fter waiting for a long time, reading every piece of information on the net, it is finally available to the PC gamer. The fourth game in the Splinter Cell series is in my hands and you are welcome to take a seat and hang on tight because this is going to be a hell of a ride.
Ubisoft is one of my favorite games developer and publisher. After all, they are responsible for bringing us amazing and exciting titles such as the Prince of Persia series, Splinter Cell series, Far Cry, Heroes of Might and Magic V and many more. Now, it is time for Splinter Cell: Double Agent to knock us off our feet.
Splinter Cell is one of the greatest series of games ever, in my opinion. With so many innovative ideas, great graphics, perfect voice acting, challenging gameplay and a whole lot of maneuvers and cool gadgets, Splinter Cell made his mark in the video games industry.
I must admit I am a huge fan of action/stealth games. After waiting for a long time, reading every piece of information on the net, it is finally available to the PC gamer. The fourth game in the Splinter Cell series is in my hands and you are welcome to take a seat and hang on tight because this is going to be a hell of a ride.
What is Splinter Cell?
If you already played one of the previous titles of this series (I really hope you did), you should know the concept and plot directions.
For those of you who haven’t, here is a small introduction to the main idea. You step into the shoes of Sam Fisher, a highly trained black ops agent of the Third Echelon (a secret sub agency of the NSA dealing with national threats in non-traditional methods…) Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to carry out orders of the Third Echelon while being invisible. The U.S. government of course, will deny your existence, should you get caught. That means your best friend is the shadow. You also have a 3 men team that supports you while you are out in the field.
Imagine you are infiltrating a heavily defended facility. You watch the guards patrolling back and forth a hallway and think of the best way to bypass them with out being seen. One of them hears your breathing and investigates. Your heart races and your whole body shivers. You stay in shadows while he decides he imagined the whole thing… What do you do? Create advantage by shooting the lights out and sneak behind without even being noticed. Surprise them from behind and eliminate them one by one? Maybe climb up on a pipeline and creep quietly towards the guards eventually knocking them out from above. It is all up to you… one thing is for certain, going out of the shadows and shooting like crazy will not get you far, I promise you that.
- Operating System: Windows XP
- Processor: 3Ghz Pentium® 4 or AMD Athlon™ 3000
- RAM: 1GB
- Hard Drive Space: 8GB
- Video Card: DirectX® 9.0c-compliant, Pixel Shader 3.0 (!)
- Sound Card: DirectX® 9.0c-compatible (EAX” recommended)
- Multiplayer: Broadband connection with 128 kbps upstream or faster
- Supported Video Cards at Time of Release: ATI® X1600/X1800/X1900 NVidia® 6600 /6800/7300/7600/7800/7900
- AMD 3000+ @ 1.8Ghz
- 2GB RAM
- 7800GT 256mb
- 80GB HD
- Windows XP
THE STORYLINE *SPOILERS
After getting the main idea, let me tell you about the plot of the fourth SC game. The previous three games kept Sam as an outsider making the storyline quite predictable and linear. Terrorists plan a huge attack to kill a massive amount of citizens on American soil and you get the job to prevent this whole thing from happening. This game brings a lot of new things to the series, including a big twist in the more or less predicted plot of its predecessors.
The game continues shortly after Chaos Theory’s events left us. Fisher is out for another routine mission, investigating some suspicious activities at a geothermal plant in Iceland. During the course of this mission, his rookie teammate gets killed in action and it looks like Sam is going to have a bad day… After completing his mission, Sam’s world collapses when he hears his only daughter, Sarah Burns, was killed by a drunk driver in a hit and run accident.
Sam takes it very hard, of course, and throws his goggles out of the Osprey into the cold sea below, a very symbolic act that suggests a disconnection from NSA. The situation gets worse and Sam can’t work or do anything properly. He draws away from Third Echelon and eventually gets “fired” from active service in the NSA.
After a while, Colonel Irving Lambert gives Sam the opportunity to get back in the field with a very unusual proposal, becoming a double agent! Sam decides to accept the most dangerous task ever and gets back into third Echelon.
Sam’s task is to infiltrate and gain the trust of a serious crime organization called John Brown’s Army (JBA). In order to do that, NSA turns Sam into an infamous criminal and gets him arrested for some fake bank robberies and other crimes.. Eventually, Sam finds himself, as planned, in Ellsworth prison sharing his cell with Jamie Washington, a JBA member. They plan a breakout together, which should buy Sam his ticket into the organization.
My name is Sam Fisher and I am a Double Agent
As you probably understand, Fisher becomes a double agent. Will he follow his darker side and find himself actually enjoying JBA’s tasks of killing and destruction? Will he help NSA capture the leaders of JBA, eliminating the dangerous threat they pose? Which side will he choose to be loyal to?
All of these questions cannot be answered until you turn off the lights in your room, sit down, put your earphones / speakers on and start doing your thing! That is simply because SC: Double Agent’s storyline branches according to your actions during the course of the game.
