reviews\ Apr 11, 2004 at 8:00 pm

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

Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow is the funny sounding sequel to Ubi-Soft’s runaway hit Splinter Cell.  Like the original Splinter Cell you control Sam Fisher, member of the National Security Agency’s top-secret initiative Third Echelon and all around bad-ass.  When global threats to national security warrant the need of intelligence gathering that just cannot be done by a large group, they send in a one-man team, known as a Splinter Cell, “like a sliver of glass, a Splinter Cell is small, sharp, and nearly invisible”.

On the surface, not a whole lot has changed from the original game, but in the case of Splinter Cell, that is not necessarily a bad thing.  The original was an imminently playable game that was fun, exciting, innovative, and absolutely gorgeous to look out.  But dig a little deeper and you’ll see that Ubi Soft did not merely sit on their hands and did in fact make great improvements to the overall game.  The first change you’ll notice is the graphics.  While as already stated the graphics of the original were already incredible, Ubi Soft has added a layer of polish to the graphics that make the characters and environments seem that much more “real” and “living.”  Everything from the environments to the characters, to the lighting and water effects have all gotten a degree of tender loving care that take the graphics to an astounding level.  This is truly one of the most incredible looking games we’re likely to see until the next generation of consoles.  They’re that good.

Gameplay wise, while not a lot has been changed, it has certainly been refined.  Players of the original will be immediately at home guiding Sam and the changes that have been made refine the gameplay in such a way as to seem they’ve always been there.  About the only change control wise that veterans will have to be conscious of is in the way you access your equipment, which isn’t really all that different than before, just much quicker.  Speaking of equipment, most everything remains the same, except for the binoculars, which is a huge, very welcome addition to Sam’s arsenal.  While to rookies this may not seem like a big deal, veterans will breath a sigh of relief.  One of the complaints of the original was that Sam had all of this high tech gear, but no binoculars, which would have been helpful in almost every section of the game for scouting the area ahead.  The binoculars are every bit as helpful as all of us veterans would have thought and hoped for.  Being able to view them through Sam’s thermal and night vision is just icing on the cake.  One last major change that gamers will have to contend with is the inclusion of booby traps laid by the enemy.  Seemingly simple and small in stature, always having to be mindful of trip wires adds to the stress factor exponentially.  No longer do you only have to contend with enemies, dogs, mines, cameras and turrets, but now you must always be on the lookout for trip wires.  Very nice touch.

One of the biggest changes gameplay-wise is how you go about completing the missions.  The mission structure of the original was pretty linear, never allowing you to stray too far from the beaten path, but many of the missions in Pandora Tomorrow feature branching paths for the astute gamer, that often times lead to a much easier path to the objective.  The branching paths force the gamer to constantly think, always looking for an alternative way to tackle a particularly tough objective.  This, too, is a very nice touch, giving you a sense of freedom that was rarely present in the original.  Finally, the last major difference is the inclusion of missions that take place entirely outdoors.  In the original you were almost exclusively contained within sterile, cold, industrial buildings and while it fit with the storyline, there wasn’t a whole lot of variety to the locales in which you found Sam.  Pandora Tomorrow features various outdoor environments opening a whole new dimension to the gameplay.  You’ll still be moving amongst the darkest shadows you can find, but now you’ll be able to use trees, water, and even high grass to your advantage.  This goes a long way towards creating a living, breathing world.

