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
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
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.
The Splinter Cell experience in portable form.
Good music score.
The mini-games are mostly fun.
The 2D perspective really limits a game like this, often resulting
in repetitive trial and error gameplay.
Bland and often uninteresting environments.
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.