Splinter Cell – X-Box
Along with Halo, Splinter Cell was the predominant reason to have purchased an X-Box. Whilst recently improved upon by both Pandora Tomorrow and the imminent Chaos Theory, the original remains the match that lit Microsofts fuse.
In establishing a franchise based on the premise of stealth, Splinter Cell placed itself in direct competition with the massively successful Metal Gear Solid on rival platform Sony. Splinter Cell was a display of superior graphical ability by the upstart newcomer and touted as an evolution in the stealth genre. Putting aside the question of how a man with three green lights on his forehead could be considered an evolution in inconspicousness, lets take a look at Splinter Cell.
Splinter Cell places you in the part of Sam Fisher, a retired black ops veteran pulled back for a dangerous assignment that involves multiple globe-trotting trips to the most volatile, far-flung places on the Earth. Tooled up with state-of-the-art gadgets, night sight/infrared goggles that wouldn’t look out of place in a Bond movie, Fisher has to use the shadows to sneak, creep and when necessary kill to reach his goal.
The shadows become the main focus of the game and takes Splinter Cell one step beyond the original Metal Gear Solid. Comparisons as mentioned are inevitable, so why avoid them? Snake’s proximity detection system based on the enemy’s field of vision and line of sight has been improved to encompass the darkness of the shadows. An exposure/visibility meter demonstrates the level of cover Fisher receives from the surrounding environment. The more exposed and in the light, the greater chance of being caught. Being exposed introduces the secondary element in Splinter Cell – confrontation and some good old fashioned shooting. The controls are relatively simple and easy to use, the triggers on the X-Box pads are natural and won’t see you mistakenly reaching for one of the fascia buttons. Aiming however isn’t so easy, moving and aiming even more so. Though it never reaches the stage of rage-inducing, the aiming system does cause some frustration.
Environmentally Splinter Cell gives the impression of openness, with several ways to negotiate each section. That said the interaction with the environments isn’t so free, choices are limited which leads to a fairly rigid structure. It looks great but is merely aesthetics. Missions are multi-phased, most requiring the retrieval of data or an object that then links to the next phase and through to the end of the mission. Early goals are easy as you adapt to the control system and to the possibilities the environment offers/requires.
Again comparisons with MGS are perhaps unfair but unavoidable. As good technically as Splinter Cell is, there is a distinct lack of innovation in the gameplay and storyline. The storyline in particular is a turgid affair that is anything but compelling and pales beside MGS. Whilst there is an argument that Cell is aiming for realism, which is viable, it also remains uninspiring and tepid. So does the ‘action’, after grabbing the thousandth guard, dragging him into a shadowed corner and braining him, all you want to do is go on a rampage with something more fun. Certainly stealth is an exciting genre but a little variation and depth is required to make it involving and entertaining, Splinter Cell missed the boat in that respect.
So in conclusion:
Passable, definitely. Good, certainly. MGS, afraid not.
Reviewed by Owen Jones © 2005