Gruff, tireless agent Sam Fisher and his top-secret missions in all the Splinter Cell games have helped to popularize a style of play that blends a lot of sneaking around with quick, short doses of extreme force. The fourth Splinter Cell game in as many years, Double Agent for the Xbox and PlayStation 2 delivers some exciting results through a familiar formula. It doesn't look quite as flashy, but overall this is as impressive a game as the version released shortly beforehand for the Xbox 360. There's a lot to this package, between the challenging and replayable solo campaign, more than a dozen cooperative missions designed for two players, and a variety of all-new competitive multiplayer modes. But the biggest and strangest surprise is that the content of these versions of the game is completely different from the Xbox 360 version, such that Splinter Cell fans really owe it to themselves to play both the 360 version and one of these.
Sam Fisher may look a little worse for wear in Double Agent, but the game itself lives up to the Splinter Cell series' high standards.
Of course, most Splinter Cell fans will probably never get the memo. It's only reasonable to expect that the content of Splinter Cell Double Agent would be roughly similar on all platforms, since that's just how it tends to be when a game is released for a variety of platforms at about the same time. Besides, each version of Double Agent shares the same exact title, box cover, and premise. But instead, the similarity between the Xbox 360 version of Double Agent and the old-console versions on the Xbox and PS2 goes no deeper than the basic synopsis of Double Agent's storyline and an underlying gameplay formula that's been intact in every Splinter Cell game.
In the solo campaign, you play as Sam Fisher as he tries to infiltrate a terrorist organization to find out what makes it tick, same as on the Xbox 360. But the missions in these other versions of the game are completely different from the missions in the Xbox 360 game. The story is told differently and in a much better way, not a one of the gameplay changes in the Xbox 360 version are in here, and the multiplayer modes are unique to these versions of the game. They're different than the multiplayer modes from the last two Splinter Cell games, and they're equally different from the multiplayer mode from Double Agent for the 360.
Since this is the fourth time that Splinter Cell is appearing on the Xbox and PS2, you won't be too surprised by the overall presentation or gameplay if you've played any of the previous titles. There's still a marked difference in visual quality between the Xbox and PS2 versions, with the Xbox version sporting substantially more detail in the characters and environments and better lighting. However, the PS2 version looks much improved compared with previous Splinter Cell games for the PS2, and looks quite good overall. It's strangely brighter than the Xbox version in a lot of spots, probably because darker areas in the PS2 version use a noticeable dithering effect, which probably helps keep the frame rate up at the expense of richer colors. The Xbox 360 version does look much better than both of these, but as mentioned, these versions do make up for this predictable shortcoming in other, significant ways. Also, Double Agent sounds excellent on both the Xbox and PS2, despite a lot of recycled sound effects from older games. Michael Ironside again provides Fisher his distinctive voice, plus many more great lines of dialogue than in Double Agent's Xbox 360 counterpart. The game's also got a musical score that epitomizes a spy thriller such as this.
On the Xbox 360, Splinter Cell Double Agent's story has an interesting hook but leaves much to be desired in terms of plot and character development. On the Xbox and PS2, it's still not the greatest story ever told or anything, but there's substantially more and better dialogue, stronger characters, and a better ending--yet the same basic plot and main characters. Plot holes from the Xbox 360 version are plugged. For example, while it's inexplicable why Fisher would get to use his government-issue experimental rifle while working for terrorists in that version, on the Xbox and PS2 we learn that Fisher's commanding officer plants the gun by tricking the terrorists into believing he's an arms dealer. The relationship between Fisher and the one female member of the terrorist group is also revealed in greater detail on the Xbox and PS2, making Fisher's moral dilemma around how to deal with her and the rest of his mission seem much more interesting. In fact, the entire trust system--one of the new features in Double Agent--is handled completely differently in these versions of the game. Fisher still must try to balance his level of trust with both the terrorist group and the National Security Agency, but the conflicting choices he'll have to make when forced to follow contradictory orders aren't the same in these versions, nor are the consequences.
For the most part, Double Agent's solo campaign plays just like that of the previous game. And the formula still holds up.
Despite a new look to the onscreen interface and the ability to work with computer-controlled allies in a few sequences, the underlying gameplay in the solo campaign is nearly identical to that of last year's Splinter Cell Chaos Theory. This means you'll be spending most of your time skulking through shadows, sneaking up on foes and putting them in a vice grip, or using either lethal or nonlethal close-combat attacks to take them out of commission. As always, Fisher must stand perfectly still for his aim to be true, preventing this from being a run-and-gun style of game. However, it can still be satisfying to squeeze off single, silenced shots to down unsuspecting enemies from afar. Fisher will also do plenty of climbing and crawling through this game's complex, multistory environments. And while it's yours to decide whether to sneak past foes, knock them out, or do them in, and also whether to take on various optional objectives, ultimately the solo missions are linear in nature. So Double Agent's mission design really is quite similar to that of the last Splinter Cell game, and it also recycles the same animations and sound effects, creating a similar overall presentation. The game does have a different feel than its predecessors, though.
Occasionally you'll be forced to make a moral choice of some sort, such as early on when you've got a chance to kill a man whom one of your terrorist "friends" wants dead. This just comes down to a button press, and the consequences aren't usually significant, but it can still be fun to play through sequences multiple times to see how the mission objectives finally pan out. There are also three different difficulty settings to choose from, and even at the normal setting (the easiest of the three), the level of challenge is still significant. You can save your progress at anytime, and you'll want to, since you'll need to sneak past dozens of accurate, deadly foes in any given mission. Enemy behavior isn't terribly complex, but they use cover well and their bullets hurt a lot. Sometimes enemy resistance is so dense that Double Agent boils down to feeling like trial-and-error, but usually you have a variety of options for dealing with enemies or navigating the levels. So when the going gets tough, you'll sooner just rethink your strategy than get frustrated.