|Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow|
|Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Release Date: Out Now
Players: 1, 2-4 via system link or Xbox Live
Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow, in some ways, feels like two totally separate games on one disc. When you load the game the title screen has two options for you: single player and multiplayer, selecting one of these will cause the game to load again, each of which having their own "intro" video that plays. The controls can be confusing at times, as they are slightly different in single player and multiplayer when doing the same action (e.g. leaning against a wall).
The single player portion of the game feels like a sequel should, for the most part; the gameplay is a bit tighter this time around, and overall it feels improved, with a bit more polish and balance. In some respects though, the game feels "dumbed down" to appeal to a wider audience, as the original was notoriously tough. In this game you seem to have a lot more ammo, and there are a lot more health-ups placed throughout the levels - this time in a reusable health "dispenser" rather than portable med kits. There are also three alarm stages on most levels and as you set one off you'll get told that the guards are putting flak jackets, or helmets on. Or if a guard hears/sees you they practically yell out "I think I see something" or "Must have been nothing" when they don't find you, unlike the original game where they would either proceed quietly, or mutter something under their breath.
When approaching a door you now get a context menu with the option to open it, use your lock pick, or your optic cable, whereas in the original game you had to select either gadget first, and then use the door - this just helps keep things moving at a faster pace than the original. Another improvement is that you can now open doors when carrying a body, which helps a lot. Speaking of doors, they now stay open a lot longer than they did in the first game, a minor detail, but again, it helps when passing from room to room. Sam has a couple of new moves to help him this time around as well - when in a split-jump he can now lean to one side and push off the wall to jump even higher, when climbing a pipe on the ceiling, he can now wrap his legs around it, and use his pistol, and he can do a "SWAT" move which allows Sam to swing by doorways undetected. As with the original game, these moves seem mostly redundant, as the level designs don't really allow for them to be used enough. It does, however, encourage a lot more use of your gadgets, and in some cases, you are required to use several in order to complete a mission. Sam can also whistle now, instead of only being able to throw bottles/empty cans to distract enemies in the original, and, whilst being more realistic, it makes the game much easier as you can whistle to lure a guard into a suitable position for an attack, and pick them off one-by-one. One major annoyance is that the whistle is set to the black button, and with the inventory on white it means that if you hit the wrong button it will sometimes get you killed. What's even more annoying is that the black button was the inventory button in the original, making it even easier to press by mistake. There are only eight levels in the single player campaign, but they are all longer than any of the ones found in the original, and are more varied. However, as the game is much easier now, you will probably get through it quicker. Some of the levels try to be a bit less linear than the original, but it doesn't really work unfortunately, more often than not, it leaves you wondering where to go next.
The AI has been improved a bit over the original, but there are still occasions where they can see, and shoot you, in total darkness, and at other times where they seem to be totally deaf and/or blind…
On to the multiplayer now. First things first - if you have Xbox Live, I would buy the game for the multiplayer alone. The single player is as good as the original, but the multiplayer is where this game really shines. Unfortunately there are no split screen options, but you can play in system link if you don't have Live. Multiplayer is basically a game of "Spies Vs. Mercenaries". The spies have to go in and, depending on the game mode, neutralise/sabotage/steal ND133 virus containers, and the mercenaries have to either protect the containers or eliminate the spies within the time limit (each team has a set number of lives).
The multiplayer experience is unique, as the spies are in the traditional Splinter Cell third person view, whereas the Mercenaries are played in a first person view. This mode is cleverly balanced once you learn the mechanics of it. (This is one game I would recommend reading the manual and doing the tutorials to save you working things out over a few, possibly frustrating, hours of online play).
Each team has access to different gadgets/vision modes. The spies' equipment is only there to distract, or to temporarily disable a mercenary to get away. The only way to kill a merc is to get behind them, grab them, and either break their neck or choke them to death.
Mercenaries on the other hand, are deadly. They have a kind of assault rifle, grenades, and mines at their disposal - but the first person view limits what they can see, so their problem is not killing the spies, but finding them.
As I mentioned, each team has different vision modes. Spies have the standard night vision or thermal vision modes, whereas mercenaries have a motion tracker, which will turn the screen red, and only show up anything moving (which looks incredibly cool in action) and electromagnetic vision, which turns everything blue, and anything electrical white (e.g. a spy, if they are using night vision or thermal goggles) You also get a flashlight and an optional laser sight for your gun, which will identify targets if you have trained on them for a couple of seconds.
There are only eight maps, but they're huge, at least double the size of those found in Rainbow Six 3. (And the load times are about 1/3 the time) There are usually six ND133 containers in a level, two in each of the three different sectors. Neutralising/sabotaging/stealing one of these will disable the other one in the sector. The spies' objective is to clear all the sectors, and with there only being two mercs, you expect at least one of them to get done in each game, unless the mercs are doing a really great job patrolling.
The multiplayer game really keeps the tension of the single player game going, and I was surprised at how well it had done this. You get a great feeling as a spy when you see a mercenary walk right up to you, or past you, and not see you at all because they were in the wrong vision mode, or as a mercenary, if you do spot a spy that thinks you haven't seen them.
As with the original game, the graphics are stunning, in fact they look even better as the team has tried to do even more with the engine. There are many more places where you see shafts of light, and the water has not only seen an upgrade, but has seen more use as well, and it looks incredible. However, with these upgrades the team seemed to have little regard for the framerate. The first level of the game has some noticeable framerate problems, and they show up time and time again in the single player. Multiplayer seems to be locked at a pretty solid 30fps from what I have seen. The game's main visual problem is tearing though (horizontal splitting of the graphics as you move or turn). This looks horrible, and is present in both the single player and the multiplayer portions of the game. If you can look past this blemish you will probably love the game, but I know a few people who refuse to play it because of this.
The cut scenes and link sequences are generally done like the last game, some as news reports, and look a bit nicer.
Sound has seen a bit of an upgrade as well. The voice acting is still great, although some of the characters voices have changed, in my opinion, for the worse - the same goes for the writing/script. It doesn't seem quite as good as the original game. The game now supports 7.1 sound with Dolby Pro-Logic 2x, which I haven't been able to test myself, but I can say that Dolby Digital 5.1 sounds fantastic, and most people say that the DD5.1 sounds better as it has discrete channels for its sound, rather than using matrixed sound, which provides better positioning.
The music doesn't seem as well done (or as fitting) as the music in the original game, but the music in the multiplayer game when things are nearing an end sounds good.
Overall I would say that the game as a whole is improved over the original, even though some things are done worse, and it has that awful tearing problem. An abrupt end to the solo game doesn't help the feeling that the game is slightly less polished that it should have been.
If you were a fan of the original, you will probably enjoy the game, and you didn't like the first game, or thought it was too hard, you might want to give it a try.
If you're an Xbox Live owner, I can't recommend this game enough. It is a completely new experience, and unlike anything I've ever played online - in fact you can raise the score to a 9 if you're a regular Xbox Live player - definitely one to have in your collection.
- Looks incredible at times.
- Improved over the original in most aspects.
- Inconsistent controls.
- Non-skippable in-game cut scenes.