Reviewed by Jimmy | 10.28.06
Ubisoft has to be proud of their boy, Sam Fisher. Sam has quickly become a gaming icon, along with making the Splinter Cell franchise into one of the largest to date. All eyes are peering toward the next generation of gaming and Fisher leads the pack of games that haven't yet being set forth into the new generation. The time has come and in the four years of Splinter Cell we have the fourth adventure in the series called Double Agent. Adding more grit, emotion and tricks, Ubisoft is ready to let the world experience Splinter Cell Double Agent.
Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell started back in 2002 as one of the premier Xbox exclusive games. Under the Tom Clancy brand, Ubisoft focused on international espionage and did it right. Over the years Splinter Cell lost the exclusive title, but never lost its ability to be one of the best games available, for what ever system it was on. From the beginning a few might argue, but the majority agrees Splinter Cell only gets better with age. Each Splinter Cell adventure seems to best their previous efforts. Who would complain? when you're on a roll, you're on a roll. So how is Double Agent? Well, I think it should be put, is the ball still rolling?, and how next-generation, is next-generation Splinter Cell?
To answer my first question, "Is the ball still rolling?" I'd say the ball is still soaring down the hill. Splinter Cell: Does Double Agent advances the series, by making a number of improvements to every aspect of the game, while bringing a major new gameplay element, morality decisions. The second questions answer, "Is Splinter Cell: Double Agent next-gen?" I'd say yes, but not in a way we expected. Everyone expects next-gen games to deliver something we haven't seen or felt before in an awe inspiring way, and in a way Splinter Cell delivers, but not with the full thunderous effect. Splinter Cell: Double Agent is more like a nice upgrade to Chaos Theory, but by no way does the series make leaps ahead of itself. I guess I can put it like this, the ball is rolling, but the ball isn't a wheel.
Now that I have probably confused you, along with myself, I'll get into the actual game. Splinter Cell: Double Agent takes Sam Fisher into the enemies' arms working as a double agent for both the NSA (National Security Agency) and the terrorists group the JBA (John Brown's Army). It's tricky assuming the role of a Double Agent and it's important to remain balanced between both parties while working keeping each sides trust. It's a slim tightrope, but if there is anyone who can pull it off its Fisher.
There isn't any need to get into specifics of the plot, or the mission outlines, because it's similar to the old Splinter Cell games, grab information, plant bugs, blow up things and be like the ninja silent and deadly. The big difference in Double Agent is that it revolves around this new dynamic of good and bad with multiple objectives each with their own set of consequences. Kill an innocent and you're trust will increase with the JBA, but at the same time the NSA meter will drop. It's a big morality check and at times it's hard to stay in the middle. If you stray too far off on either end the game abruptly ends. All and all the new morality meter draws the player further deep into Sam's world and adds weight to your decisions during the game. It's not a huge next-generation leap in gameplay, but it does offer a fresh element to the Double Agent.
Keeping with the fresh vibe, Double Agent has Sam in a number of new situations that we haven't seen before. Sure the objectives are basically the same, but the location and situation is different. The main new mission concept in Double Agent, is being able to walk around your HQ, in Double Agent, you're put up in the JBA base of operations. In these sequences you can not use all your gadgets, or attack the enemy. It's pure stealth, but only for a portion. In the JBA base you can causally walk around until you come to a restricted zone, then you can enter crouch and get down to your field of study, espionage. It's really cool to have some full on stealth missions added to Splinter Cell, it's defiantly something that was missing before.
In these missions, Sam will have more choices then ever when navigating through dangerous waters. At times I actually found myself sneaking around in circles, making no one way the right way to go in Double Agent. Even with the multi roots Sam can take the entire experience is still fairly linear. Luckily the local changes really take your mind off the straight path you're following. Double Agent showcases some awesome moments from scaling down a Shanghai skyscraper during New Years in China, to swimming through the artic ice. The mission lengths are quite long and you'll generally get to explore a few areas of one location. Objectives are constantly being updated during your game, simple missions can become more complex and dangerous then originally expected while you complete multiple objectives. It's a good thing Sam is adaptable.
