As a reviewer, I am often beset with the classic comment from people, how can you give a game 100%...no game is worth 100% you're biased. I can, plain and simple, like it or not...100% is like 5/5.
I am not biased, no one pays me or the rest of us to do this and unlike a lot of the print magazines we get a lot of the games ourselves and write reviews because we enjoy gaming. We want to give the gamers our opinion, and as I am so fond of saying: A review is one person's opinion about a subject, no matter if you think they're right or wrong.
Today's subject then: Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell 1.5 aka Pandora Tomorrow.
Just before we kick off with a look at this new game, lets travel back in time and review what we already know.
Ubi Soft Montreal were onto a winner when they created the rugged hero, Sam Fisher and gave him the voice of Michael Ironside, they spawned someone who was more solid than Mr. Snake and had a dry lethal sense of humor.
Fisher's adventures weren't over in Splinter Cell by a long shot and you could tell this just by looking into the eyes of the Ubi Soft execs at last years ECTS. And why should they be, the first game was a ground breaker in the field of stealth and espionage gameplay. There were a few things that could have been done better, a few niggles that needed settling but overall it was worthy of the 100% I gave it.
5 out of 5 remember?
Sam's back and he's armed to the teeth with a slew of new moves, and a substantially redesigned singleplayer engine, backed up by an all-new multiplayer game engine that delivers vicious 2 on 2 stealth action.
I don't think this is Splinter Cell 2 at all, it's the same familiar ground with re-designs but the slightly optimized engine and new moves, don't make a brand new game. Yet that's ok, because I know that there will be a #2 and it will revolutionise the genre again, this is just a highly effective taste of things to come.
Sam's mission against Nikoladze from the first game was a great success and he's back with the Third Echelon doing the usual Black Ops and Infiltration missions, when he's summoned once more to use his skills in a new crises.
An Indonesian Terrorist Network has attacked and taken over the US Embassy in Indonesia, Sam's job is simple, he's got to find out what's going on and what is meant by the Codename: Pandora Tomorrow.
You can bet knowing the Clancy team, it's not going to be good for freedom and the usual way of life, and even worse for the innocent people caught in the crossfire.
That's all I am going to tell you though, as you by know should know Wolf's rule on stories. It's a Clancy game so expect a twisting turning plot that is worthy of one of his novels.
Gameplay Innovations and new features
That's right, the core gameplay of Pandora Tomorrow hasn't changed much since the first game, the engine is still as solid and effective as ever and delivers a finely controllable character, who never seems to feel as clunky as some others.
Hiding in shadows is still the same, so is sneaking and the AI's ability to recognise sound.
So what's new?
1)Sam can now open doors while carrying a body, this feature makes a lot more sense and I wonder why it'd been left out of Splinter Cell?
2)Sam can also do a half-split jump when he encounters a small hall or corridor, useful in alleyways and to evade enemies. This move has another use in some areas as Sam can also use it to leap to a higher vantage point.
3)Sam can now hang by his legs upside down and shoot when crossing a pipe or other such obstacle.
4)Sam can throw objects while he has his back to the wall and is peeking around the corner, this can be very useful to take down guards if you're out of ammo or you want to conserve bullets.
5)SWAT Turn: Sam can execute this effective move when he's peeking left and right at a doorway. You need to cross an opening quickly, peek, hit A and Sam will move across from one side to the other in a wonderfully animated Spec Ops style movement.
6)Whistle: Snake could knock, Sam can whistle to attract inquisitive enemies, use this to lure guards out of their patrol routes.
Sam's equipment has been slightly modified and if you've played the previous game on the PS2 you'll be familiar with some of these modifications.
Sam now has a binocular mode engaged with a swift click of the right stick, this can be used in conjunction with his night vision, and thermal optic modes. The binocs can zoom in and out and are useful to scout ahead and reveal certain hidden traps and guards.
Sam's optic cable has also been modified to work with his night and thermal optics, so you can enjoy a greater freedom of tactical options with this gadget. While the old optical cable was useful, this new model is even better.
Ubisoft have added a flashbang stick as a new grenade and a laser sight enhancement to Sam's regular pistol, be careful however, the guards are pretty adept at spotting the red dot.
Medical Kits are no longer a pickup, they operate now as a charged item that you can use. You can restore parts of your health, or restore it fully. These options have a different drain on the kit.
Pandora Tomorrow looks a lot better than Splinter Cell and the inclusion of all new outdoor based levels have given the developers a lot more freedom with their graphics engine, new techniques and designs have been implemented to handle the outdoor environments and they have enhanced the dynamic lighting to provide an even better sense of immersion.
There are some truly breathtaking scenery designs in Pandora and the first time you see the sunlight bustling through the trees, you know that Ubisoft have invested a lot of time and effort into making this game feel different compared to its predecessor.
The textures are sharper and clearer, with a lot of emphasis placed on creating the right look for the new game environments, ruined underground areas are rife with broken brickwork and crumbling stone. While the dark and foreboding jungles of South America are suitably full of luscious undergrowth and spot details.
