Grab your night vision goggles, pick up that silenced pistol; we have spy work to do, and that is exactly what the Ubi Soft developed stealth-packed spy-fest, Tom Clancyâ€™s Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow is all about. As the sequel to the highly acclaimed super-selling, Splinter Cell, agent Sam Fisherâ€™s latest follow-up has a lot to live up to. Fortunately, Pandora Tomorrow arrives on GameCube as a game above and beyond the run-of-the-mill and despite a few flaws, will still please Cube fans eager for a solid and engaging single player romp.
In an age of increasing threats against United States national security and the increasingly sophisticated methods of digital encryption used to conceal them, the US government has been forced into a critical dilemma. To combat these defence threats the NSA has formed a secret initiative granted full clearance to conduct traditional physical espionage operations, the secret division is hailed as Third Echelon. The very existence of Third Echelon is denied by the US government and armed to the teeth with the latest in surveillance and stealth gadgetry. To dispatch potential security threats, Third Echelon deploys Splinter Cells, elite intelligence-gathering units comprised of a lone field operative and supported by a remote team. You are one of these operatives. You are Sam Fisher, the best of the best.
Pandora Tomorrow sees you once again sneaking around as gruff but deadly, Sam Fisher, this time on the trail of anti-US guerrilla militant, Suhadi Sadano, acting on the unofficial support of major corrupt factions of the Indonesian government. From your first mission to infiltrate a US embassy occupied by Sadanoâ€™s men to your last, you will be lead deeper and deeper along a path of conspiracy and intrigue. The story itself is told through a combination of beautiful FMV sequences and well-scripted, often amusing, in-game banter between Fisher and operation coordinator, Colonel Lambert. It all makes for an engrossing and gritty narrative that feels like it was plucked straight out of a Tom Clancy novel.
Starting off on your first covert mission in Pandora Tomorrow new players will have to grapple with a mildly steep learning curve, obviously in place to avoid babying Splinter Cell veterans. Fortunately though if you are new to the series like me it should only take a few missions to pick up the stealth essentials, of which there are a few. Fisher comes complete with a bustling arsenal of moves and gadgets, ranging in everything from standard climbing, jumping, hanging and shooting to grabbing enemy guards from behind and interrogating them. The game feels like pure simulation, the gadgets and weapons have an authentic feel to them entirely unlike the â€˜Qâ€™-issued brand in a cheesy bond flick; this is what really generates this gritty feeling of being a â€˜realâ€™ agent caught up in a secret world of espionage and assassination and this is exactly what separates Splinter Cell from the rest.
Of course stealth-based is an apt word to describe Pandora Tomorrow because making yourself â€˜invisibleâ€™ is exactly what you will be doing the majority of the time. To achieve invisibility you will need to lurk in the shadows and avoid being exposed to light because this will dictate exactly how detectable Sam is to the surrounding guards. To avoid exposure your best bet is to cling to walls, crouch low in the shadows, knock out enemies from behind and keep a close eye on your light/dark gauge, as you cautiously snake your way through gloomy corridors and guard filled rooms, of course cracking out the trusty sniper rifle or gas grenades also proves to be very handy.
By nature Splinter Cell is a linear sort of game, mission maps occasionally branch off but it is primarily the freedom in how you approach environmental puzzles such as a guard filled room in which Splinter Cellâ€™s fun and cleverness really excels. You will have to think things through and you will have to constantly make decisions, like whether shooting out a couple of lamps to create shadows Sam can cloak himself in would be a more effective choice than throwing a bottle down an adjoining corridor as a guard diversion. This also is what ties in with that strong simulation aspect of Splinter Cell, you canâ€™t rush through a mission in classic Rambo gung-ho style just as assumedly you couldnâ€™t in the same real life situation, you have to weigh your options and execute them with a ninja-like grace and this becomes an increasingly addictive facet to Splinter Cell.
In terms of controls, Pandora Tomorrow on GameCube suffers somewhat. Designed with the Xbox controller in mind, the GameCube pad just doesnâ€™t have enough buttons to keep up. To resolve this issue Ubisoft have utilised a slightly awkward, albeit workable, method to enter, exit and fire in sniper/binocular view through lightly/fully depressing the L-button. Itâ€™s a control that is workable but makes it all too easy to accidentally press the L-button in such a way that it exits from the view just as youâ€™re about to make that crucial shot to knock off that guardâ€™s noggin. Itâ€™s a problem that might have been easily solved with some minor control rethinking.
But the biggest loss in the port over from Xbox is the GameCube buildâ€™s lack of online multiplayer, or any multiplayer for that matter. To try and compensate for this shortcoming Ubisoft have infused Game Boy Advance connectivity. Unfortunately the benefits on offer are meagre at best. By connecting a Game Boy Advance system to your GameCube you will be able to unlock an additional jungle themed level, unfortunately this is the same level Xbox Live users have already had been able to download for months; not quite the exclusive bonus you would be hoping for. The other feature available is access to a skimpy mission radar during play. This just doesnâ€™t come close to balancing out the lack of multiplayer support.
In terms of graphics Pandora Tomorrow is a case of mostly hit and some miss. As you would expect from its emphasis on shadow crawling, Splinter Cell has some beautiful light and shadow effects going for it. This is by far the gameâ€™s biggest plus, seeing individual bars of light bend and wrap over Fisherâ€™s high-polygon body from a nearby grate is a gorgeous sight to behold. The level design and detail is also very nice and as you would hope every exotic location from a French Cryogenics lab to the dark streets of Jerusalem are brought to life with fitting architecture and meticulous detail, to top it all off there are also some pretty water effects in place too. But what causes Splinter Cell to fall short from full graphical glory are some rather pixelated close up textures, frequent clipping and some stiff, choppy animation from Sam. While still very beautiful, it seems Pandora Tomorrow for GameCube didnâ€™t quite experience the same polish as the Xbox build did.
The sound in Splinter Cell is a wonderful aural experience. If you have the misfortune of arousing the suspicion of a guard the music will suddenly become an erratic, heavy adrenaline-pumping beat, during any sort of climatic shootout or intense moment of detection you will feel this familiar sort of change and this really helps heighten the suspense and thrill. Sound effects too are superb, from the echo of shuffling feet and muffled voices down an alleyway to the intuitive level of noise Sam produces as he walks and crouches throughout a mission; careless clamour will alert the guards to your presence. The voice acting too is excellent. Most of the dialogue involves Sam and Colonel Lambert (voiced by Dennis Haysbert of 24 fame) exchanging quips and jibes while delivering story clues and mission objectives, the realism with which these conversations are conveyed is highly engaging.
Ultimately Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow arrives to GameCube owners as a beautiful, well crafted single player experience. The game suffers from a number of flaws in comparison to its Xbox counterpart but regardless still provides a delicious blend of sharp Tom Clancy laced story and intense stealth based gameplay. Although the loss of multiplayer does drastically reduce the replay value, the single player is a lengthy and addictive experience. But what it really comes down to though is that if you have access to an Xbox, particularly one armed with Xbox Live functionality, choosing the GameCube version of the game is probably a poor choice. However for GameCube only owners, Pandora Tomorrow is undoubtedly a deep, intelligent single player experience that will never fail to enthral from beginning to end.