IGN Review of Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell Double Agent
In the wake of the highly touted next-generation Splinter Cell Double Agent, Ubisoft not only hid its current gen versions of the eponymous game but delayed their release for a week, giving the Xbox 360 game as much front positioning as possible. The tactic was deceiving, but not evil. Just a little confusing. Ubisoft has nothing to hide when it comes to the current generation versions of Splinter Cell Double Agent.
Considering that both the Xbox and PS2 versions are entirely different games than the Xbox 360 version, it's taken us a while to dig into and see them for what they really are. While sharing the same name and a similar storyline, nearly everything else about the two games is different. The good news? Both versions stand out as valuable additions to the series and, in some cases, they actually complement and top their next-gen brethren.
Taking on the role of Sam Fisher for the fourth time, players are given the basic storyline revealed in the Xbox 360 version. Fisher's daughter was killed in a car accident while he was away on a mission and his world falls apart. He takes on the toughest role possible, and while doing time in prison he befriends a member of the extremist group, the JBA (John Brown Army). By assisting Jamie Washington's jail break, he enters into the role as a mole, doing double duty as part of the NSA (National Security Agency) and the JBA. This premise as the dual-role secret agent is the crux of the game, but it plays out differently on Xbox and PS2 than its next-generation brethren.
In a surprise turn of events, Double Agent gives the "next-gen" version a real run for its money. First, the game starts off with a hearty tutorial level that's a full level long. It's big! The first level also provides an excellent tutorial session that intuitively shows the subsequent move in a video and engages you to press the correct button to enact the move in the video. Easy but smart. Why hasn't this been done before? You'll learn every single move of Sam Fisher's in this tutorial, which tells and shows you exactly how it's done. Again, the first level in both is totally different than in the Xbox 360 version.
Strangely, the Xbox and PS2 versions also tell the story of Double Agent better than the Xbox 360 version. The Xbox 360 version left many story gaps wide open, leaving things like key relationships and events up to the imagination. The 360 version carried those shortcomings off pretty well but you still had to wonder. For instance, why did Erica seem so important? And why, near the end of the game, were you given certain choices about her well being? What about that experimental weapon, what about the NSA's reasons for putting you under-undercover? The current-generation version smartly fills in the blanks. Not with particularly great dialog or top-notch voice acting (thouch Michael Ironside is again excellent), but with good information that makes sense in the context of the game. So while the presentation of information is stylistically better on the Xbox 360 version, it's actually more utilitarian, more useful, and therefore presents a fuller, richer story, on the Xbox and PS2.
Ubisoft has always kept its fans and hardcore gamers in mind when creating multiple versions of a game. Because of the different specs for each system (GameCube, PC, PS2, Xbox), Ubisoft's teams always figure out how to build levels differently -- or re-build from scratch. With Double Agent, the Xbox and PS2 versions share nearly identical levels and more or less similar graphics, whereas the Xbox 360 version is closer in graphics and gameplay to the PC version. From a visual standpoint, the Xbox and PS2 versions share current-gen characteristics. The Xbox version presents larger levels, more complex textures, and offers slightly darker rooms, given its robust amount of RAM and processing power. Like in previous versions, it shows off excellent lighting capabilities, which are highlighted many times throughout the 10-plus level game. Of course, both versions look inferior the Xbox 360 and PC, but that's to be expected.
The PS2 version is almost identical to the Xbox version but many levels are either smaller in size or offer alternative means to completing a level, be it by ducts, vent shafts, or crawl spaces. The PS2 version, however, doesn't fit into the red-headed stepchild role as easily as before. While the Xbox version shows off excellent looking and complex ice levels in Iceland and Russia, for example, the PS2 version holds its own with excellent animations, good level design, decent textures, and slightly brighter rooms. Visually, both games do justice to the power of their respective systems.
What separates this version from the next gen version even further is the gameplay. The core gameplay experience is much like Chaos Theory and Pandora Tomorrow. Gamers who feel remorse at the loss of the light and sound meters in Double Agent on Xbox 360, need not worry any longer. An intricately designed HUD fits nicely on the screen indicating Fisher's stealth level both visually and sonically. You'll still use the trust meter, designed to keep your character balanced between the JBA and the NSA, but you'll also need to keep a keen eye on the HUD. The center of the HUD displays an outline to Sam Fisher's face (replete with the triple-light mask he wears). As Fisher moves from light to dark, the meter brightens and darkens, indicating his stealth or vulnerability. It functions beautifully.
