Review: Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow
Posted 12 Aug 2004 at 08:12 by Wouter
If Metal Gear Solid were the mother of stealth gaming, Splinter Cell would have to be a very gifted son at least. Snake may have pioneered sneaking and silent killing, but Sam Fisher took stealth quite a number of steps further. The Tom Clancy backed first game was a huge success on the PC and X-Box, so naturally the Playstation 2 and the Gamecube got a ported version. Unfortunately the ports weren't done very well, the graphics were far from the stylish and detailed X-Box graphics, and the levels were tweaked to make the game easier. We're giving Ubisoft a second chance though; they've no doubt heard the comments on the ports of the previous version. It looks like this time around we're getting a more polished version than last time, but can it live up to the experience the X-Box and Playstation 2 are offering? Find out below…
The first thing you'll notice about Pandora Tomorrow is how dark it looks. It looks a lot better than the previous Cube outing, it has a lot more color this time around, but it's also gotten a lot darker. Splinter Cell has always been a very dark game, but Pandora Tomorrow is darker on the Cube than it is on the other consoles. This forces you to use your night vision goggles more often than necessary, which makes the game look pretty bland. The levels and characters may look more like the X-Box version's this time around; the filter effects could hardly be more different. Switch to night vision on the X-Box or even on the PS2 and you get a stylish grainy, slightly greenish view, do the same on the Cube and everything just goes black and white, you can see in the dark with it but it's far from beautiful. So this time around we get graphics that can measure up to the X-Box version, but the darkness forces you to look at them through the dull Cube night vision. What a shame!
If you can look past these issues there's a lot to like for stealth fans. Sam has learned a few new moves, but nothing that changes the gameplay drastically. The coolest new move is the SWAT turn; Sam can use this to sneak past an open door unnoticed. Other additions include the ability to shoot from just about any position Sam can get into (hanging from pipes, during a wallsplit) and a way to climb up high ledges from the wallsplit position. Apart from these moves you'll basically be doing the same thing as in the first game. The level design is very tight though and the variation in the type of environments you'll be sneaking around in is great. One of the best levels is the one where you have to guide Sam through a moving train, to avoid people seeing him you'll have to be quite creative. Because you're not just walking through an enemy base or something similar you have to approach problems differently, which is a nice variation. There are more levels that change the pace like the train level, but we won't spoil them here.
Moving Sam around in these levels takes a bit of practice, but it's explained to you clearly in the first level. Instead of a tutorial in a boring training facility you get thrown right into the action, you learn the controls from an instructor through your communicator. The buttons are mapped to the Cube controller a bit more effectively than last time around, but there still are more functions than buttons. This means you zoom in by pressing L down a bit and you use your secondary fire mode by pressing it down completely, you can imagine the problems this can cause. You'll get used to the L and R button functions soon enough, but the D-pad is a different story. The D-pad is used for a number of things, up is for your inventory, left and right are your night and heat visions with down you can quickly change your weapon. Press the button slightly to the side when switching weapons though and your night vision pops off; imagine that happening in the middle of a firefight! All in all it's done slightly better than last time around, but it could still be much more intuitive.
Sneaking and sniping:
Getting used to the controls is essential, because mistakes are often fatal in Splinter Cell. Enemies spot you immediately if you leave the shadows in their line of sight or walk just a little too loud behind them. If they see you they'll call reinforcements and put on heavier armor. They even put on helmets that get in the way of clean headshots if they see you as a threat. Even if you stick to the shadows and hide the bodies of all the guards you take down success is not guaranteed, there are a lot of areas with multiple guards with overlapping patrol routes, spotlights and motions sensors. You'll have to use all of Sam's abilities to get through the game. The AI isn't always spot on though, if you hide after they've spotted you they tend to forget where they saw you completely and just run around for a bit. Sometimes they even walk in the opposite direction if you whistle to lure them close for a stealth kill. It's no disaster but it's strange to see them very alert in some instances and acting like morons in others. Apart from the slightly improved AI and the new moves Fisher has Pandora Tomorrow plays a lot like the first Splinter Cell, and by a lot we really mean a lot. What's worse is that the X-Box and PS2 versions of the game do have a major innovation, a completely new multiplayer mode. That the Cube doesn't have an online mode is no big surprise, but there's not even a simple splitscreen cooperative mode. The Cube does get GBA connectivity, but a radar with a few gadgets doesn't even begin to compare to the multiplayer modes on the other consoles.
All in all it's nothing really new. The story is your typical Tom Clancy affair, complete with terrorist threats and biochemical weapons, so don't look for fresh ideas there. The replay value is beaten down by the lack of multiplayer modes and the fairly linear levels. You do get a few nice statistics at the end of every level, but you probably won't replay a level to get better stats, it's just not rewarding enough. It's a shame so many reviews have to end like this, but it can't be helped: If you liked the previous game and you don't mind getting more of the same, you're safe buying this one. If you're not sure Splinter Cell is right for you, you're better off starting with this one since it's gotten a better Cube treatment than the previous one. It's still not the gorgeous stealth king it is on the X-Box, but it's getting closer. If you're looking for innovation as well as quality you should look elsewhere, maybe Splinter Cell 3 will surprise us, Pandora Tomorrow didn't.
N-Europe Final Verdict
More of the same but done well.
Good level design
Nice graphics, but...
... too dark to enjoy them
Nothing really new