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Splinter Cell on the PS2 - Do you still want to buy an Xbox?
Full Title: Splinter Cell
Genre: Action Adventure
Developer: Ubi Soft
Publisher: Ubi Soft
Platform: PS2
Release Date: Out Now

Many of you will have heard of Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell after the highly successful release on the Xbox. Many of you will have played it on the Xbox, afterall it was one of the Xbox's biggest selling points during the run up to the Christmas season of 2002. With seasonal packages galore it was the nearest I got to purchasing an Xbox purely for this and Halo. We are now being treated to try the game that caused such impressive acclaim in the console industry, but this time on the PS2. Having already seen Splinter Cell on both the Xbox and PC platforms, I could not avoid drawing comparisons between the different platforms. The problem is is that everyone has been doing comparisons between the platforms, foremost with the Xbox original. Hardly surprising, as like most PS2 owners I felt a tinge of jealousy when it was first released. Now that it has ventured beyond Microsoft's hands we want to know if we are getting everything that the Xbox owners got from this game; the excitement, and the awesome experience that every single review had raved about?

The game is based on a Tom Clancy novel, and as expected is set in a world of government conspiracy and espionage. You work for a secret organisation called Third Echelon, which uses elite units called Splinter Cells. The idea is that they gather information in enemy territory without the enemy getting the slightest whiff of enemy infiltration. The character you play as, Sam Fisher, is supported remotely by a team of three un-original members; a supervisor, a tech guru, and beautiful lady for data provision - she also happens to wear short skirts. Thankfully, they do a good job of keeping you informed of what you can and cannot do, although you tend to be kept in the dark about the overall mission. So far so good, nothing has changed plot-wise from the original Xbox version, although PS2 owners are treated to a four minute CGI rendered intro. Nice. The cut-scenes have have also been replaced with similar CGI clips now. Great.

The PS2 version lacks the visual quality of the Xbox, the PC, and in fact the Gamecube. Without a doubt, the PC will always win in the graphics stakes with it's ever evolving hardware and the Xbox follows suit with it's PC based architecture. Having said that, the graphical quality of Splinter Cell on the PS2 is far from poor - I would say excellent, giving it every right to hold it's head high amongst all the other PS2 games on the current market. In fact, the resolution is surprisingly high, and very obvious as you shift between shadows and well lit areas. Lighting is nothing short of impressive on the Xbox and this has been ported across nicely along with some lovely visual effects. Should we have expected anything less? Absolutely not, and even though light plays a crucial roll in Splinter Cell it is not bragged about. You spend a lot of time hugging shadows, so light sources are often encountered as a soft flood of light through some uneven rafters or a stray beam eminating from a smoke filled room.

The main focus of Splinter Cell is stealth and cunning, and this has been aided with some nifty character animation. Movement is fluid allowing you to pull off moves comfortably, without the worry of unpredictable outcomes. Unfortunately, the game sometimes suffers model clashes where bodies partially disappear into walls when carried or put down, resulting in a problem for those wish to hide their work. This often proves to be very frustrating as not hiding bodies impacts progress in the game. This could be put down to a hardware limitation as a lot of the PS2 version contains fresh code. Many people have commented on the specifics of what was lost, and I will admit that a direct comparison might reveal some blurring, and even some frame dropping, but the standard of graphics on Splinter Cell is so far above other similar games on the PS2 that it becomes irrevelant.

Splinter Cells are highly efficient, and Sam Fisher is a well respected member of the Third Echelon. Sam has nothing left to prove, and this is clear as he crawls, climbs, shimmys, and backs up neatly against walls. Peeping around corners give you superb advantages over the enemy - crawling, mantling (crawling rather than walking over objects), climbing, shimmying, and the classic zip lines are amongst the range of basic moves available. But it is the advanced moves that really take Sam beyond your common sneaking tactics; quiet landings, peeking around doors, rappelling, and shooting around corners offer a much more realistic view of a highly trained secret agent. Then you have the moves, which makes you that bit more elite - gaining height by jumping off walls is tasty and very Jackie Chan-like, but being able to split jump whereby you can use a narrow corridor to do the splits and hang near the ceiling is very cool. Evading capture is first priority, but why not drop on to your enemy and knock him out, or even shoot from the ceiling? It would seem you are quite simply unstoppable. But not necessarily un-detectable.

For most of the game, you find that shadows are your friend, but there are times when light is both friend and foe. Creeping around in the dark is no fun, but should you wander into a well-lit area you could well fail your mission as detection is a big no-no. There are few opportunities to fight your way to safety if you have set off the intrude alert and you are expected to use alternative approaches if it seems like you are unable to proceed. In fact, shooting light sources such as light bulbs, and even cameras can save you from detection and open up routes. The environment will often be your only companion and you are encouraged to use it to your advantage. Running in gung-ho will get you nowhere in this game.

Being an agent of an important secret organisation comes with some perks; you have access to high-tech gadgetry. Sam Fisher may be a highly trained stealth unit, but that does not mean he is super human, contrary to the moves I described earlier. He gets a silenced pistol to start with, and later an customisable assault rifle, which doubles up as a sniper rifle. The obvious advantage of this is that you carry less and spend less time navigating your inventory. Within your inventory you will be equipped with generally non-fatal items such as sticky cameras, shocker and CS gas grenades, lock picks, and optic cables. These are a few of what you will get as you move through the missions. You always have something to aid you in each situation - beyond the item aids you are expected to use your head, and sometimes even the enemy. Sam may be unseen, but he can be equally as aggressive if near enough to an enemy. Depending on the type of enemy you are confronting, you can engage conversation, grab them and knock them out, or even use them as a human shield. It gets better though, as you can interrogate enemy for information such as locations, and secret codes, and should they prove to be of the silent variety, why not put a gun to their head and force them to cooperate?

The controls for Splinter Cell are fairly standard in comparison to other similar style games. Nevertheless, a training mode is compulsory before they let you continue, allowing you to familiarise yourself with the setup. Likewise, for the first few missions you are given invaluable tips from your team, who update your OPSAT (Operational Satellite Uplink) with information you can access anytime. Mission goals, notes or information you may have gathered, or data relating to the mission, such as maps or photos. Personally, I find the maps to be quite unreadable and therefore useless, but since the game levels in the PS2 version are somewhat smaller in comparison to the Xbox variety maps seem quite pointless anyway. You are never allowed to wander very far or take alternative routes, rendering the game linear. They have added a new level though, so I can only presume that the developers realised the limitations of the PS2 memory and simply added an extra level to compensate for each level's shortcomings.

So much of the original content has been preserved that anyone new to Splinter Cell, and I imagine that is a good few people, will welcome this absorbing game with open arms. The game is technically less impressive than it's platform counterparts, but in terms of gameplay it is every bit as involving. Minor annoyances such as camera angles, and the niggly alias issues can be irritating if you lose patience, but that is essentially what the game is about. Patience. The rewards come in the fact that this game has set new standards for not only technical merits, but gameplay as well. PS2 owners should not feel at all disappointed, but honoured that the developers felt the game should be shared amongst the gaming community.

Yao Song Ng