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Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell
Review by: Jared Black

This probably sounds like it would make the game incredibly difficult, and to a degree it does, as it requires the player to actually think (even more than MGS2) before acting. It isn't as bad as it sounds though, thanks to the Stealth Meter. This simple meter indicates how hidden Sam is, and how easily guards or surveillance cameras can spot him. In a way it performs the same function as MGS2's radar screen, but in a much more effective manner as it doesn't require constant monitoring. As a result the player can focus more on the game at hand, and what it'll take to get through a situation.

While player interaction with shadow is the primary difference in gameplay, another key component in Splinter Cell is the camera angle used. Since it's a roving third-person view, it requires the player to get positioned more effectively in order to see enemies and other hazards. MGS2 used a fixed camera system, which often would not allow the player to see balconies and other areas above and around the area without going into first-person mode. It also does a better job of putting the player "in" the game, making the action more intense.

Finally, the gadgets are more diverse and play a more integral part in gameplay. Gadgets are rarely necessary in order to continue in the game (except perhaps lock picks), but they can often make a huge difference in how easy an area is. These include a variety of projectiles that can be attached to a weapon, with the Sticky Shocker (which attaches to and shocks enemy soldiers) easily being my favorite. Other gadgets include laser mics, camera jammers, optic cable (used to look under doors before opening them), and lock picks. Additionally, Sam can utilize night vision, thermal vision, grenades, wall mines, and other items.

While Sam often relies on gadgets, he can also do some old-fashioned butt kicking as well. Often enemies will need to be interrogated, which will require the player to sneak up and grab them without being spotted. Other circumstances will require forcing the enemy to cooperate with Sam, including retinal scanners and hacking into certain computer systems. The player should try to avoid fighting whenever possible though, as alerting the guards will often lead to the mission being aborted completely and will usually mean certain death for Sam regardless. And in several missions located in areas less hostile, no one can be killed including civilians and the enemy.

The only real downfall of this version, in comparison to the various other versions of Splinter Cell, is found in the control scheme. While the more precise mouse/keyboard combination is welcome, the trade-off is a much easier sneaking experience as the mouse wheel controls walking speed. Whereas the player has to lightly hold the analog stick in the Xbox version to sneak past some enemies, in the PC version he/she merely has to scroll the wheel mouse downward and then walk like normal. Some of the best parts of the game are quickly (but slowly at the same time) sneaking by patrolling guards, and with the wheel mouse replacing analog control this becomes an easy task. Itís comparable to trying to drive a car at the speed limit with a cop riding behind you manually versus just turning on the cruise control. Cruise control takes all of the tension, and ultimately fun, out of it.

Enabling all of this are some of the best looking graphics in any PC title to date. An incredible lighting system needed to be created in order to support this level of environment interaction, and Ubi Soft amazingly accomplished just that. As I mentioned before every single light gives off it's own illumination, and can be shot out (assuming it isn't reinforced) to put that area in instant darkness. Multiple lights in the same area blend in an incredibly realistic fashion, with none of the sharp cut-offs found in most other games with lighting effects. Light will softly pour in through blinds, and moths even give off huge shadows when they get close to a light. Obviously, on a well-equipped PC this version of Splinter Cell outclasses the Xbox version with ease.

Beyond the incredible light system, everything else in Splinter Cell is done with incredible realism. Sam has an incredible amount of animation, and every single move he performs looks fluid and realistic. Enemy soldiers are animated in much the same manner, and will look around, perform idle animation, and adapt to their environment realistically.

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