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Splinter Cell Review

publisher: Ubisoft
developer: Ubisoft
genre: Action Strategy

PIII 800, 256MB RAM, 32MB Video Card, 256MB HD
ESRB rating: T

release date: Feb 17, 03
» All About Splinter Cell on ActionTrip

By now, Sam Fisher and I have become old friends. Over the past several months I've had the privilege to finish both the PC and Xbox versions of Splinter Cell; write two or three features on it, as well as take out more screenshots than should be allowed by law. I've finished the game both on "normal" and on "hard" on my Xbox, as well as the PC port. Some would call me a fanatic for playing so much Splinter Cell, but I beg to differ. I have enjoyed every single minute of it! I'm a hard core gamer, and when a game is good; and I mean real good; I like to spend many hours on it. Splinter Cell has passed many tests in my book, and after finishing the PC port, I can safely say that it passed the final test, too. The PC installment of the game is every bit as spectacular, if not even more intuitive, than the Xbox game. 'Nuff said people.

The story in Splinter Cell takes place in the near future, a few years from today. The constant growth of the Internet and its supporting infrastructure (optic cables and such) has led to a rapid development of former states of the Eastern Bloc. Countries like Georgia and Azerbaijan are showing tremendous growth ever since the introduction of broadband to their poor and underdeveloped countries. New leaders are emerging on the political scene. But, even though this new wave of Eastern Bloc leaders are graced with all the advantages of modern-day technology, they still act very traditionally when it comes to their political agendas. The political map of the world has changed, and the security of the US is now threatened by tech-savvy cyber terrorists sponsored by a new breed of dictators who believe that the American presence in their region poses a threat to their authority, as well as undermines their ability to deal with their political opponents the best way they know how - beatings, sabotage, and murder. The player is cast in the role of Sam Fisher, an NSA (National Security Agency) operative, and a member of the Splinter Cell special task force, created for the sole purpose of undertaking covert-ops in the regions where the security of the US is threatened. With people like the Georgian President Nikoladze playing a dangerous game of double-faced politics Sam Fisher will have his work cut out for him. After finishing a basic training course, Sam Fisher is sent to Georgia to investigate the disappearance of a US mole and a CIA agent sent in to investigate its disappearance.

Even though it may seem a bit tacky on the surface, the story is surprisingly well told and worthy of a Tom Clancy license. I'm not sure if the license was used for mere marketing purposes, or if it was actually written by the famous author himself, but whatever the case, it struck me as mature, consistent and very believable. The Splinter Cell narrative is certainly on a par with some of the more respectable Hollywood movies of the same genre. Besides being very immersive and plausible, the script includes a few moments of genuine humor (I just love some of Sam's smart remarks) that add more personality to the game. Sam is a grizzled veteran with a bristled sense of humor, and that will help players to relate with the main character, and become a part of the game world.

A great story, however, wouldn't mean much without equally good gameplay. Thankfully, Splinter Cell is one of the very few games that manages to deliver on both fronts. The engrossing story blends perfectly with Splinter Cell's gameplay style, which is nothing short of groundbreaking. And to top it all off, the visuals are gorgeous and completely intrinsic to the gameplay! In Splinter Cell, all of the essential elements of game design have been amalgamated to near perfection.

The PC port retains the dynamic shadows and lighting, along with the coding for soft bodies and pixel shaders that made the console game stand out in terms of its visuals. On top of that, you get to play on high-resolution monitors, making all of those previously blurry background objects crystal sharp and easy to spot. This added visual feature not only makes the game prettier, but it also allows players to spot some intricate details and gameplay clues that they would likely have trouble spotting if the graphics looked the same as on the Xbox.

