Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Double Agent
And So Flowed forth the Ubisoft press releases. Sam Fisher's gone bad! He's killed all the younglings! He's wearing a top hat and a cape and twirling his moustache! Hes tying a young girl to a railway track, accompanied by the ragtime rhythms of a honky-tonk piano! In the run-up to the release of Double Agent, the PR hounds stopped just short of posting out A4 renders of Sam Fisher snapping the necks of puppies in their mission to make him seem a bit risque.
Of course, they were trying to get the message across that the fourth Splinter Cell game wouldn't simply be another collection of exotic locations in which to shoot out lightbulbs and stalk terrorists in an acrobatic and vaguely homoerotic way. Oh no - this time Sam Fisher's received that alluring Jack Bauer-style air of moral ambiguity everybody seems to be craving lately.
His new outlook on life is born at the end of the game's astoundingly good prologue mission in Iceland (spoiler warning!), where Fisher loses his rookie spy-in-training partner, only to be told that his daughter has been killed in a hit-and-run accident.
Its at this point that Sam chucks his trinoculars into the ocean and weeps with despair and deep moral ambiguity. Ubisoft actually tried to license Johnny Cash's excellent cover of Hurt to play through this rousing introduction, before deciding it would cost too much. It probably would've been over-egging the depressing pudding a bit but its near inclusion highlights the sombre direction the series has taken.
Inspired by these horrible events, Sam forgets to shave and robs a bank, landing himself behind bars complete with an edgy, stubbled makeover. But not really, as it's all an NSA plot to have Sam infiltrate the ranks of a terrorist organisation. What's more, this is all explained in a 20-second FMV montage. Hows that for adding depth and colour to a previously bland character? Good job, Ubisoft.
Sam Fisher's fresh perspective leaves us with a new addition to the Splinter Cell mantra - the much talked-about trust system. It's a brilliant premise, something that's been done so many times on the big screen, but never truly investigated in games. The terrorists you're working for have plans to start exploding cities, and if you want to overthrow their little plot you're going to have to nod and smile and play along for the time being. Like waiting for everybody to put down their hotels first before flipping the Monopoly board over and kicking your opponents in the face.
Fortunately, this doesn't just mean a linear set of objectives with some text on the loading screen to further the story of subterfuge. That would be far too easy, and not very interesting. Instead, each mission throws several objectives at you, some from the JBA (misguided bad guys), and some from the NSA (overbearing good guys). Failing these objectives results in a loss of trust in one or both of these camps, meaning that over the course of the game you find yourself straining to complete nefarious deeds to remain undercover, while adhering to the NSAs objectives, which range from simply not killing anyone to specific instructions to plant bugs or listen in on secret terrorist meetings the JBA has employed you to guard, r Sometimes, trying to juggle the two sets of objectives is genius. You might be sneaking around doing your NSA spying stuff when you see your boss heading for the room where he left you, forcing you to race him back and pretend you were there the whole time (like the dog racing back to I his clothes in Woof!).
For the most part however, keeping both your employers happy isn't a massively (fifficult task. All the objectives from the JBA and the NSA can generally be satisfied, apart from the occasional choice objectives. These pit your interests against one another, forcing you to take sides. Not wanting to spoil any of these choices for you, as they're the icing on Double Agent's stealthy cake, I'll only say that they range from intriguing and clever set-pieces to achingly blatant good conscience/bad conscience decisions. Im talking about Sam (almost) literally holding a big switch that says 'Do The Right Thing!' and Do The Wrong Thing!' on it When the trust System isn't being too lenient, it's being for too obvious.
It's absolutely clear what the developers intended to do with the system, and it works insofar as you'll find yourself being extra careful not to trip any alarms on a mission, as the NSA trust-o-meter is a bit low after you shot a guy in the last one. But you never truly feel torn in either direction, and ultimately you'll enjoy Double Agent more for its classic Splinter Cell thrills. Several missions see you knocking about the JBA headquarters, with some inane task given to you by one of your colleagues in crime.
It's these sections which were really meant to employ the trust system to maximum effect. Huge areas of the base are off-limits to a mere rookie terrorist, meaning that in order to carry out your duties, you have to sneakily collect the various voice samples and fingerprints of your cohorts required to get through security doors.
Start The Fans
These sections play out in real-time, allowing you 25 minutes to finish objectives for both the JBA and NSA. Its a generous amount of time though, meaning what should have been about sacrificing some objectives for the sake of others based on who trusts you more, is more about getting everything done before filling the remainder of your time grabbing a few non-essential bonus objectives such as obtaining medical files and whatnot. The mundane tasks given to you by your evil overlords often involve monotonous Crystal Maze-style puzzles (such as a sudoku-style hacking game), clearly geared towards analogue sticks and consoles.
A Storied Career
The fact that you're going hands-on with the bad guys brings some strong narrative to a typically story-lite series, and even though nothing really comes of it some of the characters you meet have obviously been designed with care and attention to detail. Not least of which Sam himself, whose fluid animation never fails to impress. In fact he gets this really funny apologetic look on his face when a JBA member catches him in a restricted area, which is almost worth getting caught for.
Oddly however, Sam's array of gymnastic abilities seems to have taken a slight hit Not in any major fashion, but enough to make you stop at the end of a mission and realise you never once did the splits to suspend yourself between walls before silently dropping down behind somebody and grabbing them. As you conduct your terrorist duties (which amount to things like putting the kettle on' and watching our PowerPoint presentation about terror'), you can't help but yearn to be back in your spandex overalls, hanging upside down from a pipe and waiting to catch whomever crosses your path, like some exotic cave centipede.
Despite the games producers claiming more reference was drawn from movies like Infernal Affairs, you can't deny just how 24 it's all become, especially as Lambert was voiced by the guy who plays President Palmer in 24 (at least he was in earlier gamqs - he's now been replaced with a decent soundalike). Not that any of this is a bad thing, as we love 24.
Speaking of references, the environments in Double Agent give off a definite Hitman vibe. The two games are about as dissimilar as two gadget-heavy, Metal Gear-inspired third-person stealth-action games can be, but they do share a certain colourful, sleek character in their surroundings. In fact, fans of Metal Gear Solid will notice some familiar locations too - a tanker (albeit stuck in some ice), and a bout of sneaking through a civil war in the Congo - you can almost hear that codec ringing in your ear. Theres also a further move towards the daylit outdoor levels seen in Pandora Tomorrow, with fewer shadows to hide in and more walls to crouch behind. It's all excellently designed stuff, and it doesnt need to be pointed out that Double Agent looks absolutely stunning, whether you're abseiling down the side of the tallest hotel in the world during Chinese New Year or freefalling high above a Siberian coastline.
Double Agent comes close to earning a Classic award, let down only by the fact that we wanted to see them run a bit further with the trust system idea. At its heart, its still the same old stealth 'em up we love. The dialogue between Sam СIronside Fisher and his hapless captives is as sharp as the knife he holds threateningly against their throats, the world feels solid and polished, the animation is sublime on an artistic level, and youll get to one of the multiple endings and feel truly satisfied with yourself. Sam Fisher may have gone bad - but he hasn't got any worse. How's that for ambiguity?
Processor: PC compatible,
OS: Windows 9x, Windows 2000 Windows XP, Vista, Win 7, Win 8, Win 10.
Game Features:Single game mode