369th played so far

tom-clancys-splinter-cell-double-agent-xbox360-boxartGenre: Stealth
Platform: Various
Year of Release: 2006
Developer: Ubisoft Shanghai
Publisher: Ubisoft

When we think of stealth games the first thing that comes across out mind is Metal Gear Solid and the fact that very early in our blog we managed to cover five of them in pretty quick succession. As such it has been a good few years since our last stealth game and we thought it was time to do so.

Seeing how we are incredibly behind on the mongrel platform that is ‘various’ we are going to be doing our second game in the Splinter Cell series… but like when we did Age of Mythology we are actually doing this out of order. The original Splinter Cell is on our radar but since it doesn’t count in the book as a stealth game (and we are becoming more and more aware of the inconsistencies of the book in regards to genre labelling) we shall leave this game for another time.

Our Thoughts

Released just a year and a half after Chaos Theory, Double Agent once again sees you take control of NSA agent Sam Fisher who, after experiencing a personal tragedy, is placed undercover into a domestic terrorist group with the hope that it will provide enough distraction from the pain. I suspect this ties into the storyline of the works of Tom Clancy, the thriller writer who passed away about a year ago. It is worth noting here that we played the Xbox 360 version of this game; I make this distinction since I have just been made aware that the storyline depended on your version. So we will be referencing the Xbox 360, PC and PS3 version rather then the Xbox, Gamecube, PS2 and Wii version… wow that’s confusing.

Anyway, this role as a double agent allows the game to create a very interesting trust system. In the opening level, where you infiltrate a geothermal plant in Iceland and end up preventing the release of a missile (or not depending on your success) it is just touched upon that certain actions will cause the NSA to stop trusting you and if you lose all trust then the mission is lost. In the opener this is near impossible to do since you will be preoccupied with using EMPs to take out lights, sniping and moving bodies and to my recollection we only lost a smidgen of trust on our playthrough. The trust system comes into play later when you have to maintain the trust of the NSA whilst also gaining and retaining the trust of the JBA (i.e. the terrorist group). This results in a number of interesting choices and moral dilemmas that you have to plough through to complete the game but (like the infamous finger cutting in Heavy Rain) you may be swayed by your own principles forgetting this is a work of fiction.

Where this game works well, not that the trust system isn’t an interesting spin on a karma system, is how the Splinter Cell series keeps upping the ante on their ability to create tension. The opener in Double Agent is a lot more challenging than Chaos Theory and the fact that you have a green rookie on the mission with you (not as in a crappy escort mission but you are being made aware of his actions) does well to aggravate you but also help you feel culpable when the obvious happens. Something that actually is annoying is the absence of objective markers. Okay I know that if I was an NSA double agent I wouldn’t have a magical HUD with objective markers and it affords a greater sense of realism… but I like those little arrows so you don’t end up walking around in the dark for bleeding ages. I would also argue that if you were a true NSA agent, you would have more recon information and a better idea of where to go, which is what the markers could make up for. Right now you’re going in blind, with no clue what to suspect, you wouldn’t have that (as much) in a real mission.

Tying into this, while the game has a tutorial, it is actually not that useful. It tries to get you to go through the motions, but rather than explaining the controls and how the game works, it just gives you goals and a handful of explanation popups that tend to not apply to the current situation or give wrong or vague information, while not actually giving you the basic information on how to actually play the game that you’d expect during a tutorial. While you don’t want your hand held through the full game, the tutorial is an excellent place to do that. As the controls can be inflexible and unintuitive, you need the tutorial, and there’s no excuse for one where, like us, you get stuck for ten minutes because it’s not clear that the pipe is climbable and that you can’t keep climbing up, but instead need to climb up a wall, then jump facing the exact right way in the exact position, to continue.

It’s a bit opaque and unfriendly to beginners, which seems unnecessary.

Final Thoughts

Setting aside these beginner’s difficulties – we’re not stealth gamers, there’s a fun game in here. It’s pretty difficult, but with a nice variety of actions and ways of solving problems in the world. What’s interesting from the first level alone are the efforts taken to integrate story into the levels. It’s not just cutscenes, briefings or Metal Gear Solid‘s talking heads, but is at times far more integrated – as with the previously mentioned second agent.

Difficult to get into perhaps, but worth of your time when you do.