reviews\ Aug 17, 2004 at 8:00 pm

Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell Pandora Tomorrow - GC - Review

Splinter Cell is all about stealth.  Hardcore stealth.  Don't expect much action, because you won't get any.  Oftentimes when you're spotted and the alarm is sounded, you don't even get the option of fighting your way out or hiding – the mission is over.  The shadows are your friend, and the light is your enemy.  Killing is rarely required and never encouraged.


Admittedly, Pandora Tomorrow does allow one to be quite stealthy.  As in the original, the game offers a well thought out shadow system that actually works and keeps you hidden from enemy eyes even when they're right in front of you – well, unless they're equipped with fancy goggles like you are.  At any time you can turn on your night-vision or heat-sensor; the former is extremely useful as an extremely large portion of the game is very dark, so much so that it is impossible to see without them a lot of the time.  You also have the ability to pick locks, peek under closed doors, and use some nifty firearms (when allowed).


Actually, you have an assortment of gadgets that are really neat and interesting.  The highlight is probably the sticky camera, which is shot like a bullet onto a surface some distance away; once shot, you can check out the surroundings from a safe spot.  Shoot it before turning a corner into a dangerous path to analyze the situation, or perhaps up a flight of stairs to see what waits at the top.  The stick shocker is also a clever little device.  This little bugger can be shot at an enemy and will send a burst of electricity through his body, causing a spasm and a fall to the ground immediately afterwards.  It can even be shot into a puddle that a guard might be standing in, and the current will travel into his body – a cute touch.


Your character in the game is relatively versatile, for as old as he seems.  He can run pretty fast, but you're better off spending you're time in a crouched position as it is much quieter.  He can grab onto overhead pipes or wires and climb along them, and you can even dangle upside down and use your weapons.  And in tight hallways, you can hop up and do a split-jump to steady yourself comfortably in the air; this can even be used to reach higher ledges.


The levels in the game offer a nice variety of experiences and demand that you change your strategies to meet the specific needs of each area.  Aside from America you’ll travel to France, Indonesia, Israel, and others, and each area is pleasantly distinct.  The tall brush and heavy vegetation of one area asks for a different type of stealth than the busy streets of a city where you must hide in the shadows and dark, empty streets.


Unfortunately, the game has its share of problems.  The first and most noticeable annoyance are the ridiculously long loading times that pop up with every checkpoint.  You can save your game only at checkpoints, and can only restart at a checkpoint as well.  The second problem with the game brings the first problem into light over and over again: the trial-and-error nature of the gameplay.  While not terribly intrusive at first, it comes into light as you progress in the game and the difficulty level rises.  While you have some leeway in choosing how to tackle a mission, it seems that only one or two of your options actually works.  And since the sounding of an alarm oftentimes means the mission is an immediate failure, you're stuck going back to the checkpoint, waiting for it to load, and then work your way back to where you were until you get everything just right.  Multiple paths are rare in this game, and trying to think outside of the box doesn't seem to work when you want it to.  If the gameplay doesn't seem especially restrictive in your first play through of the game, it will in your second time through, or when watching a friend.  The game lacks replayability due to its structure, and this drags it down greatly.


The graphics in the game are not terribly impressive either.  While not bad, the somewhat blocky character models, repetitive textures, and often-black and white color of the game (due to your night-vision being used so much) adds up to make a game that is a bit bland.  Shadows look great, of course, animation is decent, and the occasional area just looks fabulous.  But the majority of the game is less than stellar, and even when it's at its finest it's still not quite on par with the Xbox version.  While this isn't a huge deal, the framerate isn't as good as it could be, and that is, in fact, troublesome.


Another disappointment is the utter lack of a multiplayer mode in the GameCube version.  While the Xbox version sports an innovative, stealth-focused four-player mode that utilizes Xbox Live, the GameCube port doesn't even offer an offline mode.  Why this is, is unknown to me, but in any case, it's completely missing and this really hurts the replayability factor that is already damaged from the straightforward single-player mode.


While Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow is still a solid game, it doesn't offer a terrible lot that it's predecessor didn't; if you're looking for more of the same, though, then you're in luck.  Still, the strict gameplay makes more than one trip through the game a chore, and the lack of a multiplayer mode is inexcusable, especially when the Xbox version actually has one that is worthwhile.  If you don't have an Xbox, the game still makes for a good rental, but one would hope to avoid paying the full cost of an inferior version of a game that has its share of problems.



Gameplay: 7.5

Playing in the shadows is fun, but the trial-and-error nature of the game is not.  Getting it just right is the only way to play this game, but if you don't mind that then you'll have some fun.


Graphics: 7.0

Not bad, but unimpressive, the graphics are adequate but little more.


Sound: 8.5

The game boasts a good musical score, and when it's quiet the game gets tense.  Voices, especially the main characters, are very well done.


Concept: 6.5

Although it's still one of a kind as far as stealth gaming goes, it does little to separate itself from the original Splinter Cell.  The praised innovative multiplayer mode is entirely missing from the GameCube version for some reason.


Overall: 7.0

Pandora Tomorrow does stealth better than anyone else.  On one hand, it does shadows like nobodies business, offers slick gadgets for you to use, and it's well-done levels force you to use different strategies to progress.  On the other hand, the strict, straightforward gameplay leaves little room for creativity or freedom on the end of the gamer, and the constant deaths and lengthy load times hurt the game more than help it.  The lack of a multiplayer mode is ridiculous, and as a result, the game will be put aside on a shelf once it is completed for the first time.  A rental would not be bad if you liked the original, but it is hard to recommend a purchase.


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