Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Double Agent
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It was the ultimate game of cat-and-mouse until the mice ruined all the fun. A few years back, Splinter Cell Pandora Tomorrow (PS2/XB) introduced a revolutionary multiplayer game to the stealth genre.
It was ingenious a tense 2-on-2 mode where sneaky spies went on covert missions while heavily armed mercenaries hunted and gunned them down. But a funny thing happened: The mice got good. The hardcore fans have gotten so good, they slaughter the newbies before they're given a chance to enjoy the game, the developers tell us. You don't say. It was obvious the multiplayer, while critically acclaimed, wasn't quite working when pro spies were going on the offensive and taking out mercenaries before they knew what hit them. The game failed the other way, too: It was near impossible for new spies to beat a couple of veteran meres. It was enough to frustrate even the most seasoned of gamers.
Now the developers are shooting for a more accessible, newbie-friendly 3-on-3 game in the Xbox 360 edition of Double Agent (tts also scheduled to hit PS2, Xbox, and GameCube with different feature sets). It's the right idea, but will it turn off the hardcore fans of Pandora Tomorrow and Us sequel, Chaos Theory ?
Here's a look at what's new, what's out, and what's being done to give the cats (and rookie mice) a fighting chance in the world of Splinter Cell.
Then: In Pandora and Chaos, spies were equipped to hold their own against the meres. They had four slots to hold stuff like smoke grenades, flashbangs, or sticky cameras (that emitted knockout gas) to help get meres off their backs, and they had offensive help in a shocker gun and combat moves like an elbow smash or body-drop attack.
Now The spies refam to do their good, government-approved deeds. But with the focus on simplifying the gameplay, the developers neutered these shadowy agents. The shockergun, elbow smash, and most of the gadgets are out point being, these guys are supposed to be sneaking around, not charging in for battle. The spies only carry one gadget at a time, which they can pick at the start of the mission and swap out at the designated drop zone. These include smoke grenades, flashbangs, health needles (to healyou ora teammate), and jammers (which spook a mercenary into thinking a spy is somewhere that he's not). The spies keep their drop attack and humiliation-inducing rear chokehold for the 360.
The spies are slightly more nimble than before, which helps alleviate the pain from the offensive castration. Hitting the right bumper in certain places, for example, will allow spies to do a quick escape move, such as leaping through a window or sliding into an air vent. The spies also have an all-purpose hacking device they can use it to shoot out lights, mess up mercenary electronics, or grab computer files from a distance.
Then: Mercenaries were stacked Chaos Theory: three typ of guns and mines, spy traps, frag grenades, and so on. The also had several tools such as laser sights, flashlights, sound detectors, and a couple of different vision modes to track down well-hidden spies.
Now: The meres lose most of their goodies, but they're well-equipped to deal with the government boys in tights (only) gun is the assault rifle with integrated grenade and sniper scope. Instead of mines or spy traps (or gas masks or flares or...), the meres get remote-controlled, camera-equipped drones that can go into those areas that spies love and meres can't reach, air vents and crawlspaces. Oh, these things can be set to explode, too. But as far as gadgets go, the drone's it for this team.
Mercs see the world in such a more simplified manner now. They can turn on an adjustable flashlight on their guns, but they no longer have a laser sight. The motion-tracking display is now built into the visor if the spies run around, they will appear highlighted to the mercenaries without the meres having to switch on a separate motion-tracking vision. But EMF vision is still something the meres have to activate manually: Turn it on, and if a spy's using any of his vision modes (thermal, night), he'll light up on the mere's screen like a neon please shoot me" sign. Instead of arrows pointing out to meres where sound (from an on-the-move spy) is coming from, they get less direct help from a proximity detector, which works visually (an onscreen range indicator), audibly (heartbeat), and tactilely (controller rumble) when a spy (or his fake-out jammer) is nearby.
Then: Two spies worked together to dear objectives that was the easy part The hard part was avoiding mines, spy traps, laser trip wires, cameras, and presence detectors. That was enough crap to keep a spy busy for, oh...two minutes until he got caught and killed.
Now All that stuff above? Gone. The only things spies have to worry about are mere drones and, well, the meres themselves. Spies are more free to run about the levels! since the dangerous obstacles you had to stop and scan for are things of the past. All objectives are just a straightforward infiltrate and extract, where the spies have to hack into various computerterminals to download data to take back to the drop zone (the farther away a spy is from the station, the weaker his hacking signal and, therefore, the slower the download). A helpful onscreen minimap helps spies and meres see where their teammates and objectives are, including which terminal is actively being hacked.
The map designs are taking the simpler and accessible" route as well. The designers are toning down the mazes of vents, multifloored rooms, and alternate paths from previous games to create more straightforward stages that are a bit easier to navigate. Each map is designed and playtested to be memorized in 10 to 15 minutes max, the developers tell us. On top of that, animated helper ghosts are scattered throughout each level to help beginners get their bearings. For example, a ghost with a large Y icon above his head might be climbing a pipe, letting players know that a.) that pipe is climbable to reach a higher elevation, and b.) you need to hit a button to do it (guess which one?). These friendly ghost guides eventually disappear after the player sees them a few times.
THE CO-OP GAME
Then: Chaos Theory let you play through campaign-style missions with a fellow spy. It was cool, but short with an abrupt no-ending.
Now: In Double Agent, cooperative mode is a series of standalone missions done more in the style of the versus game rather than a story- and dialogue-driven campaign mode. Your team of human spies goes up against computer-controlled meres and takes care of specific taski, such as download as much data as possible within the time limit (without needing to secure the data back at the drop zone)." Some of these co-op" missions are even competitive, like the first to bring back two discs of data wins. Ubisoft is planning on having six co-op challenges available from the start, 12 more to unlock after you've progressed a little bit, then another 12 to download over Xbox Live at a later date.
THE OPINION OF A LONE GAMER
Then:Splinter Cell Pandora Tomorrowand Chaos Theory: two of the finest multiplayer games I've ever played, handicapped only by the fact that most of my gaming friends and co-workers won't even touch them because they're too complex, hard- core, and frustrating. My gaming friends and co-workers are a bunch of big babies. Now: Initially, I was underwhelmed by the new direction of Splinter Cell multiplayer. No multiple gadgets? No clever traps to catch spies? Where's all the strategy that went into each matchup? Alas, those days look to be over, unless I want to keep myChaos Theory disc permanently on deck. But the more I played Double Agent multi, the more it grew on me. I'm not sure if it's because I'm jonesing for any Splinter Cell versus action (it's been over a year since Chaos Theory came out) or what, but I was starting to appreciate how smoothly the game was moving along because, as a spy, I didn't have to stop every few tiptoed steps to scan for cameras, mines, spy traps, and all that crap I only needed to worry about the mercs, objectives, and keeping quiet like a good spy should. And once I realized I shouldn't actively be going after mercs all the time (you know, being offensively neutered and all), it did put me in a more paranoid role. I'm weak, I'm near-powerless, and I really need to stick to the shadows and keep out of sight. Hey, what do you know? This new spy game may actually end up being more intense.... But on the merc side, I was definitely missing setting up all my antispy wares. At the same time, though, I can appreciate how much less frustrating my new merc was making the game for the spies and how interactions needed a more personal touch (no more anonymous mine kills you'll have to see the spy to put him to rest).
So while we lose a lot of the hardcore, strategic gameplay in versus play, at the very least, I know more of my big-baby friends and co-workers will be willing to face off with and against me in Double Agent. And seeing as how most of them wouldn't play Chaos Theory with me, it looks like these changes are for the better after all...