Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell Review


Games have made the leap from the PC to consoles before, but the results have rarely been that good.  Then again, they haven't always had such great source material to work with.  Splinter Cell first appeared on the Xbox last year, and was so good that it won our Xbox Game of the Year award.  Now PC gamers have the chance to play the game, and it is every bit a great computer game as it was a great console game.

In Splinter Cell you are Sam Fisher, a highly trained agent for a secret group within the NSA.  Your role is to go into hostile territory when operations of the most sensitive and critical nature are required to protect the freedom of the United States.  You are given more than a license to kill to get your job done, you are given a special directive known as the Fifth Freedom.  To quote the game, this gives you the right to "spy, steal, destroy, and assassinate to ensure that American freedoms are protected."  Of course the government would never admit that they have given such free reign to one of their operatives, so should you be captured or killed the US will disavow all knowledge of you and your mission.

Screenshots
Sam never uses the front door.

You have free license to kill, but avoiding combat entirely is a far better way to ensure your survival and the success of your mission.  You'll be operating alone in the middle of hostile territory, and you'll always be outnumbered and outgunned.  You'll get a lot farther by being smart, sticking to the shadows, and avoiding detection.  To aid you in staying out of sight, the game provides you with a large number of moves and a collection of high-tech gadgets.  Sam can do all the basic moves like sneaking, crouching, and looking around corners, but he can also use wires as zip lines, climb pipes and trellises, and shimmy along ledges among other things.  One particularly cool move that Sam can do is to suspend himself above a narrow hallway using his legs, suspending by doing the splits so to speak.  You can then let guards pass right under you as you go unnoticed, or drop down behind them and take them out before they even know you're there. 

You won't have to rely exclusively on Sam's athleticism on your missions, you'll also have your share of gadgets as well.  These range from the mundane to the high-tech, and you'll find yourself using them all at some point.  A lock pick set can be used to get past locked doors (you'll have to do the work yourself in a tumbler tripping mini-game sort of way), but you'll probably first want to use your optic cable to see what's on the other side.  You can always shoot out standard security cameras, but armor plated cameras will require you to use a camera jammer.  And Sam never goes anywhere without his high-tech optics that provide night or thermal vision at the press of a button.

The game has nine missions that take you to a number of locations around the world, including the Republic of Georgia, an oil platform, China, and even CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia.  Nine missions may make the game sound short, but this is deceiving.  The missions are all pretty long and are each broken up into several levels.  The levels are all very well designed, and play out as puzzles to be solved.  The missions are very linear, but your brain will be too engaged to notice.  Do you shoot a guard, risking detection and using a bullet from your very limited ammunition supply?  Shoot the lights out in the hallway, throwing it into total darkness but raising the guard's suspicions?  Or do you try to stick to the shadows and time your movements to slip past him?  Or better yet, why not toss that soda can sitting on a nearby desk down the hallway and wait until the guard runs down the hall to investigate?  You'll constantly face situations like this and will need to be smart to survive your missions.  This is not your typical run and gun action game.