Hey everyone, Retroplayer here once again. The stealth genre is something that is quite hard to get right. While most games come at it with the wrong approach, there are a few that nail it and deliver a pure, undiluted stealth experience. Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell is very much one of those games.
Splinter Cell, developed by Ubisoft Monreal and released in 2002, is a true stealth experience. You play as Sam Fisher, an aged, highly skilled NSA Back Ops agent, voiced by Michael Ironside. In classic Tom Clancy fashion, the story revolves the themes of espionage and tense, escalating political situations. After the President of Georgia is assassinated, Sam and the sub-agency he is apart of, Third Echelon, is thrown into a complex and dangerous plot that even brings the tide of war to American seas.
Splinter Cell is a third-person adventure that focuses heavily on stealth. During each mission Sam must use his skills to achieve a number objectives. These range from hacking computers for information, finding key characters, or even assassinating certain individuals. Sam is kitted out for stealth rather than combat, so while it’s up to the player for the most part, the game does push you in the direction of an all-out stealth approach. As Sam the player can hug walls, crouch, climb pipes, hang from ledges, and even do the splits against two walls while looking down at an enemy. It’s this freedom of movement, this fluid navigation of the environment that sets Splinter Cell apart from other stealth games. A crucial element of any play-through is sticking to the shadows. Splinter Cell is one of those fearless games that keeps shadows dark, very dark, with only two main points of light on Sam to help the player keep track of where they are. Sure there’s Night Vision, but there’s nothing quite like stalking an opponent in complete and utter blackness. It makes for quite a thrilling experience indeed.
Beyond his physical prowess, Sam has a number of tools and gadgets at his disposal that aid him on his missions in the form of guns, sticky shockers and cameras, lock-picks, and Multi-Vision goggles; Sam’s most iconic feature. Technically the player could shoot their through a level unless raising the alarm is against the mission objectives, but Sam isn’t a bullet sponge. He takes heavy damage under gunfire. He’s quite fragile so while the player isn’t exactly punished for a non-stealth approach, it’s often easier just taking your time, planning your routes, using the environment around you to your advantage, and steering clear of enemies at all costs. Despite this, gun-play is competent, deadly, yet not in an over-the-top Hollywood type of way.
I often found that the game could have been greatly improved by giving the player multiple routes during a mission. Sadly, this isn’t the case, and while the game isn’t linear by an means thanks to the perfectly honed stealth and somewhat impressive A.I, it does feel like you’re being bottlenecked at times. There are certain instances in the game whereby you can approach a certain part of a level from a different perspective, but it’s very rare, and mostly serves as an annoying tease of what might have been. This doesn’t cripple the game, but there’s a distinct feeling that if Ubisoft Montreal aimed to achieve this, they could have done it wonderfully. A shame. Also, while the story is fantastic and worthy enough to be added to the pages of any Tom Clancy novel, it relies too heavily on the use of quickly cut together snippets of fictional news broadcasts. This is all well and good, but at times reeks of lazy exposition. I wasn’t exactly looking for long, drawn-out Metal Gear Solid styled cut-scenes either, but something that at least showed the inner workings of Third Echelon would have be nice.
Visually Splinter Cell is pretty impressive too. Characters are well rendered, and Fisher himself has an instantly iconic look thanks to the three green dots of the Multi-Vision goggles. Additionally, each mission looks and feels different from the drab grey walls of the CIA headquarters, to the sun soaked, orange tinted environment of the Oil Rig. Splinter Cell never really treads over the same ground twice. Also, real-time lighting is a tool Ubisoft Montreal use to great effect tool too. It’s never overused, but there are key points in the game where it is used perfectly. Whether it’s light streaming through venetian blinds, or merely cutting through a vent in a thin shaft of light, it sets off an environment, and make for memorable moments during game-play.
The soundtrack composed by Michael Richard Plowman is wonderful, but often goes between being perfect, tense stealth background noise, to overpowering tunes that kill the atmosphere. With a game like Splinter Cell you need to be fully aware of the sounds around you, and sometimes a semi techno beat simply kills it. It’s a mixed bag, but don’t be surprised if you find yourself turning down the music quite a bit.
Overall, Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell is a fantastic, highly enjoyable game that doesn’t shy away from what a true stealth game should be. It’s thrilling, subtle, heavily focused on a silent play-through, and one of the better Tom Clancy games to date. It does have a few minor drawbacks, but it still comes together quite nicely in end. An excellent first edition to an ongoing franchise.