Splinter Cell Review
"They thought I didn't have the technology. They thought I had reached my limit. They thought I didn't have the resources." Damn, those fanboys think way too much. Oh, that's right, "they thought wrong". Subtly brushing off any claims that a faithful PS2 port of Splinter Cell would be a bleak occurrence, Ubi Soft's Shanghai development studio managed to tap into the PS2 and pull off a remarkable port of the Xbox's finest game. We all know that Splinter Cell on the PC, as well as the Xbox, is a jaw-dropping and gorgeous game. It's hands-down my favorite Xbox game, and one of my most appreciated stealth-action titles since the original Metal Gear Solid. While both SC and MGS differ dramatically in terms of presentation and overall execution -- they're both stealth-action titles, and damned good ones at that.
Splinter Cell's visuals are downright fantastic, which is incredibly surprising, seeing as how few expected the game to look moderately good in comparison to the Xbox version. While it doesn't look the same as the Xbox title, Splinter Cell is still a gorgeous looking PS2 game that isn't far off, visually, in comparison to the Microsoft version. I may come out with it and just say it, but it may very well be that Splinter Cell boasts the finest looking textures on the PS2, bar none. Everything is absurdly smooth, sharp, and so meticulously detailed, you'd be hard pressed to find any significant visual flaws. There are no smeared and pixilated looking textures. Everything in the game is rendered in high resolution; the bricks, the walls, the ground, the vines growing on the walls, the environmental objects, the textures on Sam and other characters -- it all looks sensational. Seeing as how the game's lighting effects are its main attraction, it's good to see that they transitioned so well on the PS2. While the shadows aren't as vibrant as the Xbox version, they still do a great job at looking damn fine. Lighting effects, such as glows, look as good as they did on the Xbox version. It's only the shadows that were somewhat downgraded for the PS2 version. As for the animation, the game's frame rate is very steady; it hasn't dipped below 30 frames for all the times I've played the game.
Having said that, Splinter Cell is short of visual perfection, because in some places it lacks polish. It isn't anything that smears the visual package as a whole, not by a long shot. Though, it still needs to be pointed out that the game engine has clipping problems. For the uninformed, clipping is a term used for when polygons crash through each other. For instance, if you pick up a body that you knocked out and lay it down near a wall, you will see half of the body in the wall while the other is outside of it. There are also instances of floating. In a place that you'd normally fall through, Sam will just float over the opening (the elevator shaft is a perfect example) until you maneuver him a little bit around, then he will proceed to fall through it. While for the most part the animation is super smooth, the game's jumping animation should've been worked on. In an instance where you'd have to climb a 4 foot ledge, you have to press the jump button in order for Sam to climb up. Now, you'd assume that he'd just casually throw one leg up onto the ledge and lift himself up, right? For some absurd reason, Sam makes a full jump into the air and the next thing you know he's grabbing onto the ledge. It's a weird animation glitch, which is present in all of the versions of the game and it's not really something that affects the game, either. Basically, this whole paragraph is really the reasons why the visuals didn't get a perfect score. Most of it was nit picking, so don't worry about any of it being bothersome. Tiny little issues like that aside, when it's all said and done, Splinter Cell is one of the finest visual achievements this generation of videogaming has seen, thus far.
The question of which is better, Metal Gear Solid 2 or Splinter Cell, always rises. It's a rather tough question to answer. Granted, both games are stealth-oriented titles, but at the same time, both games are so vastly different that drawing any further comparisons is a rather daunting task. If you're looking for a more sci-fi stealth title, with a twisted story, go for Metal Gear Solid 2. If you're looking for a more grueling, realistic stealth-op title, go for Splinter Cell. While, Splinter Cell may not be as story driven as Kojima's masterpiece, it's still a gripping title that is as frustrating as it is captivating. Yes, this game is both frustrating and captivating at the same time. I assume a good majority of you reading this have played and enjoyed Syphon Filter, and remember its frustration, while simultaneously being so captivated by the game that giving up was not an option. Splinter Cell is a lot like that. There are certain missions in the game that are so downright frustrating, that every time you fail them you can't help but feel that you know there is a way to pass, but you're too blind to see the obvious. Such was the case with me and countless others, back when the Xbox version came out. Once you find your solution, you move on, and the satisfaction of completing something that you've been working on for so long is great. If you like a challenge, Splinter Cell is right up your alley. It's challenging, but not impossible.
