From the moment you start playing Tom Clancyâ€™s Splinter Cell: Double Agent, it is apparent how much effort has gone into creating a really moody and atmospheric game. The short introductory level finishes and melts into the opening cut scene, giving the story a movie-like quality more often seen in the adventure games.
One of the most impressive features of the Splinter Cell series is that the games have evolved in style to become appealing to the more casual gamer. The first two titles demanded a rigid and linear style of play, which slowed down the games and made them seem far too disciplined to really enjoy (not to mention seriously intimidating to all but the most seasoned gamers). The third title, Chaos Theory, took a step toward, freeing up the basic structure of each mission to allow players to be rewarded for stealthy behaviour and punished for foolish shenanigans. Double Agent takes a further step in the right direction by giving players the power to push Sam Fisher's moral compass in whichever direction they feel inclined.
As players guide Sam Fisher down the hazardous path of living as a double agent, they are faced with choices that can drastically change the storyline. While working for both the NSA and a terrorist group called John Brown's Army (JBA), moral ambiguity is encouraged in order to keep both parties happy, but ultimately, the decision is yours. Unless you are caught doing something mightily suspicious, you have a surprising amount of freedom to pick and choose which directly opposing mission goals you'd like to complete. This in-game flexibility is what sets Splinter Cell Double Agent apart and makes it truly entertaining, rather than a game you feel obligated to play through once you've spent your dosh on it.
Depending on how pernickety you are (or arenâ€™t), the game can be quite easy to get through. After a few bungled tries at each mission, the idea is to push yourself to get through with a 100% stealth rating. No matter which difficulty level you choose however, the game still strikes a perfect balance between being easy and forgiving if you are careful and harsh if you make a stupid mistake.
Blanketed by my enjoyment of the gorgeous graphics seen in Double Agent is the irritating wish that there was a different version for people who own high-def televisions and a version for the rest of the world who canâ€™t afford to own a PS3 and a high def TV and pay rent/uni fees/eat. Whatever TV you play on though, this game looks incredible. A graphical bonus is that a number of the missions take place during the day, allowing the exquisitely textured surfaces and detailed environments to be fully appreciated in the unforgiving sunlight.
The subtle background noises are even more impressive on the PS3 now that they donâ€™t have to compete with a console loud enough to be mistaken for a microwave - Iâ€™m looking at you Xbox 360! The voice acting and sound effects are superb, and continue to set an extremely high bench mark for future titles. While not quite as distinctive as the soundtrack from Chaos Theory, the Double Agent score is still hauntingly beautiful. And yes, Michael Ironsideâ€™s gravel-voiced rendition of Sam Fisher is enough to give you goose bumps. (No? Just me then?)
Although the jump in enjoyment levels I experienced between playing Pandora Tomorrow and Chaos Theory is greater than the jump in enjoyment between Chaos Theory and Double Agent, the latest title is by far the most intriguing Splinter Cell yet. While the PS3 lineup remains so far rather average, Splinter Cell Double Agent is a shining beacon of light, patiently awaiting your purchase. Remind yourself why you bought a PS3 by shelling out a few more dollars for this game - you won't be disappointed.