Stealth, espionage, action and adventure are all trademarks of a particular man in the console game world. That man's name is Solid Snake; an oddly named gent with a mullet haircut and a best selling game series that constantly pushes the envelope. But Snake does have problems, because the gravely voice of David Hayter has a serious contender in the form of Sam Fisher - the hero from Tom Clancy's - Splinter Cell game on the Xbox. Take the old song, anything you can do, I can do better and then apply that to the game Splinter Cell, which managed to scoop best game of the whole of the ECTS this year.
I was lucky enough to grab a copy of the Official Xbox Magazine demo of this game and it's been on my list of must-have review materials for a long time. Ever since I heard about it, to be honest. I went so far as to purchase an Xbox so I could taste this slice of the gaming apple and was I disappointed? I can say this: No way. Splinter Cell is gorgeous, graphically rich and superbly animated. It's packed to the hilt with stealth, the demo proves this perfectly - I found that after a few tries the controls became second nature and Sam was performing quietly and quickly.
I can say with a bit of a smug grin that I can do the demo mission now, without being seen once and without a single shot fired at a human target. And it's all down to the way that SC handles the environment. Because in this game, light, sound and shadow all play a big part. The developers have taken their time to examine every element of the 3d world in detail and the demo level is superbly modelled. Set in a Police Station, you as Sam must infiltrate the Station and find a missing agent, to do this you are armed with a silenced pistol, an optical cable and a disposable lock-pick.
Right from the moment you look around yourself as Sam you can see the gorgeous next-gen graphics engine, pushing polygons and lighting effects like there was no tomorrow. His shadow is perfectly cast by the ambient lighting and moves, as you'd expect it to. But you also notice that where you walk, how fast you walk, and if you crouch or not affects the sound in the game that Sam makes. Every surface has a distinct audio pickup and one wrong move can bring a guard's attention faster than Superman can model a pair of spandex Y-fronts.
The HUD is useful too, there's a light-o-meter that tells you how visible you are, just like the old Thief games - how I miss those. If you're looking at it, and it's set right to the left there's a chance you could hide in a darkened area and avoid the guards. I managed to hold a civilian at gunpoint, against a wall, with a guard a mere foot away - because I was immersed in shadow he waited a while, then returned to his post. I'll admit at this point, my heart was hammering in my chest.
The demo is only a small fraction of the full game I can tell this, and it doesn't feature all the cool toys and tricks that you can do. Sam is equipped with a tri goggle system, which not only looks cool, it also houses your Night Vision and Thermal lenses. Since the game is played in 3rd person it can take a while to get used to, but when you have a weapon like the pistol out, it switches to an over the shoulder view and reticule which is easy to use once you get the hang of it. Going back to Sam, he's wonderfully animated and textured, he moves with a realistic gait and there are small touches such as his ability to lower and raise his goggles without using his hands, if he's say - holding someone at gunpoint, or otherwise engaged. He just snaps his head forwards or backwards, and the goggles rise or lower. Otherwise he uses his hand to adjust them. It's touches like this, that are often left out of games and make them all the more desirable in bridging that gap between an ok game and a truly excellent one.
Just like Snake, Sam can brace his back to the wall and slide down it, looking around corners. But he can also open doors in stealth mode - while holding down the A button, simply press down on the left stick until stealth shows up. Now you will watch Sam open the door a fraction, you can listen and you can see only slightly. If you want a better view, pull the stick towards you and close the door. Use the optical cable to peer under the door and get a view. If you still want to enter quietly, make sure you push the stick in stealth mode, forwards and Sam opens the door quietly.
You can also pick up cans and bottles, these can be thrown to distract guards and lure them into an easy place for an ambush. But I have to admit that one of my favourite features so far is the ability to walk up behind a character and put the gun to their head, if it's an important NPC you'll get the chance to talk to them, interrogating them, but either way - you then can give them a swift pistol whipping upside the head and knock them out cold.
Sam can also hide bodies in darkened rooms, pick them up, and put them down in the room - it's that simple. But what happens if the guard spots you take a hostage, as happened to me. A quick tap on the X button and Sam whips the pistol from the head to aim before him - solution, no more guard, less lead in the gun. Tap X again, back goes the Pistol to the head. And guards will react to a hostage situation, calling on you to let the hostage go. I'm not sure if they'll open fire however - I can never bring myself to test that theory. Shoot first; ask questions of the body's ID later.
In the demo, there were a variety of computers; some of them contained a variety of data and information. All of this builds on the atmosphere of the game and shows that it is indeed, a Tom Clancy game. There's so much more to Splinter Cell so I'm told, so I'm going to hold off on this for now and wait until I can give it a full review, but from what I've seen, this could well be the game that beats MGS2 into the dust and leaves it out cold. With features like the soft-body physics in action, plastic moves and conforms to your character as he passes under it. Look in the Morgue for that, on the demo. Ok ok, that's enough from me for now. Or I could be here all day.