Splinter Cell starts off with a rather nice, though unfortunate CG intro. Two CIA agents (Blaustein and Madison) were captured as they tried to gain intelligence on Georgia's military, which they suspected was up to no good. The Third Echelon was made aware of the capturing. Desperately in need of assistance, they track down Sam Fisher, a retired stealth-op who was once part of the Third Echelon. The situation is explained to him, vaguely, and Sam decides to go for it. The game will pick up from there and you will be dropped into a training camp where you will familiarize yourself with the game. The course itself is, surprisingly, enjoyable to go through, which marks this as the first enjoyable training mission ever conceived in a videogame title...arguably. After you learn the ins and outs of the game, and you encounter the occasional awing move (kick jump, split jump, moving across pipes), you will be sent on your first mission -- to locate the bodies of both agents, who are feared dead. Counting the CIA Training Camp, there are a total of 11 stages in the game (one of which is not available on the GameCube, PC or Xbox version by default), with a total of 50 missions. The game is not short, not at all. It'll take you at least 15-20 hours to complete the game, and that's not counting all the times you're going to restart a mission because you tripped off an alarm or made a careless error.
Seeing as how Splinter Cell's main focus is covert-ops, weaponry doesn't play a very pivotal role in the game. The two weapons in the game are .57 silenced handgun and a SC-20K. The SC-20K is a pretty cool weapon that has dual rates of fire -- semi-automatic and automatic. In addition to that, it has a zoom-in scope for the always-useful sniping tactic. Now, because Sam Fisher is all about stealth, he's equipped with a bunch of cool little toys, including lock pick kit, optic cable, sticky camera, camera jammer, laser microphone, smoke grenade, night vision goggles, thermal (heat) vision goggles, and more. Simply put, the man is a walking Toys R' Us for the CIA. Splinter Cell's presentation is nothing short but a stroke of genius. The game's suspenseful atmosphere is both addictive and edge-of-your-seat gripping. Every mission feels so genuine and intense, that you feel as if it's your life on the line and not some fictional game character. While some of the CG sequences do little to nothing to add any substance to the game, they're still somewhat welcome and appreciated.
In all honesty, it's hard to mention the things that are wrong with Splinter Cell's gameplay. Some of the trial and error portions may frustrate certain people. Now, call me sadistic, but deep down inside I love to be frustrated with videogames. It brings out the absolute worst in me, while simultaneously pushes me to strive harder and become a better gamer. It's rather unexplainable -- so, just call me sadistic and move on with it.
A vast majority of Splinter Cell's intense feeling comes from its wonderful aural presentation. The game's composed audio is very reminiscent to that of Metal Gear Solid's. If I didn't know any better, I'd say that either Tappy or Harry Gregson Williams were an integral part of putting together Splinter Cell's audio (Tappy was the composer that had put together the original Metal Gear Solid's soundtrack). The composed audio is incredibly well done, it'll make your heart beat for sure. The voice acting, on the other hand, hurts a little. Overall, the voice acting is top-notch, though I just can't help but have one pet peeve with Sam Fisher's voice actor. Every time I hear him speak, I can't help but think his voice sounds a little too 'overdone'. Perhaps the voice actor is trying to sound a little too macho? Whatever it is, Fisher sounds incredibly uptight, and his voice just sounds a little bit off. As I mentioned before, the voice acting is excellent, and as a side note, there are no Codec-like cut scenes in the game; the talking all unravels as you play. Lastly, Splinter Cell is Dolby Pro-Logic II compatible, make sure to take advantage of the feature if you have the hardware; the experience becomes that much more immersive.
What I found to be a rather smart idea was Ubi Soft implementing such a nifty training mission. Instead of just throwing you into the game and interrupting you during an actual mission and giving you the breakdown on how to do 'this' and 'that', you are taught everything on a separate course. The controls in Splinter Cell are quite easy to adjust to. The Dual Shock 2 works so well with this game that it easily makes controlling the PS2 version easier than controlling the Xbox version. Every button in the game is taken advantage of, even the L3 and R3 buttons. Also, like a true covert-ops agent, Fisher is able to perform some pretty daring moves. He can pull off a split jump (which will become a rather handy move in the game), wall jump, climb fences, grab onto and move along pipes, roll, shimmy while hanging off a ledge, interact with objects around the environment, and even do a corner shot as you lean against a wall. Splinter Cell is a very enjoyable game to control, largely because due to the sheer amount of things you can do with your character. It should also be noted that the game's camera is fantastic, as well.
In the end, Splinter Cell's arrival on the PS2 is one that should NOT be missed by anybody. Splinter Cell is currently one of the finest PS2 games on the market and it deserves your attention. Ubi Soft Shanghai did an incredible job at porting Splinter Cell over to the PS2, as they've managed to keep the most important visual aspects well intact, and even made some accommodating aesthetic changes to most of the levels. It's arguably a different experience on the PS2, particularly because of the extra level, the changed objectives, the modified level designs, and the 30 extra minutes of CG cinema. If visuals aren't a factor to you, and you don't mind settling for a slight downgrade, the PS2 (or GameCube) version of Splinter Cell is your best bet. If you have a high-end PC, then go for the PC version of Splinter Cell; the visuals look truly remarkable. As for the Xbox version, you'll need broadband and Xbox live to download the extra stage, so the choice is up to you. Either way, if you play Splinter Cell, you've done yourself a favor.
4/2/2003 Arnold Katayev