Splinter Cell is a "stealth-action" game, released by Ubi Soft Montreal in November of 2002. It is the latest of their Tom Clancy line of games - including Rainbow Six, Rogue Spear, and Ghost Recon.

The game features Sam Fisher, an NSA "splinter cell" - an agent operating out of the fictional Third Echelon, under the (so-far) fictional Fifth Freedom. In other words, he can do whatever is necessary to protect his country, unless he's caught. At one point, your supervisor makes this clear: "your existence privileges have been revoked until the end of the mission."

The gameplay, graphics, and sounds of the game all come together to form a very enjoyable playing experience. I'll say this for Tom Clancy - he can't hold a candle to, say, David Foster Wallace, but who'd want to play Infinite Jest: the Game (Eschaton not included)? If nothing else, he's given Ubi Soft a chance to whip out some very fun, very realistic games with a big name attached.

The focus of the game is primarily upon stealth - gunning it out with more than one enemy at once is an almost guaranteed death. On some missions, you're not allowed to kill anyone or set off any alarms. Some are more lax, though, and you're certainly going to see some action. Pulling off a good headshot with the silenced pistol or the multipurpose rifle is often the best course of action.

Much of the time, however, will find you creeping through the shadows, taking out enemies from behind or avoiding them all together. Things become nasty quite quickly on most levels if you're spotted. Information is the underlying basis for most of what you do, not mayhem.

Fisher has a number of tricks up his sleeves to get around this, though. Physically, he can sneak, roll, climb, leap, and rappel through the levels, honky western ninja style. It's quite fun to hang one-handed from a pipe, whip out your gun, and pick off an enemy or simply jump upon them and be scary. The animations for everything are beautiful, and almost always very fluid - things don't magically jump from one place to another, and neither do you. They don't fudge things - if you don't quite make a jump, you fall, and more than likely die, unless you're lucky and get close enough to grab the ledge you were jumping for and pull yourself up.

You've also got a number of gadgets that, while not up to the wild niftiness of Q, are a lot more realistic and quite fun all the same. From night vision/infrared goggles to a light pipe that you can peer under doors with, these reinforce the stealthy nature of the game. The assault rifle has a launcher that can fire taser-like projectiles, non-lethal stunner rounds, and even sticky cameras! Of particular note is the way lock picking is handled. Disposable picks will burn out a lock and open it immediately, but more often, you'll be using a standard lock pick set. And when I say you, I mean it - when you pick a lock, the game overlays a cross-section of the lock on the screen, and (on the Xbox, at any rate) you must twiddle the thumbstick around till you feel the rumble of the sweet spot, then fiddle with it till the tumbler clicks, and move on to the next. This is a great idea, and it's well executed. It's a lot more fun than sitting there watching Sam do it, pretty animations or not.

And speaking of pretty, it is. Splinter Cell features not just great animation, but well-done characters and some fantastic locations. The messy and complex oil rig overlooking a beautiful calm sea at sunset is particularly nice. And again, we see that the graphics support the overall theme of the game - stealth. The light/shadow system in Splinter Cell is lovely. If you pass by a wrought iron gate with a swinging light behind it, you'll see intricate shadows waving back and forth across the ground - and across the unconscious body on your back.

The sound and music in Splinter Cell, while not earth-shatteringly good, are quite serviceable. The music supports the mood very well, quiet and slow as you creep through the shadows, fast and loud when you're dodging angry guards. The ambient sounds are pretty well done, and the voice acting is definitely well above average. Michael Ironsides voices Sam well, and the random chatter you hear on every level is great.

Overall, I find Splinter Cell to be one of the most polished and fun games I've played in a while. It can be frustratingly difficult at times, but there's always a little hope. The check point system can be annoying, but not excessively so. Splinter Cell was initially available for the Xbox and PC. It has since been ported to the Gamecube and Playstation 2. It supports Xbox Live via the ability to download additional levels.

