A review by Barnsy
These days' games are branded classics before they are even released, if we are to believe what is told to us by websites and magazines (a huge chunk of which is written by PR companies whose very existence depends on the games success) then there are truly thousands of "classic" games on the market representing everything you could possibly imagine.
The problem with this is that when the phrase is used so often to describe disappointing games it becomes jaded and loses some of the impact that should be attached to such a positive word, therefore classic is not something I will use to describe a game, it doesn't carry any weight with me, I unfortunately think of all the build up and disappointment that I attach to games that have promised so much and let me down.
There are a few games however that deserve to be classed as Genre Defining Classics, now that's a title that is deserved and Splinter Cell is one of them! SC is from the pool of novels and games produced by Tom Clancy and therefore comes with a very high benchmark already, as we know, Tom Clancy has a huge pedigree as an author of espionage/action novels and having read quite a few of them myself I know that he is very very good, over recent years, Clancy's novels have been transferred into film and then into game format with great success, titles such as Rainbow Six, Splinter Cell and Ghost Recon are all well established titles that bear testament to Clancy's skills as a story writer.
So before I start there are some important things you might need to do...
Here's wolf's excellent review of the Xbox version of Pandora Tomorrow here:
It's worth reading as it help to give a fuller view of the game.
So Pandora Tomorrow begins with a terrorist cell taking over a US embassy in East Timor, very little is known about the whole operation, who or what is involved, all that is initially gathered is the phrase Pandora Tomorrow. Our good friend Sam Fisher is called in to extract information and generally undertake damage limitation as one of his friends is being held hostage and he has some important information that we don't want in enemy hands.
The tutorial is set around your entrance to the embassy, so you're really thrown in at the deep end, however if you've played the first game, then a hell of a lot of the controls will be very familiar, in fact everything's the same apart from a few really nice new moves that Sam has, such as the SWAT turn over doorways, its a fantastic way to switch over a doorway undetected whilst maintaining maximum coolness in your demeanor. Sam can also now do a half split jump, similar in execution to the first game's split jump but you can do it in narrower alleys to allow you to reach higher ledges and also to drop onto unwary opponents. the third maneuver new to PT is now whilst crawling on pipe's Sam can hook over his legs, hang upside down and fire his gun. very handy in awkward positions i believe....
Sam is also now capable of distracting guards in a much easier fashion than in the first game, he can now throw a can or bottle whilst peeking around a corner, a really useful maneuver if you're in a tight spot and don't want to give away your position. Finally in true stealth mode Sam can attract attention by whistling, this will draw a guard from his patrol route towards the sound, allowing you to quickly and quietly sneak up on your intended target, or slip past him unnoticed.
The first thing you'll notice about Pandora Tomorrow is the beauty of it, its a big step up from the first game and whilst risking a backlash from Xbox fan's, having seen both versions in action the difference in graphics is minimal, it has to be said that Sony have managed to squeeze a bit more from their lil black box and have caught up with Xbox's quality over recent months, whilst Xbox still has the edge graphically, its hardly noticeable now in games such as this.
However back on topic! Pandora Tomorrow's graphics are beautiful, in the tutorial is a short section where you have to sneak through an ornamental stream and the quality of the water, the ripples, the reeds that you pass through are amazing, truly amazing, it engrosses you within the game so much that you find yourself matching Sam's positions, slightly crouching when Sam has to and holding your breath when lining up a snipers position.
Atmosphere is a huge thing in games like this and Splinter Cell has it in bucket loads! The addition of daylight missions and open levels really gives a new style to stealth game play, so you really can teach an old dog new tricks!
The levels are varied and very challenging, mixing outdoor and indoor environments, day and night across varied locations. One of the best levels begins with Sam atop a speeding subway train in Paris, I cannot even begin to describe the adrenaline rush and the cold sweats that I underwent whilst playing it! Haven't been that engrossed in a level for a long time!!
I think that's one of the reasons I adore this genre of games, I love getting carried away within the action, it always makes you feel attached to a game and that is key to making a game a "classic" (deliberate use of the word in a proper context before anyone reads into it!).
The audio in the game is amazing, the music and sound effects are completely in fitting with what you'd expect from a game like this, whilst not overpowering they really add to the atmosphere of the game and help to guide you in the right direction, however, for me the best element of the game is something that will wash over the heads of a lot of people, I have to mention this as a huge indication of the level of effort that has gone into the voice acting within Pandora Tomorrow. Whilst we all appreciate the fantastic casting of Michael Ironsides as Sam Fisher, something that will slip by a lot of people is the casting of Lambert, Sam's boss. Lambert is voiced by the fantastic and distinctive voice of Dennis Haysbert who is best known for his portrayal of President Palmer in the TV show 24. He has one of the only voices that could match Michael Ironside for deep foreboding power and is perfectly cast alongside him!
Myself I can't wait for the game of 24, its been discussed and from what I've heard its going to happen so until then I can play Pandora Tomorrow and pretend I'm Jack Bauer and Sam Fisher all rolled into one! Apologies for the tedious TV link there so back to the game...
The AI has been seriously boosted in comparison to the original game, guards are a lot more alert to their surroundings, they will react more to lights being shot out, doors being open and other guards disappearing, if they're used to seeing a guard on their patrol route and he's suddenly gone then they will explore around them for their colleague so you really need to hide your disposed of corpse's well, handily though, the games developers have added a few little tweaks to help you do this, firstly, Sam can now open doors whilst carrying a body, which helps you with speed if your working on a timeline, and also, when dropping a body your stealth meter will now flash to indicate the body is well hidden, however this doesn't mean it cannot be found so you will need to hide it well.
The multiplayer element of PT is something new and impressive, when I heard about it I couldn't wait to get my hands on the game to try it out. It has a variety of game modes but is limited to four players, now at first I was disappointed at the lower amount of players but in the long run, the more i thought it through it made sense, too many players and your stealth gaming has gone out of the window. So with four people (the sides don't need to be balanced, so you can have 3 on 1) the game has a very subtle but stealthy atmosphere to it. You have two sides, Spies and Merc's. Whilst the Spies have access to some serious stealth equipment, the Merc's are more shoot and blow up style standard grunts. The main difference being, Merc's play from first person, spies play from third, this allows for different game styles and also gives advantages and disadvantages to both.
Neutralization: A 2 man team of Shadownet spies must infiltrate a location and neutralize the dangerous virus containers found within, the Argus Mercs have to stop them.
Extraction: Like the previous mode except the Shadownet has to retrieve the containers and bring them to the extraction point. Mercs must stop this at all costs.
Sabotage: Like Neutralization mode only this time you have to plant a modem as the Shadownet, a countdown kicks in and then the Mercs have a limited time to find and destroy the device before it completes its task.
The Multiplayer has a lot of life in it; it's certainly worth considering as a stand alone game element alongside the single player campaign. And credit has to be given to Ubisoft for taking the risk of trying something new.
Overall, PT is a strong development from the first game and builds on an already impressive storyline, die hard fans and new converts alike will enjoy the blend of fast paced action and well planned stealth maneuvers. Splinter Cell Pandora Tomorrow sets the benchmark for the genre even higher than the last game and it gives something for the upcoming Metal Gear and Syphon Filtertitles to be compared to, and if from the small scraps of news I've heard about Splinter Cell 3 are anything to go by the series is going to get stronger and better!