Working for both organizations, NSA and JBA, creates a unique and interesting gameplay, which helps Ubisoft reinvent the series and makes this Splinter Cell title pretty much different than previous ones. Ubisoft, fortunately, uses that potential to its fullest and in a very wise way, creating a non-linear game full of moral decisions, conflicts, and dilemmas.
The beautiful thing is that every move you make and every decision you take is being monitored by both NSA and JBA and will directly affect the storyline, leading to various different endings to the game (3 endings to be exact). On one hand, you must make sure your superiors in NSA are satisfied with your work, otherwise they may suspect you truely became a terrorist. On the other, you must not blow your cover in the eyes of the JBA leaders.
It is quite a delicate situation and it is quite fun to see how every choice you make count…This, of course, adds a lot of replayability value as well as freedom of choice to the player, and I didn’t even start talking about the multi-player mode.
Splinter Cell Classic
The Trust System is a cool, innovative idea and adds value to the game, but the real reason we are all here for is the basic and amazing gameplay that Splinter Cell’s Series has provided us until now.
The game lets you implement realistic tactics that are based on real testimonies given by actual undercover agents. You do that using some cool stuff that Sam carries with him even when he goes to the grocery store…Sam’s arsenal is pretty thin and is consisted of:
- The double-edged razor-sharp knife, which was added in Chaos Theory.
- The 20 round 5.7mm SC Pistol equipped with silencer and flash suppressor. Can be used to disable electronic devices / lights / cameras and computers.
- The armor piercing SC-20K rifle, Sam’s main weapon. Has a scope for better accuracy and a grenade launcher to fire sticky cameras, shockers, airfoils, smoke grenades etc.
Besides those, Sam has many cool gadgets he can use to aid him in his missions. A good example would be the cool Multifunction Watch, which combines next-generation OPSAT features, such as keep track of objectives’ information and displaying a 3D map of the area (though not THAT convenient to use) plus fingerprint scanner to open locked doors and an optical cable to insert under closed doors and see what goes on behind them before opening them. It also saves all emails and data you find during your actions, so you don’t have to memorize anything.
I can’t speak about Sam Fisher without mentioning his most famous tool, which became his trademark over the years, the cool green goggles. The goggles’ helpful and cool capabilities include thermal vision, night vision, zoom, integrated microphone and a relatively new mode that highlights electromagnetic radiation.
You will have to make use of the shadows and sneak around in hidden paths to accomplish your tasks in one piece. As you may already know, Sam is extremely athletic and he is able to do pretty wild stuff for his age. He can split jump two adjacent walls, ambushing enemies from above. Climb pipes and polls, lift knocked down bodies to conceal them and avoid revealing himself. Moves swiftly and quietly in shadows, sneaking and knocking enemy down, or killing him without a sound by breaking his neck. He masters hand-to-hand combat and can be pretty lethal with just a knife or even bare handed.
Splinter Cell series is known for it’s great, challenging and interesting level designs. The game will send you to carry out tasks all over the world. Locations include Kinshasa, Iceland, New Orleans, Jin Mao Building in Shanghai, New York City, Sea of Okhotsk, Los Angeles, Cozumel, and others. You’ll conduct your missions in extremely radical and exciting situations such as underwater in dangerous icy environment, blinding sand storms and many other thrilling surroundings.
I don’t want to spoil it for you, so I won’t add anything more, but believe me there iS a lot more to add here…
When you complete each mission, you’ll get a stealth score. The score takes into consideration all the actions you took during the mission. You’ll lose points if you killed enemies or used lethal force whatsoever, bodies you left behind that were found, Alerts you triggered, lights you shot out and basically anything else you did besides using your stealth abilities. That means that if you want to complete a mission with 100% stealth score, you’ll have to master Sam’s manoeuvres and abilities while being extremely patient and stay hidden without “shortcuts”…
Splinter Cell’s series has presented a very innovative multiplayer mode and Double Agent adds some more spice to it. The multiplayer mode is a lot of fun and keeps the game alive long after completing the single player missions.
When getting online, you’ll have to select one of two optional sides. The side you choose will effect your gameplay, objectives and, of course, your arsenal.
The Spies of Third Echelon
They function, in global, very similar to Sam Fisher in the single player mode. They are fast, acrobatic and have a huge advantage over the mercenaries in this aspect. They have the appropriate capabilities and tools to break into many places across the map and reach places the mercenaries cannot access by any means.
The spies’ objective is to hack terminals around the map and retrieve encrypted files from them. Once the spies make their way back to the starting point with the files, it’s game over for the mercenaries… Spies do not carry any weapon! They must use stealth efficiently in order to succeed. You must keep that in mind if you want to survive as a spy online.
The spies have goggles that give them the ability of Night Vision and Thermal Vision. Also, a spy player can choose one of four gadgets to aid him in his mission:
- Syringe: Enable the spy to restore his health or his teammate’s health
- Flash bang Grenades: Used to blind a mercenary for a while.
- Smoke Grenade: Creates a smoke cloud disabling mercenaries’ detection ability.
- Jammer: Simulates the spy’s presence on the mercenary’s detectors.