The mechanics and gameplay techniques are similar to previous games in the series. The levels provide multiple ways to get from point A to point B and they're also almost entirely linear in nature. Having played a lot of the Xbox 360 version, going back to the current gen versions was surprisingly comforting. I didn't think I had missed the older games so much, but after playing just a few minutes of this, it felt really good. Sam can still do nearly everything he could in previous games, including basic moves like crouching, mantling, climbing, shimmying, attacking close up and sneaking along a wall. He can also climb wires and ropes hand-over-hand, perform an inverted neck snap, slide across a zip line and perform water kills.
Rolling, split jumps, drop attacks, rappelling and shooting while hanging are all available. When approaching a corner, he's also still able to switch gun mounts, switching from left to right. Sam also can grab enemies, carry bodies, use them as human shields, interrogate, whistle (to distract), and force cooperation. The animations are solid and the actions quick. In a way, the more gadget-heavy, technical approach of the previous generation of game is preferable over the current gen version.
The multi-tier, multi-path levels are respectable in their ability to create choice and tactical options. Unlike the relatively gadget-free Xbox 360 game, Double Agent on the current gen systems still relies heavily on gadget usage. Use select (PS2) or back (Xbox) to utilize the OPSAT/PDA, which displays 3D maps, objectives, equippable weapons and gadgets, notes, profiles, and training videos. You'll find the EMP gun a lot more useful in this game, and sticky cameras, rubber bullets tranquilizer darts and gas grenades all play a larger part in the core game than in the 360 version, which really didn't require you to use any gadgets throughout its entirety. For those interested, wall mines, frag grenades, smoke grenades and flash grenades are all available.
When it comes to mission types, fans of the series should expect more of the same. That's not a bad thing, and in light of the streamlined next-gen version, it's strangely refreshing. Similar to Chaos Theory, the missions here are less varied, taking place predominantly at night and they don't require a timer (like the Xbox 360 JBA missions). Environments are larger in many cases, permitting more exploration, even if they end up being linear, and they're built with more nooks and crannies, more areas to make use of the light meter (since the take place mostly at night or in dark areas), and they capture an excellent level of detail in the area of sound. Sound plays a big part in the game and just like the lit up face of Sam Fisher on your HUD indicates his vulnerable status, the arching meters along the HUD indicate how loud or quiet Fisher is. Ubisoft did another great job with the sound quality in this game.
If all this lonely stealth is making you crazy, a series of solid co-op missions is sure to cheer you up. Interestingly, the co-op missions on Xbox are more robust than on the Xbox 360 version. Whereas the 360 version's co-op mode was essentially humans versus computer AI which take place in Vs modes, the Xbox versions is greater in design and variation. The Xbox version offers split-screen offline or two-player online co-op modes, which is one big way that the Xbox version differs from the PS2 version. The PS2 version gives players the chance to play co-op offline, but not online. Other differences? The Xbox game gives you 15 online co-op missions (a significant amount) and three-on-three Spies vs. Mercs missions. The PS2 version offers two exclusive multiplayer games, Key Run and Disk Hunt, and two single-player Flashback missions. If I had to pick between the two, I'd pick the Xbox version just because it handles online games smoother, it's got three-on-three gaming and the co-op is online. The story-driven co-op missions fill in even more gaps in the narrative and are more similar, again, to Chaos Theory than next-gen Double Agent.
Double Agent jumps into versus games with a respectable if not fully compelling attempt. There are multiplayer missions in both the PS2 and Xbox versions though the advantages generally lean to the Xbox, which has the stability of Xbox Live, and a three on three game (versus the PS2's two-on-two games). Game modes include Team Hack, Death Match, Team Death Match, Blitz, Sam Vs. All, Countdown, and the PS2 has exclusives levels Key Run and Disk Hunt. Basically, what you get here are some better-than-decent capture-the-flag and king-of-the-hill games. In short, if you're stuck without a next-gen system -- which, inevitably a lot people will be -- both the PS2 and Xbox versions of Splinter Cell provide worthwhile co-op and multiplayer games.
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