The fantastic use of the next-gen Unreal code is in every way complementary to the gameplay, and so are the sound effects. The engine delivers some dazzling visual treats and it also creates an environment that is essential to the sneaker aspect of the gameplay. Sam Fisher uses shadows to get by (his visibility indicator is an essential element of the interface and will soon become your best friend). He lurks from the dark and kills quietly and stealthily. The engine is optimized in such a way that it creates the perfect environment for our character. Every object casts a shadow and every shadow can be used to disappear from sight. Likewise, every movement produces a sound, so you'll have to rely on remaining unheard as much as unseen.

The physics engine is just as good as in the Xbox version, and the rag doll physics model is implemented to full effect. Nonetheless, I must say I would've liked to have seen some kind of improvement in the physics model. The fact of the matter is that today's PCs offer plenty more CPU power than the PIII you'll find in the Xbox. This would, however, require a lot more time and effort, effectively postponing the game's release. Instead, the developers concentrated on successfully porting the Xbox version rather than building on it. The same can be said about the animation, as Splinter Cell is still missing the stair animation for Sam Fisher; an omission that I find rather disappointing. I may not know much about character modeling, but I do know that adding another motion-captured move shouldn't typically present that much of a problem.

The question here is whether or not you were expecting to play an upgraded version of the Xbox game or just a successful port. If you were expecting to play the former, then you might be in for a bit of a disappointment. The development team concentrated on making sure that every aspect that was present in the Xbox version is somehow translated to the PC, and, in those regards, Ubi Soft Montreal did one hell of a job. The PC controls work perfectly, and the idea to adapt the analogous input of the game pad for the mouse and keyboard combo by using the mouse wheel to increase or decrease Sam's speed of movement (from sneaking to running) is absolutely perfect. It is very intuitive and easy to use. My only possible gripe with the controls had to do with the fact that Sam actually needs to be running in order to jump over a ledge, reach a rope, etc. So, just remember to slide that wheel up to the max before performing any critical jumps in the game.

Besides having an impact on the way Sam sneaks up on people, the PC controls and use of mouse free look make it much easier to gun down opponents, as you can aim better. As a result, shooting a bad guy would've become much more appealing than sneaking past him. Luckily for us, the development team has taken this into account, and has enhanced the AI to make it slightly more alert than in the Xbox version. In addition to making the AI more alert, I believe the developers have increased the damage caused by enemy gunfire. This makes the PC baddies just as nasty as their Xbox counterparts; albeit in a slightly different manner. Naturally, these interventions by the designers shift the focus back to the sneaker facet of the gameplay, which is exactly how things should be in Splinter Cell.

Not all of the entertaining features from the Xbox game made it into the PC version however. Due to the lack of proper force feedback support for the PC controllers, some minor aspects of the gameplay; like lock picking; simply couldn't be translated to the PC with the same degree of success. Not that this omission thwarts the gameplay experience in any way, but it's still worth a mention.

As far as the technical aspects of the PC port are concerned I haven't had any problems with it, though there are some people that are reporting various graphical and sound related bugs. The game ran smoothly for me in 1024x768 (max detail), and without any serious hitches. I should also add, however, that I ran Splinter Cell on a high-end system, and with the FSAA turned off. In order to enjoy the game's graphics to their full extent, you'll simply have to have a powerful PC. It's also worth noting, that I had to set my driver performance bar to "application" in order to stop the textures from flashing. (I am referring to the latest WHQL set of Detonator drivers for NVIDIA cards)

Overall, Ubi Montreal has done an admirable job on porting the game to the PC. For all intents and purposes, this is a very straightforward port with a lot of technical tweaks and some minor gameplay adjustments. There is still no multiplayer support, but the replay value is certainly increased by the fact that you will probably be compelled to finish the game on "hard," too. Splinter Cell (PC) is a successful continuation of the series and a worthy successor to the Xbox version. What this translates to, in other words, is one kick-ass sneaker shooter which every self-respecting PC gamer should own in their collection.


9.2   Excellent

An excellent PC adaptation of an awesome console title;

The PC version definitely had more potential that could've been realized if this was a PC game from the get go (even better physics, AI). You definitely need a very powerful rig to run Splinter Cell at maximum detail.



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