Once, Sam Fisher was a hero. Now, he‚Äôs a terrorist. ‚Ä¶Or is he?
A couple of weeks back, Emily (our resident espionage expert) reviewed Splinter Cell: Double Agent for the PlayStation 2. Now, however, I have sneaked one past her, and gotten my hands on the even more exciting Xbox 360 version. It‚Äôs beautiful. It‚Äôs brilliantly thought out. And, for a Splinter Cell virgin like myself, its damn near impossible!
Just like the PS2 version, the 360 Double Agent follows veteran Splinter Cell protagonist Sam Fisher deep undercover, as he infiltrates the notorious terrorist organisation John Brown‚Äôs Army (JBA). Taking control of Fisher, you will be forced to walk a fine line between loyalty to the National Security Agency (NSA) and feigned loyalty to the terrorists, who will kill you if they find out you‚Äôre a double agent.
Double Agent is still in the vein of the series‚Äô previous titles, concentrating on stealth. It‚Äôs an action title, but one which involves much more in the way of strategy and problem-solving than simple shooting. The controls should feel familiar to those who have played the previous games. They were, however, not so for me as a newcomer ‚Äď and here the game‚Äôs lack of a proper tutorial was something of an issue; the introductory mission, at least in its opening stages, seemed to have all the cons and none of the pros of a tutorial ‚Äď I was bored, but I was also confused. Once I got to grips with the controls, however, they proved pretty solid. And, while I still unrelentingly sucked at sneaking, I decided this was probably now my own problem, and not the fault of the game itself.
Where this latest Splinter Cell divides itself from its predecessors is in its plot. Where previously the series relied on its excellent gameplay to keep players engaged throughout a string of individual missions, Double Agent brings to bear a strong unifying storyline. Moreover, it immerses the player in the complex and difficult world of the double agent, and actually succeeds for the most part in making the moral choices ‚Äď which so often in games are either too black-and-white, too inconsequential, or both ‚Äď seem powerful and relevant. Double Agent forces you to balance between good and evil, to gain the trust of JBA so you can bring them down from within whilst not straying too far from doing the right thing. Each mission has goals assigned to you by both JBA and the NSA, and sometimes you will be unable to complete the goals for both.
Walking the line, however, while challenging, is not as frightening as it might seem. Throughout missions, you will be shown ‚Äėtrust meters‚Äô for both sides, and the trick is basically to keep both at a reasonable level at all times; it does you no good to be all chummy with the terrorists if your real bosses lose faith in you. In addition to this step-by-step testing of your allegiance, however, there are some key moments in the game where you are forced to choose a course of action which will seriously impact the game.
It is the fact that your actions have consequences which makes the morality of Double Agent stand out from other games. There are three distinctly different endings. This not only makes your moral decisions important, it also gives the single-player mode (which isn‚Äôt especially long) immense replay value.
Emily‚Äôs review, coming as it does from someone well versed in all things Splinter Cell, is an in-depth look at the game which I cannot hope to match; for more info on where Double Agent had taken the franchise, I would highly recommend reading it. Rather than try to repeat too much of what Emily has already so eloquently stated, I want to look at the differences between the game on Xbox 360 and on older consoles.
Unsurprisingly, I guess, the game looks better. Actually, ‚Äúbetter‚ÄĚ doesn‚Äôt cover it. Splinter Cell: Double Agent looks stunning on the 360 ‚Äď even though it‚Äôs often too dark to for one to really appreciate the graphics. What I was not expecting, however, was that the game content is actually substantially different. The basic plot arc remains constant across all platforms, but the individual missions vary greatly from the older console versions. Playing on the 360, you will be close to playing a different game. There are even a number of daytime missions ‚Äď presumably to show off the next-gen graphical intensity. What is disappointing, however, is that the 360 version is in fact underdeveloped in some areas: it lacks some of the attention to detail in the story which is there on Xbox and PS2, and in fact shows a number of plot holes which are filled in the old console versions.
The multiplayer, too, is different. While the PS2/Xbox versions moved away from the spies-vs-mercs setup, the 360 happily continues and expands on it: the mode has been streamlined, and spies are now significantly faster than before. Co-op also differs by platform, though not as drastically.
It‚Äôs a shame not to be able to say simply that Double Agent is better on the 360, but that‚Äôs the way of it. If you have to choose, then this is probably the way to go ‚Äď but it is perhaps not necessarily worth robbing a bank to buy the flashy new console to run it on. Regardless of the moments where it falls short of the previous gen versions, however, this is an excellent game. The AI isn‚Äôt what it could be, but the story, the graphics, and the gameplay make it impossible not to forgive it its failings. Double Agent is edgy, challenging, and very entertaining to play. And it‚Äôs out now.