Looking through old files on my PC, I’ve come across this, a review of Splinter Cell Double Agent I wrote for Ignition in November last year. To read the version with the pretty pictures [it’s worth it!], head over to the Ignition site and download it.
Splinter Cell was a game that contributed to defining a genre. Before the original Splinter Cell was released back in 2002 (yes, it has indeed been that long) not many stealth based games were around. In fact the only major ones were the mighty Metal Gear and Thief series. Since then, the Splinter Cell franchise released two more titles, Pandora Tomorrow and Chaos Theory, with the latter one being the first one to incorporate Co-Op multi player. A few games have attempted to copy the gameplay, but most were less than successful; it just proved how high the bar was set. Therefore, it was obvious that there was a lot of pressure on Ubisoft and the question is, does Splinter Cell Double Agent live up to the hype?
The graphics are good, the framerate stays consistent throughout the game and there are only a few anti aliasing issues. The multiplayer uses a slightly modified engine, but also does not disappoint in the slightest. There is a high attention to detail in both single and multi player which becomes even clearer on open spaces and whenever there is water involved. The levels themselves look stunning and feel just the way they should; this is especially noticeable on later single player levels, which take place in more exotic locations.
A major factor in stealth games is the audio, as it is vital to the survival to be able to hear enemies and make out where they are located. Splinter Cell fulfils that requirement completely. The audio is clear and the background noises ensure that the levels are a lot more atmospheric. The music indicates threat levels and does not become repetitive throughout the levels. This title also uses the same cast as previous Splinter Cell versions and it is nice hearing Michael Ironside as Sam Fisher again and Lambert’s voice is as reassuring as always. The multiplayer audio can become repetitive though, every time a map loads, a selection of 10-15 audio clips are played instructing the player in the actions that can be done and once in-game, there is a delay of up to 15 seconds over which a separate clip is played. Apart from that, there is also the music which gets more dramatic the closer one team gets to winning.
The single player in Double Agent is different…in a good way. As the title suggests, Double Agent is all about taking up a different identity and without revealing too much, Sam Fisher is forced to make decisions, some involving Life and Death. Allowing certain characters to live or by killing others during the game, changes the storyline and also increases or decreases the trust with certain parties. The player has to balance the trust carefully in order to progress through the game and this leads to some interesting twists. It is a simple enough system, but it definitely helps keeping the player interested. Another new feature of this game is the range of locations. For the first time Splinter Cell is not just about shadows any more, as several levels take place in broad daylight. This eliminates the idea of shadows serving as a comfort zone and the ability to hide away after being detected. It also forces a new approach to stealth; the player has to rethink strategies and play the game more carefully. Thankfully it is no longer possible to fail a mission by raising one simple alert; however chances are that the trust with one of the parties will decrease if there are any.
Most missions still include Sam Fishers trusted gadgets which get upgraded or unlocked by completing special side objectives. The upgraded night vision now contains colour and is clearer, but on the other hand makes it a lot harder to detect shadows and, if unlocked, the arsenal gets expanded with grenades. Sam also still has access to his SC-20K with the usual sticky camera, sticky shocker and airfoil round plus an all new shotgun attachment for all those situations in which he needs to blast his way out. Some may be glad to hear that the ‘mini games’, such as the lock picking, safe cracking and others are still in the game. There are also numerous computers that need to be hacked and it is nice to see that the system has been changed for the better.
The AI appears to be a lot more intelligent, although sometimes they still wonder why a certain light malfunctions or a previously shut door is now open. Raising an alarm increases their vigilance a lot and it can be fatal. The only downfall to the single player is that it is relatively short. Depending on the difficulty setting it can be completed in about 10-14 hours, but due to the choices made it may be worthwhile playing through one more time, even if it is just to see the alternate endings.
The Xbox 360 version is sadly missing the Co-Op missions that were so much fun back in Chaos Theory. They have now been replaced by 18 Co-Op challenges which take place across 8 very different maps. It plots 1-3 Spies against Mercenary bots in a variety of missions involving the capture of files at computer terminals. The AI of the bots increases from mission to mission and whilst it is initially possible to complete the challenges with just 2 Spies, it is necessary to have 3 players and a very good knowledge of the maps to complete the later ones.
Still included in the multi player is the versus mode which has been altered from the previous version. It is no longer possible to choose a variety of weapon sets and sadly it is also not possible to change the game settings, such as game length or number of lives. Whilst this makes for very limited options by taking away the ability to enforce handicaps, it ensures that every player knows what the game mode and options are.
The maps are varied and include many secret ways for Spies to remain undetected. This is an absolute necessity as the Mercenaries initially seem more advanced. However, once a few maps have been played and the Spies know how to kill the Mercenaries, the balance is restored, therefore guaranteeing equal games. Spies have a choice between four different gadgets; Syringe (which can be used to heal themselves or injured team mates), Flash grenades, Smoke grenades and a jammer, allowing them to temporarily distract the Mercenaries motion sensor and leading them on a wrong track. Mercenaries have an M16-style rifle capable of fully automatic fire, unlimited bullets and a sniping scope. In addition they have a flashlight, grenades and drones which can be deployed at a limited range and triggered to self detonate which kills any nearby spies. Drones are also useful to reach vents and other unreachable areas. The EMF vision allows Mercenaries to see through thin walls and make out the outline of a spy or detect if a spy is using any gadgets.
The game is nearly lag free, bar the occasional game, even when playing against players from different countries. The biggest downfall in the multi player setup is the inability to create sessions with mixed public and private slots. The game uses the Quickmatch system for public games and private games cannot be seen by non friends. This means that there need to be a set number of friends online to play private games with or just simply playing with strangers. It is possible on occasion to invite friends into public games after joining; however slots tend to fill up very quickly. Due to the size and variety of the maps and the different gameplay, this game has a long lasting appeal on Xbox Live, especially as it takes a while to properly get to know the maps.
Double Agent had a lot of expectations to fulfil and it does. Stunning graphics, great single player and an immense, long lasting multi player. It ticks all the right boxes.
Gameplay – 9
XBL Play – 9
Lifespan – 7
Overall 9 / 10