In Splinter Cell, the use of deadly force is more of a convenience than a necessity.
In other missions, the alarm can go off several times before Third Echelon pulls the plug on you, and sometimes there's no alarm to worry about at all. Sometimes the alarm will go off at scripted moments if you've killed or knocked out a guard leading up to that point and failed to completely hide his body. In the Xbox version of Splinter Cell, this could force you into a perpetual mission-failure cycle, though here, not only do you get an onscreen indicator of how many times you're allowed to trip the alarm before the mission's a failure, but if you do fail by tripping too many alarms, you'll restart from the last checkpoint with at least two strikes left. This is part of why the PS2 version of Splinter Cell is generally easier than the Xbox version, which isn't entirely a good thing. Further, some mission sequences have been removed from the game altogether, most notably the break-in into the CIA headquarters--you start the mission already inside. Other parts are slightly changed: For instance, in the Xbox version, Fisher infiltrates an oil tanker at sunset, whereas there's a full moon here.
Despite the fact that the PS2 version of Splinter Cell isn't as difficult as previous versions, new Splinter Cell players will still invariably find themselves often screwing up and restarting different sequences. Trial and error to some extent is part and parcel of most gaming experiences, but in Splinter Cell (and other stealth games), sometimes it can get to be a little too much. Part of the problem, as it is with most every stealth game, is that the missions are heavily scripted and play out exactly the same way each time. The suspense is almost nonexistent by the time you reach your fifth attempt at sneaking through that heavily guarded alley, and any sense of urgency is undermined when you realize that the truck you're desperately trying to catch up to or the assassination you're desperately trying to prevent are events that won't be triggered until you cross certain thresholds. Enemy patrols are also triggered at specific points. You can wait forever for that guard to come around the corner, but you won't see him do it until you step forward those last few inches.
The lighting adds a lot to the atmosphere, but it figures into the gameplay as well.
Splinter Cell pushed the envelope in terms of the Xbox's graphical capabilities, so it's no surprise that some compromises had to be made with the PS2 version's visuals. The game runs at a lower resolution, and the environments are generally less detailed. The shadows and lighting effects don't look quite as good, though by PS2 standards, they're very good. The game's frame rate can noticeably start to chug in areas that are particularly heavy on lighting effects, and you'll notice some collision detection and clipping issues, such as when a felled opponent's feet can be seen sticking straight through a door. The game's real-time lighting isn't just for show, since making use of the light and shadows in each area is a critical part of the gameplay. The rest of the game's visuals are also impressive. Fisher's movements are extremely lifelike and highly articulate, and they almost seem as if they were motion captured, even though they weren't. The game's modern environments aren't exactly scenic, but they're still dense with detail.
Splinter Cell also sounds terrific, and as with any self-respecting stealth game, the audio is integral to the experience. You'll actually hear Fisher making a bit more noise the faster he moves, so you'll learn to be your own worst critic as you try to move about silently. All his subtle actions, from lock-picking to drawing his different weapons and gadgets, have a suitably soft sound to go with them, creating the sense that Fisher is extremely skilled at being silent but still runs the danger of making too much noise. Also, Splinter Cell's bass-heavy ambient music is excellent, and it grows louder and faster when you're spotted or caught. But much like in some other stealth-based games, the way the music picks up or quiets down depending on the circumstances has some unintentional side effects that almost feel like cheating: You'll learn to trust the music for knowing whether or not any enemies remain in your vicinity. The coast is clear when the music says so.
Of further note, Splinter Cell has a good amount of speech in it, though disappointingly, the Russians and Chinese speak in English with lame, stereotypical accents rather than speaking in their native tongues. It's implied that Fisher is multilingual, so it would have been great if he'd simply translated for you in the context of the dialogue--especially since you'll really like hearing him speak. He's voiced by Michael Ironside (Starship Troopers and Top Gun), who's absolutely perfect for the role, with his naturally gravelly, gruff manner of speaking. Ironside got a good script to work with for Splinter Cell, and he brings Fisher's character to life with a suitably no-nonsense attitude and plenty of dry humor to round it out.
Splinter Cell for the PS2 is a great translation of a great game.
Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell is undoubtedly one of the best examples of a stealth game to date, and it will surely appeal to those who've enjoyed similar games in the past. Or, if you like the idea or even just the look of Splinter Cell but haven't played a stealth game before, then this is a perfectly good place to start. Either way, chances are you'll really enjoy the experience for as long as it lasts. You'll have a great time experimenting with and effectively using Sam Fisher's variety of moves and gadgets, and the game's big missions should provide a significant challenge.