I love this series, without a doubt. I absolutely love sneaking games which require stealth and planning much more than any other game I think I’ve ever played. So it was with excitement I awaited the latest Splinter Cell to be released for the Xbox 360.
One concern I did have though was that the trailers showed a lot of running about in the light and shooting at people, was the sneaking element gone in favour of a first person shooter in places? Time would tell.
Sam Fisher is back. Pretty much the game picks up from where you left off and reveals that as you come off a mission you’re told that your family was killed, so far it seems that Fisher’s girl was in a hit and run. So you’ve nothing to live for and you accept a deep undercover mission. This involves being stripped of everything and sent to jail as a cover to gain the trust of a man who can lead you into a group of very bad terrorists, the further in you get the closer you’ll get to your end goal. Yet the further in you go the further away from the NSA and the good guys you get.
Now that I’ve been played the game for a few levels I have to say I love the style and some of the new additions. There’s things like the ice kill where you punch through shallow ice and pull the victim under the water, and despatch him with a stab through the heart. That’s very satisfying and visually a lot of fun.
Then there’s the whole idea that you have to pick and choose your objectives in a mission, this threw me totally the first time it appeared, but when I got the hang of it I really got into it. The thing is you’re working for the bad guys, so you have to complete the main missions they want you to and any of their side should you feel the urge. At the same time the NSA are going to ask you to do a few things, some critical and some not, but all of the missions, NSA or not, are up to you.
You chose which to do, and the more you do for one, the more trust you gain for them. So do them all for both sides and you get equal amounts of trust, forget one team and they lose trust in you and (I’m guessing so far) the game changes.
These things are really good about the game, and the graphics look superb, even though I’m not on HDTV as yet. However there are problems that are sneaking in.
The swimming is perhaps the most annoying part of the game. The responses of Fisher can be pretty erratic, and I’ve seen him floating in front of an open tunnel bumping into an apparently invisible brick wall. At one point he just refused to move anywhere and I had to load from the previous checkpoint.
Another thing is the ability of the baddies to see you. I’ve found next to no dark sneaking since the first level of the game. Since then my onboard light indicator has told me that I’m out in the light pretty much all the time.
During the prison sections there’s a room where there’s three prisoners on the ground floor of an open plan room, and on the second floor walkways are two prison guards. The prisoners have just shot and killed some guards in front of your eyes, and right below the guards above, yet they walk back and forth looking down upon them without the slightest of concerns. Yet as soon as I vaguely appeared in the light, even directly underneath a walkway, they saw me and began shooting, and as soon as the guards did so did the prisoners. Nice teamwork, but didn’t those guys just kill your mates?
Same situation happened when I try to sneak around the room when the guards are shooting at the prisoners, and as soon as I’m spotted they all stop to start shooting at me. Eh?
Getting through that room was a nightmare, and to be honest I’ve totally abandoned using my light meter. I’m just concentrating on where anyone is looking. I’ve found the alert system totally irrational. So much so that I was clambering down a drainpipe with no guards anywhere around me – I checked the 3D map very carefully – and I had the warning sound. Miles away a guard was showing on the map as alert, and even I couldn’t see him with heat vision and my zoom scope on my rifle.
One of the most frustrating parts of the game is the final mission breakdown. I actually thought this was a great feature for the first few levels, where I scored 98% twice and a 100% the last mission. However the one I just completed bagged me a whopping -2%. Why so?
Well the breakdown looks at things like missions completed, locks picked, people knocked out, kills, bullets fired, hacks completed and failed, etc, etc. Some it adds percentage score and some it removes. In this mission you have to incapacitate the entire crew of a super tanker. So I did. Every single one starting at one end of the ship and working to the other. The reason I received -2% was because of the 3 times I was spotted which bagged me a -30%, that’s fair enough, and the 6 bodies found which got me the remaining -72%.
Now the mission means I go from one end of the boat to the other incapacitating everyone, and I mean everyone. There was no one left awake behind me. That means none of them would have found bodies, I was careful to clear an area before moving on so that there were no guards left alive to walk over anyone else.
Even at the end of the level it’s announced that the rest of my team are coming in to clear up, so why the hell were 6 bodies found? Found by whom? My own team?
There’s another infuriating style where things just happen and you have to work out what to do. It’s not always clear that you have to wiggle your left stick and then press A when ready, although you are told LS in the corner of the screen. Likewise it’s not clear sometimes what you’re supposed to do full stop. Except this actually improves the game too, it makes it more realistic and more tense, and it can sometimes be a good thing.
The cut scenes are really good, and there’s been some thought put into them about how to involve you. So that some cut scenes are actually a tiny little bit of gameplay. It may be how to open your reserve parachute, or deciding to kill a terrorist’s hostage or not, and they last seconds, but it adds an extra layer to the game.
The addition of the layered objective system is something I really do like, and the breakdown of your scores at the end is great, but there are flaws with some of the new areas that just don’t feel right and I wish these had been ironed out for the release. Still, I’m enjoying it, even if the sneaking and staying hidden has become exceedingly difficult and some of the AI, gameplay and scoring system seem quite out of sync, but there’s still a lot of fun to be had here.
I’m sure there will be more to report as the game progresses, but this is the verdict so far. Excellent, but needed more testing and QA.