GAMING GREATS: Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell (2002)

Rod assumes the role of badass Sam Fisher to celebrate the fifteenth anniversary of Tom Clancy’s greatest gaming franchise. 

Who made it?: Ubi Soft Montreal, Ubi Soft Shanghai (Developers), Ubi Soft Entertainment, Aspyr Media (Publishers).

Platforms: Xbox, Windows, PlayStation 2, GameCube, Game Boy Advance, PlayStation 3. 

Format: DVD, CD-ROM, Download. 

Released: November 12, 2002.

Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell is the very first in the series where the player commands agent Sam Fisher. Endorsed by author Clancy himself, the game was originally an Xbox-exclusive title, but was then ported to the PC, the PS2 and the GameCube. The version I am most familiar with is the PS2 release, so that is the one I will be reviewing. I feel thies edition is actually pretty good, despite not having the same lighting capabilities of the Xbox, which, of course, was a major selling point on that system. For the PS2, an extra level was added that takes place in a nuclear power plant. It also has new cinematics, including a new intro.

Before this franchise existed, I was a huge fan of stealth in games as a result of playing GoldenEye 007 (1997) for the Nintendo 64, as well as Syphon Filter (1999) and Metal Gear Solid (1998) for the PS1, and so Splinter Cell was right up my alley.

The story is quite complex for first-time players, which can be seen as one of the game’s faults across all iterations. But, upon replays, it becomes much easier to follow. To put it simply, you have to stop the fictional President of Georgia, one Kombayne Nikoladze, who has orchestrated a war with the United States through the use of information warfare. Two agents who were deep undercover in Georgia, Blaustein and Madison, have gone missing. And Sam Fisher has recently been recruited into the NSA’s (National Security Agency) newly-formed division called Third Echelon, and he is tasked with stopping Nikoladze.

Part of what makes Fisher such a great character is that he is voiced by Michael Ironside. He’s a Canadian actor best known for his roles as Darryl Revok in Scanners (1981), Richter in the original Total Recall (1990), and Jean Rasczak in Starship Troopers (1997), to name but three. After the release of Splinter Cell, Ironside would go on to voice Sam in four more titles, but was replaced for the sixth entry in the franchise, Splinter Cell: Blacklist (2013), as it was decided that they needed to hire someone who could not only voice the character but also perform motion-capture. Personally, I feel that was unnecessary… but that’s a story for another day.

Sam was unique at the time for being an older character. However, this doesn’t make him any less dangerous or formidable, as he can still kick your ass! He has a daughter named Sarah, who will go on to play a pivotal role in later games. Her inclusion also helps to give Sam some humanity, seeing as he is a cold and efficient killer. The other characters include Irving Lambert, the head of Third Echelon, and Anna Grimsdottir, a technical expert, who, aside from Lambert, is the only personality to stay in communication with Sam during a mission. Vernon Wilkes is Sam’s field runner, responsible for getting him to and from his mission destinations, and organising his equipment.

At the start, a training level must be completed in order to progress. It is split up into different areas which allow the player to understand the controls, and how the gameplay works. The first is a basic assault course which gets the player familiar with controlling Fisher, and the things he is able to do, such as climbing walls and ladders, ducking and rolling, shimmying along ledges, jumping, crouching, and wall-hugging. You also learn how to perform the split jump, allowing Sam – when between two walls within close range to one another – to do the splits and hold himself in position in order to drop onto unsuspecting enemies and knock them unconscious. The second area introduces you to the concept of interrogating enemies by sneaking up behind them and grabbing them. This includes those who have passcodes to get through doors, and those who need to be coerced to open retinal scanner locks on doors. The third area introduces you to the concept of light and shadows, and how best use them to sneak past areas unnoticed, avoiding cameras and the like. The fourth area requires you to sneak through a room that is littered with hidden mics that can pick up any sounds you make, in order to get you familiar with how sound affects gameplay. Obstacles include hanging chains from the ceiling and broken glass scattered on the ground. The PS2 adds an extra challenge aspect to this particular room, as it is foggy inside.

