Sunday, July 31, 2016

The Friday FREE GAME Feature! Ep73: Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell

Time to get sneaky doing covert ops in this stealth action game!

Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell is the first in the Splinter Cell series of stealth games by Ubisoft Montreal. You play as agent Sam Fisher, using your stealth skills to complete covert ops missions.

While I find stealth games moderately enjoyable, I'll be the first to admit I'm not amazing at them and have a somewhat limited experience in the genre. I've played Thief: The Dark Project, Manhunt, the original Metal Gear games, and a handful of titles with stealth elements to various degrees of success/completion. I'm telling you this to help provide context and a bit of balance to my first impressions of this game, which at this point fall somewhere between average and the lower half of mediocre.

I found the combination of controls, camera and environment interaction to be quite the double-edged sword. For example, in Tbilisi right after you jump across the balcony, you're met with a trellised hallway and a patio on the other side containing a guard. The guard got suspicious as I went to sneak around the trellis, so I decided to duck back. I apparently made the mistake of turning the camera while moving, thus changing the direction Sam walked. He then proceeded to scale the trellis, making himself a slow-moving target that would also be easier to spot. I thankfully wasn't spotted, but I can imagine this being a recurring problem if you can experience this issue within the first mission. Similarly, there were times when I'd holster my weapon and attempt to back against the wall, only to have Sam draw the weapon again for no good reason.

The controls themselves are numerous, but fairly clunky and unintuitive by today's standards. In what world does Shift = jump? Fortunately, it looks like all the keys can be rebound, and I highly recommend you do so. I know this sounds like a petty complaint, but if you have to spend 20 minutes configuring nearly all the keybinds before you can even play the game comfortably, there's something wrong.

I can't say I was particularly happy with Splinter Cell's save system. While the game does have an autosave feature, it's not nearly as frequent as games you see today. Basically, the game only autosaves when you load into a new area. You will probably want to manually save more often than that, and the problem comes when you forget to save in a critical spot... or in my case, when you assume that autosaves are more frequent. I can forgive this to an extent due to the game's age, but I'm at a loss to explain the manual save's inability to select a previously saved game to overwrite. You have to type in a save name each time, and only after you type a previous save does it then prompt for an overwrite confirmation.

What frustrates me most about this game however is Sam's inconsistent pistol accuracy. Since you have nightvision goggles, shooting out lights or cameras can give you a tactical advantage for sneaking around. You can aim dead center on a light and miss even at close range, or you might nail it perfectly from a farther distance. Why? I have no clue, but it feels like there's some type of trajectory deviation being applied and/or there's some issues with hitboxes. Just look at all the examples in the video - whether you hit or miss often feels like a crapshoot. Now factor in that you might alert enemies just by shooting and you have limited ammo, and you come to the realization that you can be artificially punished for doing what the game encourages you to do in the first place.

I'd like to say that the majority of my complaints are simply due to the game's age, but that really only applies to the sparsity of autosaves. The truth is you can find games made several years prior that already did a number of things better. Most of them weren't as graphically advanced, but I'd rather sacrifice looks over better gameplay almost every time. Graphically speaking, Splinter Cell (like most games made around the same time) doesn't hold up well to anything made in the last ten years anyway.

Overall, Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell is serviceable, but far from great (even in its own genre). If you're looking for an excellent stealth title, you may want to try something later in the series or another franchise altogether.

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