Name: Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell
Format: most Java enabled phones, for example: Nokia 3510i
Developer: gameloft
Publisher: distributed via WAP
Year: 2003

It was never going to be easy to port a game which relied a lot on realistic realtime lighting and cutting edge graphics to a cellular telephone, but to their credit, Gameloft have almost pulled it off.

The game is now a 2D based platform romp through some immensely linear levels, avoiding guards, mines, and the occasional sentry turret. The player, playing as Sam Fisher (hero of the main Xbox and PC versions of the game) has to run, jump, crawl, hide, shimmy, hide, shoot and sneak his way through 9 levels, completing them (ideally) with the minimum of notice from guards. Of course, since the game gives you (on most levels) a gun with infinite ammunition, it would be rude not to shoot people along the way..

Although most guards are easily killed with no loss of health (take three rounds of hot lead and it's back to the start of the level), it's far more stylish if you can creep up on them (they all have rigidly defined patrols which generally involve either moving from left to right, standing still, or sleeping) and strangle them (although this only incapacitates them temporarily, for some reason) before stealthily moving on to the next. Darkened doorways can be hid in, and this is usually essential to catching guards completely unawares. The screen displayed when you complete a level shows a number of statistics, such as number of guards stunned and number killed. Many guards patrol very close to each other, so you have to make your move quickly and return to hiding. However, due to the platform nature of the levels (there are lots of vent shafts and crate* stacks to limber up and drop off) the coolest way to kill guards is undeniably just to walk off and edge and land on their head, knocking them out cold.

The game has two different difficulty levels, normal and veteran. In normal, it's relatively easy to complete the levels, as you can pretty much shoot your way through - hide behind anything waist high, or dangle off any ledge, and you are pretty much invincible, as guards and turrets alike ignore you. Guards who see you will activate alarms, but wheras in the proper game, and in most other stealth based games (eg Metal Gear Solid), guards would come running at the sound of an alarm, in this game absolutely nothing happens - even the guard who sounded the alarm will lose interest after a few seconds. When playing on Veteran** level, however, a single alarm will result in you failing the level, and going back to the start, or the half way point if you have reached it. You get infinite tries at each level, until your frustration sends your phone flying across the room. The game is pretty tricky to complete on Veteran, but once you learn the tricks of where the guards will not see you, it becomes much easier.

Although I did enjoy playing through the 9 levels both times round, the game does not hold much lasting appeal. This is mainly due to cell phones being completely unsuited to games - as much as anyone tries to deny it, playing response based games on a phone which doesn't register more than one button pressed at once (and has sketchy registering even when you only press one) is not nearly as much fun as it should be. A pity, because this game is nicely designed and reasonably creative, but it becomes more than a little annoying when your phone doesn't register the attack button just when you need it. Still, credit goes to gameloft for making the best of a bad platform.

The game's real purpose is shown during it's loading screen - "Also available on your PC and Next-gen console". Basically, this game is an advert.. however, it rates as one of the better ways to promote a big name game I've seen. The animation on all the characters is very smooth, and although the sound is truly pitiful (the only thing I've heard is the gun firing noise) the challenge and creativity of the admittedly linear levels more than makes up for it. Definitely worth it if you can find it (many sites offer it for paying download, although if you know where to look you can get it for only the price of enough WAP minutes to downlaod it.. it isn't a classic by any means, but it'll fill up that bus journey you hate nicely. And when compared to some of the other crap that passes as cell phone games, this is definitely top of the pile.


* - it appears the curse of the FPS (crates appearing in every level, for no apparent reason) is spreading. lj points out that "I believe 'crates everywhere for no reason' originated on 2D platformers - revenge of shinobi , for instance, is riddled with them, The great thing about a crate from an 8/16-bit console's point of view is that it fits perfectly into a single background cell.." - thanks for that, you have a good point.
** - unlocked by completing the game on easy level.

Sources:
Playing through the game on my Nokia 3510i

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