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Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow

Review By:  Jared Black

Developer:  Ubisoft Montreal
Publisher:  Ubisoft
# of Players:  1
Genre:  Stealth Action
ESRB:  Teen
Accessories:  N/A
Date Posted:  7-13-04

Tom Clancyís Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow for Xbox pushes the limits of what that console is capable of doing, with some amazing graphics, outstanding gameplay, and an innovative online mode.  Obviously a GBA rendition isnít going to come close to matching the experience, but Ubisoft did a decent job of bringing the spirit of the franchise over intact.

The storyline mirrors the Xbox version pretty closely, taking Sam Fisher through 10 missions (the back of the box incorrectly says 8) that are 2D representations of most of the original 3D missions.  Levels are laid out in a side-scrolling manner, with certain areas and objects (like furniture) in the background that Sam can duck into to hide from approaching guards.  Not only can Sam duck into and move around the background in dark areas or behind obstacles, but he can also climb and hang off of boxes and pipes.  Cameras and some lights can be shot just like in the console version, and Sam has several vision modes (a Sticky Camera that lets him look ahead by pressing the L button, along with Night and Thermal Vision) to assist in his mission.  There are even environmental obstacles like mines and gun turrets.

So all of the basics are there, but unfortunately the hardware limits the experience quite a bit.  The first problem is that enemy A.I. is pretty dumb, as soldiers can only see from side to side.  Samís feet can dangle inches above an approaching guardís head, and yet the guard will usually not spot him.  Even then they can only see for roughly a screenís worth of distance, which is obviously very unrealistic.  Also, level layout feels artificial with boxes and other things in just the right places for Sam to hide from passing guards and cameras.  If an alarm is set off, itíll usually result in mission failure either by dying at the hands of ultra-elite guards (your only hope is to find somewhere to hang from and pray they donít see you) or simply because alarms arenít allowed in that mission.  Dying is often just as painful to the player as it is to Sam, since the checkpoints in each mission are few and far between.

To complicate things even more, in many cases the only way to know mission-critical information is to fail first as Sam isnít briefed on much. For example, in several situations the only way I knew that I needed a guard alive to open a door for me (using a retinal scanner I hadnít reached yet) was when I killed the last one and failed the mission.  The result of all of this is gameplay boils down to trying the same areas over and over again until the correct sequence of events is memorized and executed.  Although there are brief moments when the solution to a situation seems natural, most areas are exercises in trial and error gameplay.

Many of the actions taken for granted in the console version are now mini-games, most of which I actually enjoyed quite a bit.  Disabling turrets now involves cutting a sequence of wires as indicated on-screen, while hacking into a computer can be one of several mini-games including a DDR-ish button sequence and rotating blocks to form a connection between two file folders.  While picking door locks is basically a 2D representation of the console version, the pins will often require activating in one of several different sequences.  There are also several sniping sections that are interesting variations on the standard gameplay.  I didnít find any of this to be challenging (except the file folder puzzles on occasion), but theyíre all fun diversions from the somewhat tedious gameplay.

Graphically, itís adequate but hardly impressive.  Enemies are animated decently, although they turn around rather abruptly and all look very similar.  Sam himself looks good though, with plenty of animation and some nice detail on his uniform.  Various environmental elements are animated as well, including sparks flying from disabled cameras.  The Thermal and Night Vision modes are actually useful, and must be used in the right situation as they make a definite impact on gameplay.  Some areas and environments are often repeated several times in a level, making the game feel at times like an old Scooby-Doo cartoon.

Sound is good, with an excellent militaristic musical score in the spirit of the series with different themes based on the location Samís infiltrating.  For example, the Jerusalem theme has a Middle Eastern tone to it.  Sound effects are pretty good too, and do a good job of mimicking the console version.

Highs:

  • The Splinter Cell experience in portable form.
  • Good music score.
  • The mini-games are mostly fun.

Lows:

  • The 2D perspective really limits a game like this, often resulting in repetitive trial and error gameplay.
  • Bland and often uninteresting environments.

Final Verdict:

You can only do so much in 2D, and Ubisoft did about as much as possible in bringing the essential Splinter Cell elements to the platform.  This gameís a solid purchase for Clancy fans, but I canít shake the feeling that I would have scored it a point or two lower if I didnít already love the franchise.

Overall Score: 6.5

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