Modelling and Animation
The previous title raised the bar as far as a lot of people were concerned in animation and modelling, Sam himself was fluid and moved like a natural, you always felt in control of his motions and never as though he were some hack operative. With the advent of Pandora the developers have once more refined the animation, as well as the ragdoll and inverse kinematics systems. The new moves are superbly animated and implemented, Sam's Swat Turn is a joy to behold and should leave a big smile on your face, he swiftly transitions from one side of the door to the other and you are able to move onwards undetected.
It seems to me that the polycount and model detail has been increased in this game, and there were no losses in framerate even on the highly impressive Paris: Train Level, we'll come to that in a minute.
Sam even has a couple of new costumes, specially designed for Pandora's outdoor levels.
Taking a leaf from the redesigned levels in the PS2 version of the previous game, Pandora tries to give you several ways to complete an objective and overall the levels are bigger and much better. As an example of one of the smallest but infinitely enjoyable levels, I would have to cite the Paris: Train level as being one of my favourites, this is from a player's point of view as well as an aesthetic and design point of view.
In the train level you begin on the top of a speeding locomotive car, the wind whipping past you and driving you backwards if you so much as stand up. So the designers have added weather style effects to their engine now.
Once inside the car you have to move forwards towards another car, but this car is guarded, the guard is very alert and the mission will be scrubbed if you're seen. The car you're in is beautifully designed and modelled, there are racks for baggage and plenty of places to hide.
Once we've dealt with our guard we can move on, down under the train itself. This marks another leap forwards in level design and immersion. To watch Sam crawl under the train and see the sparking wheels is a sight that you can only hope to see in some movies of this kind of genre, it's been pulled out of a dozen Bond style novels and simply, rocks.
Now we're back in the train again and can unlock the side doors, then it's out into a small corridor and towards a light panel, turning off the lights causes a scared passenger to come and check. If you're quick you can knock him out and make the next part a lot easier.
As long as no one else comes to turn on the lights, you can open the side doors of the train and climb out. In another leap of brilliance lifted from the same genre, Sam is now outside the speeding train and shimmying past windows, sometimes another train slams past and almost knocks the errant spy off the train - but thankfully Sam is quicker and manages to hang on.
It's touches like these that really make this new game something worth getting, the sheer enjoyment of shimmying outside of a train at high speed is something that should not be overlooked, however that said, the level is short - short but sweet.
The level design in Pandora is brilliant in places, taxing your brain to come up with alternate routes and directions to your objective, while carefully Shepparding you down the right path, you never really feel lost.
The AI in Pandora has been beefed up and given a new coat of paint, enemies are now far more observant and will react to even more stimuli. A new trick, not to spoil the fun for you all, is that they now recognise if a door is out of place. Open one as a terrorist goes past or is close by and you stand a good chance of spooking him, discretion is the better part of valour - use your optics and other spy gadgets to get a feel for the room beyond.
The same gorgeous sound and music as the previous game, Michael Ironside is back as Sam Fisher and is as dark and gravelly as ever. There's nothing to report that I could find has changed here so on to the final part of the review.
Sam's adventures on the Xbox are for singleplayer but there's also a team-based adversarial Xbox Live based mode that delivers some really brilliant stealth-orientated action.
Cue the Shadownet, these are spies that are on the fringe, they work alongside the Third Echelon and in MP you get to choose between, them or the Mercenaries who work for the Argus Corporation.
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.
These are the spies and they play in 3rd person, they have a wide variety of gadgets and are adept at acrobatic moves, they have almost all of Sam's tricks and a few more. Capable of running up a wall and jumping up and off to gain height or surprise a foe. They can fire spy bullets that can stun or mark an opponent, useful for listening in to those supposedly secret communications.
These are run and gun first person players and they have access to a limited amount of equipment, several vision modes and a highly modified rifle. They can employ dye grenades and have a couple of hand to hand moves if things get up close and personal, tougher than the Shadownet but highly vulnerable against the spies superior acrobatic and stealth skills.
I can only say that Pandora's multiplay is some of the best I've played and ushers in a sweet alternative to the Chaos of Counter Strike and Rainbow Six 3, when you are part of a team with someone else who is a Shadownet spy or a Merc, as long as you work together you feel a real sense of camaraderie with that person.
A lump hits the back of your throat when they get nailed.
Live's MP is simply brilliant and the setup is very easy to use and get used to, you can match up games, you can find the style of game you want all with the click of a button. MP stealth action has never been so much fun.
If you don't have Live, don't despair, Ubisoft programmed Pandora with System Link enabled as well so you and a group of friends can duke it out in private LAN spy action too.
You'll see the score for this game and you'll wonder if it's better than Pandora Tomorrow, why it's got 100%...plain and simple, it's a 5/5 game for me, a 10/10 game...and a 100/100 game...in other words, my personal opinion is there's no real scale to measure it...it's great single player and really refreshing multiplayer.
So there you have it, the game's only real downside is that the AI can be a little too aggressive at times, but we need a challenge and perseverance is the key to victory. It might be a little short for some people, but that would be my only other gripe if I were to say I had another.
Until next time, remember, when you get the fifth freedom, don't think...shoot...