Since this is a stealth game, it is obviously advisable to ensure that you don’t set off any alarms. Setting one off three times will initiate mission over, and there are some where you can’t set off any alarms at all or you fail straight away! Your movements, if too loud, will attract attention, and the same goes for shooting out lights. Cameras can be destroyed but there are certain re-enforced ones that cannot be terminated, so these pose more of a threat to maintaining stealth. Light and darkness play a major part in the stealth gameplay, too, and to help you know when you’re in shadow as there’s light and darkness gauges onscreen. After killing or knocking out an enemy, you need to make sure to hide the body in the shadows or otherwise any enemies patrolling the area will find it and trigger an alarm. Even if there’s no other adversaries in the area, if you leave a body exposed, then you will still have an alarm triggered.

As an agent out in the field, Sam is equipped with weaponry and gadgets. You begin with his SC Pistol, but later, you will find a SC-20K assault rifle. This allows Sam to not only aim at targets from a long distance using the scope function, but it is also capable of firing various projectiles at enemies, too. A Ring Airfoil projectile is a tiny ring-shaped object that you can fire at enemies to either knock them out completely by aiming at their heads, or by stunning them temporarily so you can move in and take them out. The Sticky Camera projectile fires a camera that, naturally, sticks to any surface you fire it at, allowing Sam to see where enemies are located if they are out of sight. The sticky camera can also lure enemies towards it by making a sound. The Sticky Shocker is a projectile that will electrocute an enemy on impact to incapacitate them quickly. And the Gas Grenade will knock enemies unconscious when fired at them or their position.

The gadgets you can utilise in Splinter Cell are the Optic Cable, which can be used by placing it under a door, allowing Sam to see what he’s up against, without alerting anyone to his presence. When you come to a locked door, using the Lockpick will activate an onscreen representation of the lock, requiring the player to interact with it using the joystick on the controller. If you have them at your disposal, and need to get through a locked door quickly, you can use a Disposable Lockpick to completely destroy the mechanism. At certain points, you will need to use the Laser Mic in order to listen to and record conversations from a distance without being discovered. Cameras can be temporarily disrupted using a Camera Jammer.

Sam is also equipped with night vision goggles, which should be self-explanatory as to their use. Not only can these help Sam see in the dark, but you can also change it to a heat vision mode as well. These goggles also come with the ability to zoom in and out. It has often been noted that such apparatus in real-life doesn’t have lenses which glow green, and this has been used as a criticism against realism. Personally, it’s not something that bothers me because, while the game is attempting realism, it is not trying to be 100% realistic. It helps add to the overall look of the character so you know who it is when you see him. And ultimately, it’s more of a stylistic choice that also helps keep the player aware of Sam’s position in darkness. Not to mention the cool ways the glow is incorporated during certain moments of the game’s cinematics.

Overall, the gameplay mechanics may feel outdated to some, but I feel that Splinter Cell is still a great stealth action game, and deserves to be considered a classic. Some see it as inferior to franchise rival Metal Gear Solid, but personally, I have poured so many hours into it, and all these years later, I consider this to be a really good franchise. Every year, for the past few, I’ve tried to make a point of playing through all six (currently, nothing concerning a seventh has been offically released). It is always a joy to spend more time with Sam Fisher, who is easily one of my favourite video game protagonists. You do need to have patience in these earlier entries, though, as the gameplay requires you to take your time planning your approach, or waiting on enemies to reach certain positions. But, if you haven’t played these games before, I definitely recommend giving this one a try.

Useless Trivia

(Via Wikipedia)
  • The success of the game series spawned a series of novels written under the pseudonym David Michaels.
  • The game started development as a sci-fi, James Bond-type game, until development was told to create a “Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty killer.”
  • The GameCube version includes the same cinematics, uses the Game Boy Advance link cable to give players a real-time overhead map, a new sticky-bomb weapon, and Progressive Scan 480p support.
  • A PlayStation 3 version was announced to be part of the Splinter Cell Trilogy which was released in September 2011 as part of Sony’s Classics HD series.

Rod Petrie

Gamer since 1988 at the age of five. First system was the Nintendo Entertainment System. Favourite retro systems - NES, SNES, N64, MegaDrive, PS1, and PS2.

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