Another darling example of the Stealth Genre’s explosion after the success of Metal Gear Solid.
Being a super spy is fucking tough and Ubisoft makes you painfully aware of that truth all throughout its signature spy thriller debut, Splinter Cell. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
What is a Splinter Cell?
It is the year 2003.
In response to the growing use of sophisticated digital encryption to conceal potential threats to the national security of the United States, the NSA (National Security Agency) has ushered forth a new dawn of intelligence-gathering techniques. The top-secret initiative, dubbed Third Echelon, marks a return to classical methods of espionage, enhanced with leading-edge surveillance and combat technology for the aggressive collection of stored data in hostile territories. When intelligence deemed critical to national security cannot be obtained by traditional means, Third Echelon is granted clearance to conduct physical operations.
Denied to exist by the U.S. government, Third Echelon deploys units known as Splinter Cells: elite intelligence-gathering forces consisting of a lone field operative supported by a remote team. Like a sliver of glass, a Splinter Cell is small, sharp, and nearly invisible.
March 10, 2004: The CIA contacted NSA officials regarding the loss of contact with Agent Alison Madison, a CIA operative monitoring widespread communication shortages plaguing the former Soviet Republic of Georgia. A second operative, Agent Blaustein, was inserted into the Georgian capital T’bilisi to locate Agent Madison, only to drop from contact seven days later. Fearing for the lives of American agents compromised at the hands of a suspected terrorist effort, Third Echelon has activated Splinter Cell operative Sam Fisher to locate the missing agents and evaluate the situation.
You are Sam Fisher. You must leave no trace on the physical or political map. Remember: Although killing may compromise secrecy, the choice between leaving a witness or a corpse is no choice at all. You do not exist. You are a Splinter Cell.” – in-game manual description
So there ya go. What Splinter Cell was to Ubisoft however, was a, “Metal Gear Solid 2 killer.” Or … at least that was their mission. Which ironically enough, the game plays less like Metal Gear and more like Hitman or even Manhunt without as much brutality.
The Patriot Act wasn’t enough of a power grab for the NSA in this universe, so the organization forms a special counter intelligence task force, Third Echelon. NSA Agent, Sam Fisher is tapped on the shoulder by his employer to go find two missing CIA agents in Tbilisi, Georgia. (Ironically, both game franchises not based on actual Tom Clancy novels, Ghost Recon and Splinter Cell BOTH involve conflicts in the country of Georgia.)
From the beginning, the game immediately differs from Metal Gear franchise offering an urban setting as it starts in the city streets of Tbilisi. The developers also leaned heavily on their other major influence, Thief. The controls take a little time to get used to but the controller flows pretty naturally once you have adjusted. Which is good because you basically need absolute mastery to get through these missions.
The plot spans all across the globe beginning in Georgia, back to the states in Virginia, Caspian Sea, Russia (Playstation exclusive) to less featured in video games, Myanmar. In between missions, the global conflict unfolds through a news network, First News Wire, or FNW. It’s a quick and clever way to showcase the scale of the conflict. Not to mention, get some political satire jabs in on the scrolling ticker.
Originally an Xbox exclusive, the PlayStation 2 version was knocked for not being able to handle the work load as well. The graphics, edges, textures and lighting are inferior in comparison but still look gorgeous for the system and it’s time. The story is top notch – given that you’re into espionage thrillers.
The voice acting is superb and the score is fantastic. One minor gripe I have is how repetitive the enemies voices can get. Especially, with how long you have to wait for an enemy AI to do their rounds before you have an opportunity to strike. I find it far fetched that every single member of the Georgian army, Georgian mercenaries AND Russian army all. whistle, “If I Were a Rich Man” to themselves.
At the end of the day, Metal Gear Solid survived Splinter Cell but the gaming community certainly benefited from the healthy competition. Less thought provoking and a less complicated lead character don’t put a damper on this straight forward spy thriller.
OVERALL: 90% (GOLD)