The most powerful and useful piece of equipment the spy has is the Wrist Computer. He can use it for the primary objective – hack the terminals and retrieve the files. It also enables him to turn off lights across the map, open locked doors and interrupt the mercenaries in their search for him.
The Mercenaries of Upsilon Force
The mercenaries have a wider selection of weapons and are trained to stop and kill any intruders that might try to escape with the encrypted files. They can knock a spy down and they get a warning, in the form of alert, that a terminal is being hacked and the status of the files in it.
The mercenaries’ arsenal is consisted of the following:
- Rifle: A fully automatic scoped rifle plus zoom. Each magazine contains 30 bullets. The rifle has unlimited ammo and also has a flashlight attached.
- Drones: Those are remote controlled cameras that the mercenaries can position across the map. Must be within 30 meters radius from the mercenary. Can also be exploded damaging everything near them. You get two of them.
- Proximity Detector: Detects the presence of a spy within 10 meters.
Mercenaries have EM vision, which enables them to see electrically active devices such as those used by spies for hacking. The mercenary has to stand still when using EM vision since its range gets heavily reduced while moving. They are also able to expose spies that are moving swiftly by using their Motion Sensor.
Each team may consist up to 3 members, making it a max of 6 players per game.
NOTHING IS PERFECT…
It is obvious that the PC version was swiftly ported from the Xbox360 console version and I am not saying this in a positive tone. The game’s official forums are loaded with so many people complaining about so many issues. Most of the problems are user interface related…
The controls are considered one of the main problems. There are certain controls, which you just cannot change, no matter what you do. For instance, the game forces you to use Ctrl for inventory screen (which is not that convenient anyway) and use right click for secondary attack. Some controls that are editable sometimes do not respond once changed. Game gets stuck or crashes to desktop for no reason whatsoever.
In order to play this game your video card must support Pixel Shader 3.0. These are bad news for those of you who want to play and still have VGA cards with pixel shade 2.0 which in theory should be able run the game with no problem.
Camera sometimes locates itself in a way you just can’t see anything, let alone sneak behind enemies efficiently. In previous games, you had a light / sound meter to indicate how exposed you are to your enemies. Here they were replaced with a small light that has three statuses:
- Green means you are well hidden and no enemy can see you.
- Yellow means you’re exposed and if a guard approaches you, you’re busted!
- Red means your presence is known and guards are searching or shooting at you.
This mechanism works great in global but I sometimes found it ridicules. I once crouched and slowly approached a guard. He looked right into my eyes, pointing his flashlight in my direction while I am only a few inches from his leg and still did not see me. Why? Because the light was green… On another case, I was inside a closed room at night, switched the lights off and messed with a computer, extracting some data. I had a yellow light because my foot stepped on a slightly lit up location. A guard spotted me from the outside(!) of the room and ran inside, cursing and shooting…
Graphics & Sound
The graphics in short are just unbelievably stunning! Ubisoft took the Unreal engine and made some modifications to make the game look absolutely breathtaking! I sometimes could not believe I am actually looking at in-game graphics and not some pre-rendered promotion videos. Fisher’s movement animations are highly detailed and look smooth and accurate. His face is very impressive and detailed. You are able to know exactly what he feels in a given situation just by looking at his expressions.
The environments are amazing and vivid, even those you are not actually interacting with manage to look as a part of the game and not look lifeless. Icy ground and water reflections are great as well.
As stated, the game does not support Pixel Shader 2.0 and “loses points” and potential players here, which is too bad.
Double Agent excels in the sound department as well. Michael Ironside returns to voice Sam Fisher and does a hell of a job doing so. The music and sound effects change according to what happens on the screen and according to your actions. This creates some great, movie-like, moments in the game and makes it pretty suspenseful.
Guards talk in different languages according to the level’s location and their ethnic origin, which is very authentic. Your footsteps make different sounds when walking on different surfaces in different speeds so you can actually hear how much noise you make and reduce it to avoid being detected.
You can enhance your experience if you use a sound card that supports the EAX(Environmental Audio eXtensions) technology.
In spite of the problems I mentioned above, I think it is a wonderful game that is a must, if you find this genre appealing. It provides you with an amazing and authentic experience that very little games can provide nowadays. While Double Agent presents a few issues regarding its user interface, it scores really high in all of the other aspects including graphics, sound and gameplay and it is just pure fun to go through the challenging and varied missions it offers you.
The stunning appearance, great voice acting and sound effects contribute a lot to the realism and the tension you experience while playing the game.
It also has a high replayability value. You can play it over and over again in different difficulty levels, take other decisions to change the storyline and reach different endings and of course, play the innovative and interesting multiplayer Double Agent offers you.
If you like stealth based games and not looking for non-stop hack & slash, this is the game for you!
How Splinter Cell: Double Agent Scores
- Graphics: 9
- Sound: 9
- GamePlay: 9
- Pleasure: 9
- Interface: 7
Final Score: 8.5 out of 10 and the Bjorn3D Seal of Approval.