The constant improvement in video technology has quickly made some of our old favourites seem dated. Not because they weren't fun to play, but rather that they look and feel tired in their older fatigues. It's a shame, but many good games are consigned to the bargain bin purely on the basis that their graphics no longer cut the mustard.
When we first heard that Splinter Cell was effectively being re-mastered with HD graphics, it was tempting to think that was just a cynical attempt to scratch out a bit more cash from the series; however it soon became clear that this is a serious attempt to breathe more life into an old favourite and give it an outing on a modern console.
For those unfamiliar with the series, it revolves around Sam Fisher, who is a member of a special black operations team. When first released in 2002 (2004 saw the release of the sequel Pandora Tomorrow and then, in 2005, Chaos Theory – the three of which combine to make up this trilogy), it came into a market that was all about third person shooters. Games where accuracy was delivered by the volume of bullets you could put down range and every player had a combat hero's medal in his backpack. Not so Splinter Cell. This was a game that rewarded cunning and stealth. Success was often achieved by not killing anyone at all.
We will be the first to admit that this style of game play does not appeal to all players, but it did strike a chord with a lot of people who wanted more than mindless violence, and who wanted more of a thinking man’s combat game. In fact, the series to date has sold over 20 million units and in part this is because the game was paired with a series of supporting novels from Tom Clancy.
The game basics have you completing a series of missions where you have to sneak rather than charge. The key is to use shadows and darkness to slip behind opponents, or avoid them altogether. Your key weapon is a set of sophisticated goggles that allow you to switch to between thermal, night vision, and radar (interestingly, in an example of life imitating art, similar goggles have since been developed). You have the option to either silently kill or disable, with the latter option being the best. Your opponents are light and sound. Noisy frontal assaults - although heroic - are ultimately rewarded with discovery and a quick death.
All three games in the series have been remastered from the PC version. The games were also released on the PlayStation 2, however it was felt the PC version was a better base to build from. Unfortunately the multiplayer aspects of the original PC version have been removed; on the up-side, though, the games are now delivered in high definition. In addition, for those who have a 3D capable television, you can even play the game in 3D. This certainly puts a whole new spin on the gameplay and makes it seem all the more tense and immersive. This is significant, as 3D gaming has largely been a novelty to date. This is an ideal vehicle for the technology, and we can only hope other developers provide this as a gameplay option.
Whether you go to whole-hog and play in 3D, or your budget only extends to 2D, the games are all largely the same as when they were originally released - only brighter and sharper. Don't expect lots of subtle shading and highly detailed backgrounds; they weren't in the original and they are not in this release. Similarly, the animations look a bit dated.
If you have played through the series before then you will need to consider that this really is the same game but polished up. However, if you have never put on the tri-focal goggles, then this is a great opportunity to experience the gameplay and challenge of these original games. Just don't expect ultra detailed graphics. You can either download each game separately from the PlayStation Network, or look out for the complete bundle on Blu-Ray later on this month.