam Fisher is America's ultimate secret weapon, and last year he took us by surprise in what is quite possibly the best game for Xbox to date. After several months of waiting, the Playstation 2 version is almost here, so we thought we'd take a look at this upcoming title.
The first thing you will notice about Splinter Cell, even on the PS2, is the graphics. While not as technically extravagant as the Xbox version, UbiSoft somehow managed to keep most of the game's visual appeal intact. However, unlike Dead or Alive 3, Splinter Cell isn't just a showcase title designed to look pretty; fortunately for us gamers that just happens to be a byproduct. Splinter Cell is an incredibly deep title that offers tons of gadgets, weaponry, and hand to hand moves that don't disappoint. Fisher has almost everything imaginable at his disposal, including cameras that stick to walls, sticky mines, IR sensors, night-vision goggles, handguns, and more. Basically, the only thing he doesn't have is a nuclear equipped walking battle tank.
However, the most impressive part of Sam's arsenal is what he can do physically, which is a lot more than Solid Snake or any other stealth badass. He can jump, roll, hang, and even suspend himself between two walls with his legs, only to pounce on unsuspecting enemies. However, the control scheme for weapons use is more than a bit odd, utilizing some kind of weird hybrid of third/first person perspectives, with no way to switch between multiple view points like in Metal Gear Solid 2.
While it's natural to have comparisons drawn between Metal Gear Solid 2 and Splinter Cell, one place where they firmly part ways is in the fundamental gameplay. Splinter Cell is a mission based game, broken down into 11, or in the case of the PS2 version 12, distinct missions, whereas MGS2 is more of a nonstop thrill ride on acid. Also, the AI in Splinter Cell is almost completely fixed; you'll find that often times guards only act in reaction to something you do, like reach a certain unseen checkpoint, even if they don't know you're there. Things like this make Splinter Cell more of a problem solving stealth adventure, as opposed to the cinema-laden, story heavy MGS2.
Speaking of missions, one thing that will set the Playstation 2 version of Splinter Cell aside from its cousin on the Xbox is an all-new mission written specifically for the ported version. The developers of Splinter Cell have stated that they've even gone back and written this mission into the script, instead of just throwing in an extra map with some enemies and objectives. It's always nice to see developers taking the time to do things right when it comes to ported games.
In the end, we can only hope that Splinter Cell for the Playstation 2 winds up as successful and critically acclaimed as the Xbox version. If UbiSoft manages to pull of a little more of the magic they used when creating the original title, then April will end up being a wonderful month for fans of stealth based titles.
3/7/2003 Ryan Hartmann