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Splinter Cell: Double Agent Review
developer: Ubisoft Montreal
PIV 3000, 1GB RAM, 8GB HDD, 128MB video card
|ESRB rating: M
release date: Oct 17, 06 (released)
|» All About Splinter Cell: Double Agent on ActionTrip|
What I have found remarkable about the Splinter Cell franchise over the years is that Ubisoft has somehow managed to create the next-gen buzz around each new release, like every new Splinter Cell game was going to deliver something new in terms of technology or gameplay (Sounds like the marketing team deserves a healthy bonus -Mo).
The truth of the matter is that the original game was the only one breaking new ground and to this day, the rest of the Splinter Cell games have only managed to make incremental steps - sometimes in the right, and sometimes in the wrong direction. That's talking about the single-player game.
For some reason (and after playing Splinter Cell: Double Agent on the 360 (DA) in LA and Leipzig earlier this year), I was *again* under the impression that Ubisoft was shooting for a next-gen gaming experience. After playing the PC version, I must admit my hopes have faded.
The story of "Double Agent" is a relatively straightforward one. In fact, I should probably say that this is the weakest of all the Sam Fisher plots. Not because it lacks structure and a few twists here and there, but because of the way it was executed in game.
As you may or may not know, Sam does the old "good guy going down the drain" routine, as Lambert lets him know about the death of his daughter during one of the missions. A few short cut-scenes skip through the whole characterization and emotional investment crap and go straight for narrating the facts.
Sam doesn't care about life anymore so he accepts a mission that no one else will take. He ends up in prison as an undercover agent where he will get in contact and eventually gain the trust of members of John Brown's Army, some radical homegrown terrorist group with their own ideas of justice and globalization.
The whole "big thing" about "Double Agent" is that the player will be required to juggle his allegiance between the NSA and the JBA, trying not to lose the trust of either while getting the job done. Lose the trust of either completely, and it's game over. While this twist allows for some relative moral ambiguity in the way you finish the missions, the whole concept stays well within the boundaries of a single-player game with a story to tell.
The good news is that this approach does give the player some leeway during missions. Additionally, there are always several routes which you can take to your primary objective.
The mission design itself is pretty good. The tasks are challenging and often with some innovative elements, so you'll be by no means bored. The new system in which threat level is handled (with the new light indicator mounted on Sam's back) is very straightforward and easy to use. Combined with familiar controls, this entails a fairly intuitive interface. This in combination with the solid mission design is probably one of the strongest points of DA.
On the other hand, from a technical standpoint, the PC version is a mess. I've ran into a bunch of broken scripted sequences (that I'd break just by moving left instead of right), I was falling through railings at some levels being unable to get back to where I was, and the whole jumping routine which is obviously based on the original Splinter Cell code, is finally getting to feel very clunky and outdated.
Not to mention the terrible frame rates, which didn't help any either. I tested the game on two high-end systems (in the next-gen visual mode, with pixel shader 3.0 support); one was Intel-based and the other AMD-based. "Double Agent" performed poorly on both. Navigating through the environment with a very sluggish camera and lousy frame rates when you have a CoreDuo-based system with a 7900GTX is not fun. Especially when you consider that "Double Agent" still runs on the (heavily) modified Unreal Engine 2 code.
The flimsy characterization didn't help here either, as most of Sam's hardship felt fake for the most part.
The redeeming point were the missions, which I had fun with, but obviously Splinter Cell: Double Agent is far from a perfect game.
On that same note, I could swear that the AI routines are just copied from the first game. The bad guys act exactly the same as they always did in Splinter Cell, which means that their actions will appear pretty rudimentary by today's standards. For instance, one of the guards (while I was breaking out of prison) caught me with my pants down so to speak, while I was trying to pass through a working metal detector with a knife (In prison with your pants down??? Don't drop the soap! -Mo). I just backtracked a bit and hid in a corner meters away from the metal detector. Instead of just walking around the corner and nailing me (With your pants down.... -Mo), the guard decided to remain rooted in place (clearly aware of my presence), which created a pretty ridiculous and unrealistic situation. This is nothing new for the series, mind you, but it just shows that the PC version at least is not harnessing the potential of modern hardware.
In a nutshell, Splinter Cell: Double Agent is still a good game. It will likely be a very good game after a couple of patches (it is damn buggy on the PC and slow as hell), so I'd advise you to wait a while before you actually buy it.
In reaching your decision, you should also note that the Splinter Cell series is famous for its spy vs. merc. multiplayer gameplay. That should give "Double Agent" some more juice before you decide to toss it onto your pile of old game boxes.
Good mission design, intuitive interface, players given more choice;
Crappy performance, buggy, some recycled sounds, old AI routines, broken scripted sequences, flimsy characterization and execution of the story.
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