On side of Splinter Cell that has been dampened in Double Agent is the focus on using gadgets. All the gadgets are here and several with improvements, but you rarely need to use them. I didn't use the goggles more than once or twice and hardly ever used any of the gadgets besides the EMG emitter on the pistol. I guess its all in the way you play, use the tools, or go in commando. Instead of gadget focused it seems like the developers wanted to steer the player into using Sam's new techniques like hiding under objects, or cutting holes in ice and dragging you foes down. In Double Agent more than I seemed to be grabbing unsuspecting enemies and throwing them around more then in the previous games, I can't really pinpoint if it's games design, or just the way I play. Overall I like all the new moves in Double Agent, but I hoped they would of steered us towards the gadgets equally as much.
Sam Fisher always has the option sneak, or knock out or kill and no matter what option you choose I know you'll be loading and saving often. Double Agent seems a little more challenging then Chaos Theory, so I'm glad the stuck with the save anywhere feature. I'm a full dependent of the trail and error system of gaming and I wouldn't last long with checkpoint only saves. If you're worried about difficulty, it can be adjusted and keep in mind that Chaos Theory was the only Splinter Cell game I completed 100%
Double Agent isn't without its problems, even on its fourth chapter, I still encountered some issues. First and most importantly, I was getting stuck all over on invisible corners and objects that protrude out from walls, or from other objects. At times it looked like I was away from an object, but when I moved to go around it I would get snagged on an invisible barrier. Sam also seemed to hang over some edges floating in air. I'm actually surprised to have encountered this problem as much as I did, maybe once a map. In the last games I don't recall this being as much as a problem. It defiantly doesn't ruin the game, but when you're all tensed up ready to give a terrorist the knife and then you get stuck on the corner, it spoils the mood.
Another issues I have with Double Agent, and one that is recurring in Splinter Cell is the missions and entire plot line doesn't seem to fit together. Its fine clearing missions all around the world, but the whole project could use more closure and continuity. Even the intro line why Fisher ends up in jail, isn't too clear, and they whole deal about his relative being killed really never had the affect I expected.
Lastly, we have multiplayer. Splinter Cells hybrid spy vs. mercs is a love or hate experience. I know gamers who sit on both sides of the fence, and here I sit in the middle. I really never had a great time exploring the multiplayer and Double Agent can reaffirm this. I was met with a lot of people who would kick me out of a room because I wasn't a pro, so it took me a while to find an enjoyable group of people. Although, this is the case with most online games, Splinter Cell seems a little more hardcore. The special word for Splinter Cell: Double Agent is dynamics, and this fits in with the multiplayer as well. For some I can see the rewards of falling deep into the multiplayer game, I just hope they can make it more accessible in a future.
Splinter Cell: Double Agent has some negative points, but when weighed against the positive, it's doesn't tip scale. Double Agent isn't going to be for everyone and this version hasn't made the franchise more accessible. If you enjoyed the earlier games then you'll be right in Sam's pocket. For all Double Agents, its shortcoming, this is still one of the most intense rides you can find in gaming, and when it comes to spy action, no one does it better. It's good to see Sam's face one more time, now we can focus on the future, next generation
All the environments in Double Agent, from the level design to the graphics are interesting, intricate and beautiful. Splinter Cell has never had an issue with delivering graphically and Double Agent remains ahead of its class. On the 360 in 720p we are treated to some breathtaking visuals with some great dynamics between light and dark. I was impressed by the variety in dark and bright environments in the game giving a new edge to Splinter Cell's normally bleak look. The colours are crystal clear, radiating through the HD crispness.
Graphically, Splinter Cell excels in most areas, but one spot where Splinter Cell never moves forward is the generic enemy characters. I think since they have this extra horsepower, why not spend more time on a few other models. I know generically speaking terrorists all look the same, but it's actually uncanny that the whole army of terrorists aren't brothers. Finishing up the presentation is the audio which like the graphics always excels. In Double Agent we are treated to the same high level of effects from the wind to walking over metal, pushed along with the dramatic music of Michael McCann, and excellent voice work of Mr. Michael Ironside. Presentation wise you can't go wrong scoring up Splinter Cell: Double Agent, it's good to see Sam's more detailed mug on the Xbox 360.
Splinter Cell: Double Agent is a worth successor for the Splinter Cell franchise. Sam Fisher is back and more deadly then before. Playing as a Double Agent is the perfect plot line for a Splinter Cell game; finally we feel a little closer to this world of international espionage. Splinter Cell: Double Agent is for the fans of the series, along with action stealth fans. If you don't like stealth, or the previous Splinter Cell games you're not going to find a next-generation revolution here. It's Sam Fisher doing what he does best, and that's why we love him.