Thus far we have talked about the truly stellar single-player game, which would have been more than enough for any gamer, but Ubi Soft didn’t stop there.  Completely new to Splinter Cell is one of the most innovative and sure to be copied multiplayer modes ever devised.  I’ll admit when I first heard of the mechanics of this new multiplayer mode I was a bit doubtful that it would amount to much more than an amusing diversion.  Boy was I wrong.  Ubi Soft has a created a multiplayer game, that can be played off or online, that will revolutionize the way we view multiplayer modes in our games.  The premise at first is simple.  Two teams of two players, one team, spies, the other team mercenaries.  The premise of the mode is for the teams to neutralize the other, but where it differs from anything else before it is how you play it and the equipment available to each team.  You control the spies from the standard Splinter Cell third-person view, while the mercs are controlled strictly from a first-person view.  The spies have thermal vision and night vision, while the mercs do not, but they do have EMF vision, which alerts them to electromagnetic disturbances, and motion vision, which alerts them to changes in air turbulence.  These are just a couple of the differences between the two teams, of which there are too many to detail here, but suffice it to say, the two teams are perfectly balanced against the other, each possessing unique strengths and weaknesses begging to be exploited.  Normally, I’m not all that crazy about multiplayer modes, but the multiplayer in Pandora Tomorrow is some of the most fun I’ve ever had playing any game.  Not to give Ubi Soft or any other developers any ideas, but the multiplayer mode could’ve been a viable, highly rated game all by itself.

So far this has been a pretty gushing review for an incredible game, but I’d be remiss if I did not mention Pandora Tomorrow’s one weakness, trial and error.  The first game had a lot of trial-and-error sections, but this game outdoes it two fold.  There are several sections of the game that will test your patience and your nerve as you replay them over and over trying to find out exactly what you are supposed to do.  Making matters worse, a lot of these sections demand several moves of perfection in succession with little or no room for error.  One mistake in the chain, and it’s back to the last save point.  While it is a small gripe when compared to the game’s monumental successes, it is real nonetheless.  Is it enough to keep anyone from purchasing and playing the game?  Absolutely not.  But it is enough to dent what would have otherwise been a perfect score for a game closer to perfection than almost any before it.

In closing, if you are fan of the original, or someone just intrigued by the premise; BUY THIS GAME.  It deserves to be in every gamer’s collection, you won’t be disappointed.  This game deftly raises the Splinter Cell franchise to the rarified air of the Mario’s, Metal Gears, and Zelda’s of the world.  Simply put, this game is masterpiece.

Reviewer's Scoring Details

Gameplay: 9.5
Everything about the gameplay is perfect and natural.  Sam is capable of doing a whole lot, but it never becomes a chore to learn or memorize what it takes to do these things.  The missions are exciting, requiring equal parts thought and brute force.  If it weren’t for the trial-and-error elements of the game, it would have certainly rated a 10.

Graphics: 10 
The graphics of Splinter Cell represent the high watermark of videogames today and probably tomorrow.  The characters of the games are insanely detailed and the environments are realistic, lush, and alive.  Unlike the original, the cut-scenes in Pandora Tomorrow nicely complement the in-game graphics.

Sound: 10
From the voice acting to the ambient sounds, to the weapon fire and explosions everything is spot on.  A true aural delight.  On a side note, Michael Ironside is the perfect voice for Sam Fisher.

Difficulty:  Medium
For the most part, the game’s difficulty is perfectly balanced.  The trial-and-error sections weren’t quite enough to push it into the Hard category, but it was close.  The keys to these sections are patience and thinking your way through.  If you can do that, then no part of the game will stand as a huge roadblock.

Concept: 10 
A game based on real world technology and political climes, without needing to devolve into the world of pure fiction or fantasy.  Everything about the game seems as if it could happen in the near future and the developers along with author Tom Clancy have crafted a game world that requires no suspension of belief.  It’s refreshing to see a game based on “real world” issues that is both compelling and exciting.

Multiplayer: 10

Ubi Soft has created a multiplayer mode that is innovative, unique, and an absolute blast to play.  We as gamers are always crying for innovation and we have it here.  I cannot see this multiplayer ever getting old or stale.

Overall: 9.6
Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow flirts tantalizingly close to gaming perfection.  All of the components are here, so with a little tuning for the inevitable follow up, perfection and pure gaming nirvana should be well within their grasp.  Without a doubt this is one of the greatest, best-conceived games of this or any generation of consoles.  This game deserves a place in every gamer’s library.



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