As a highly trained secret agent, you break into foreign government institutions to eavesdrop, steal, and even assassinate. For your missions, you are given some of the finest tools your country has; a selection that includes quick-acting knock-out darts, quality night vision goggles, and nifty guns. However, you will be working alone, so your best tool is stealth. Such is the premise of Splinter Cell.What is boils down to fun us gamers, though, is this game is like a mixture between Hitman, Thief, and Rainbow Six. Also important to note, this game was released with the console market in mind and suffers as a PC game because of it.For the record, I hated Hitman and Hitman 2 while loving the Thief series and not caring enough to play more than a demo of Rainbow Six. The Hitman aspect of this game rears it's ugly head when you reach portions of the game that can only be played well the second time through. The game does not give you enough information ahead of time to anticipate some situations so you are best served playing the level and, after you fail, replaying it knowing the events that caused the failure. Since the game relies on trigger points that activate when you cross an invisible boundary, the levels play out the same way every time.Thankfully, there are not too many of such levels and the game is forgiving enough that you can probably run and hide and wait for the guards to become bored, if you were so inclined. There is plenty of health, too, and I never ran out of ammunition. The game is well balanced enough to challenge but rarely frustrate. I should note that I am of the save early and often school of thought and I died and re-loaded hundreds of times. The PC version is not limited to save points and I would image that console gamers limited this way would find the game more frustrating.I wish I could say what each of the neat-o toys did but I really just used night vision and the automatic weapon. The night vision was frustrating because it allowed you to see through shadows as if they were well lit. This was great for finding enemies but made hiding from them more difficult. I usually turned off night vision to plan my sneak then turned it back on while sneaking. Another frustrating "feature" was being able to sneak up behind someone and then, when close enough, you could grab them and silently knock 'em out, or even drag them, walking backwards, into the shadows. I loved doing this but you would always pull out your pistol to keep the captured character quiet and I would have to manually select the automatic gun after finishing with that person. A small annoyance repeated dozens and dozens of times becomes a bigger annoyance.The final gripe I have about this game is that it sort of changes the rules at the end. You spend 90% of the game sneaking silently pass guards to accomplish objectives and in the last bit of the game you have to shoot it out. No sneaking will help you in some sections, which was good to mission diversity, but really ruined the atmosphere in those sections. I should also mention small sections of jumping puzzles. Is there a law that console games must have jumping puzzles?Besides those complaints, the game was fun. The game engine looks so nice that the cut scenes were bland in comparison. I loved the fabric effects of hanging curtains and spider-webs. And, with so much sneaking through shadows, the lighting had to be great and totally dynamic. If an area wasn't dark enough for your tastes, shoot out the lights! I would talk about enemy AI but I had only rare encounters with it - mostly guards walked along set paths and searched briefly for the source of noises I made. Usually, once they noticed me, I would re-load from a save point. Towards the end of the game I realized I didn't need to constantly re-load but by then I was very good about sneaking around and ruthless about sniping headshots. The only major AI glitch is the guards with dogs who would not be particularly bothered when the dog fell over dead after I shot them (dogs can smell you so shadows do nothing for hiding, water on the other hand does help.)Overall I thought the game was mediocre at best. It was short, maybe 20 hours to finish, and a nice change of pace from Medieval: Total War. It also has no replay value as the whole game is scripted. Installation was little screwy, requiring an extra re-boot for no reason, but nothing serious and I cannot remember a single bug. --ibbieta
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