One of the most popular, most successful, and best looking games for Microsoft's Xbox is now on the PC, and in some ways it's even better than the original version. In most ways, though, it's exactly the same. And that's great news on both counts. Reminiscent of games like Thief: The Dark Project and last year's Hitman 2: Silent Assassin, Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell is a stealth-driven action adventure that sends you, as operative Sam Fisher, around the globe on numerous highly secretive and very dangerous assignments. It all goes down like something straight out of a Hollywood action thriller, replete with an intro set to alternative music and big-budget special effects featuring quite possibly the best lighting effects seen on the PC to date. The game isn't above reproach: Just like its Xbox counterpart, Splinter Cell for the PC is a relatively short single-player-only game consisting of heavily scripted missions that can sometimes turn into exercises in trial and error that undermine the game's otherwise pervasive sense of suspense. On the other hand, the improved save system and the unique and effective mouse-and-keyboard control scheme make Splinter Cell for the PC far more than just a straight port of the console version. At its core, it's a truly great action game, one that's already met with tremendous acclaim on the Xbox and promises to be very well received on the PC.
Splinter Cell's Sam Fisher is as cool as they come.
Sam Fisher is the splinter cell--an ultrasecret commando working on highly classified assignments. The title of Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell refers to the unusual role of its main character, a highly trained and experienced soldier working for a top-secret military organization, Third Echelon, that's attempting to rid the world of a high-tech terrorist threat. If he's caught, the US government will disavow its affiliation with his mission. Worse yet, one false move and Fisher may inadvertently instigate World War III. So the pressure's on, but Fisher's as cool as they come. Though he's skilled as a fighter, stealth is his only real option, and the fate of the free world hangs in the balance as he undertakes a number of high-stakes covert operations. The game's plot, which is set in the near future, is straight out of a Clancy thriller and involves Fisher taking on Clancy's favorite tag team: the Russians and the Chinese.
Despite being Third Echelon's right hand, Fisher is on a need-to-know basis and is largely kept in the dark about the exact nature of his objectives. Fortunately, he's extremely resourceful, armed or unarmed. A preliminary training scenario will familiarize you with the basics of being Sam Fisher, though you'll nevertheless need a lot of practice to become truly proficient in the role. At any rate, you'd never guess that these controls were adapted from a console game, since they work extremely well on the PC. For the most part, Splinter Cell plays like a typical first-person or third-person shooter, but it makes innovative use of the mouse wheel, allowing you to fine-tune Fisher's movement speed from a slow, silent crawl all the way up to a brisk run. This works great, though it arguably diminishes some of the challenge found in the Xbox version of the game, where you needed to gently move the analog joystick in order to make Fisher tiptoe. The other controls, such as for drawing your weapons and using the context-sensitive menu, take some getting used to but work effectively, enabling you to perform an array of maneuvers that collectively make Splinter Cell feel like a pretty believable super-spy simulation.
Fisher's night-vision and thermal-vision scopes let him get the drop on his enemies.
In fact, aside from the pretty lighting effects, the variety of moves at Fisher's disposal is probably the highlight of Splinter Cell. Sam has something for every occasion: He can move quite quickly from a crouched position, and if you tread carefully while crouching, you'll be almost invisible and almost silent. He can climb ladders, chain-link fences, and more. He can rappel down walls (and kick through glass windows while doing so), climb hand over hand (or using all four limbs) across horizontal pipes, and zip across downward-slanted ropes or wires. He can put his back against a wall and lean or shoot around corners, he can peek behind doors that are slightly ajar, and he can make soft landings or perform evasive rolls. Fisher can also kick off a wall in mid jump, and his coolest move (though it isn't very practical) allows him to stand in the splits atop a narrow passageway and then either shoot unsuspecting opponents or drop down to deliver a stunning blow.
Sneaking up behind an opponent allows Fisher to either knock the foe unconscious with an elbow strike or a pistol whip or grab the enemy and take him hostage. Fisher can then use the opponent as a human shield against other enemies, or in some cases interrogate him or force him to do such things as activate retinal scanners that otherwise prevent passage. He'll eventually have to dispatch his hostage one way or another, and then he can pick up and move the prone body out of the sight of enemy patrols. Fortunately for you, unconscious foes will awaken only if discovered by their allies.
You can't just run in, guns blazing. You'll need to find stealthier ways of infiltrating objective areas.
In Splinter Cell, the use of deadly force is more of a convenience than a necessity. Toward this end, Fisher's arsenal is fairly limited but nonetheless effective. To start with, he has a trusty silenced pistol that can kill with a shot to the head and can also be used to shoot out certain lights to make for a more-favorable situation for Fisher and his night-vision goggles. Later on, he'll find a high-tech experimental assault rifle that becomes his mainstay. Featuring both single-shot and fully automatic firing modes, the SC-20K also sports a silencer and a muzzle-flash suppressor, making it perfect for Fisher's purposes. This modular rifle even has a magnifying scope, allowing for precision shooting--in a great touch, Fisher can hold his breath while looking through the scope to temporarily steady his aim. The SC-20K also supports a number of alternative types of ammunition, such as special rounds that can be used to incapacitate foes rather than kill them. In a number of Splinter Cell's missions, casualties are strictly prohibited, so this feature isn't just for sympathy's sake.
More interestingly, the SC-20K can be used to fire remote camera probes, nauseating smoke bombs, or a distraction camera that can be used to lure guards away from their posts and then give them a mouthful of knockout gas. Such funky devices aren't always strictly necessary for finishing a mission, but they're fun to use and can help you avoid getting into a tight spot. Fisher can also get his hands on frag grenades, though high explosives aren't really his style. Throwing cans or bottles to distract foes is more up his alley.
Picking locks is definitely his style, too, and he can use his trusty lock picks to bypass any locked doors. Here the game presents a clever rendition of lock-picking in which you must tap the proper directional keys on the keyboard to nudge loose as many pins as there are in the lock. Some of Fisher's other neat gadgets include an optic cable that can be slid under doorways to give you a gander at what's on the other side, camera jammers that disrupt security cameras, and emergency flares that can draw the fire of automated heat-sensitive gun turrets. Fisher is basically a high-tech government ninja, what with all this stuff, and what with his all-black body suit and night-vision and heat-vision goggles. The odds are always against him, but he has a big-time element of surprise. His moves and gadgets aren't just for show, either, as Splinter Cell will require you to make use of almost all of Fisher's various abilities in most every mission.
Splinter Cell boasts some of the best graphical effects on the PC to date.
Fisher's missions may all be different--one takes place on a seemingly unassuming oil rig in the middle of the ocean, while another takes place within the headquarters of the CIA--but they're all pretty similar in how you must proceed in them: Stay out of sight, stay out of harm's way, and engage hostiles only when necessary. This is easier said than done, and despite Fisher's impressive list of moves and exceptional skill, you'll invariably draw your enemies' attention in every mission you attempt. If caught in a firefight, Fisher can be killed with just a few shots, though his foes tend to go down much more quickly. Nevertheless, ammunition is limited, and Fisher's aim strays wildly if he tries to shoot while moving or tries to shoot in rapid succession. More importantly, being discovered will often cause a guard to raise the general alarm, which in several missions makes for automatic failure.