The Patient Gamer

Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell

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This episode of Roosky Plays Games brings us 2002’s Splinter Cell. The random selection was actually Splinter Cell: Double Agent, the fourth installation of the Splinter Cell series, but the “sequel rule” means that we go to the first unplayed game in the series. I like to play things in story order. The first unplayed one in this case happens to be the first one in the series.

The Patient Gamer catalog is a pretty good mix of games I own, games I want to play, and games I want to play again. Splinter Cell falls into the latter category. My first experience with the game was on the original Xbox, some 13 years ago. This time around, I’ll be playing the Windows port of the game, so I'm curious to see how the gameplay holds up and whether the ported controls make it difficult. The only thing I really remember from the first playthrough was being very impressed by the lighting.

I don’t even have the game installed yet, and already I’m beginning to get nervous about it. To begin with, it’s a console port so I’m not convinced the controls won’t make it totally unplayable. But to make it worse, the game requirements list “Windows XP or Windows 2000.” Makes sense for a game released in 2002, but I’m currently running Windows 8.1 on my gaming PC. I’m really hoping that playing through this one doesn’t involve running Windows XP in a virtual machine.

As it turns out, my fears are mostly unfounded. The version of the game I bought from GamersGate runs fine on my PC without any tweaks. As I played through the tutorial mission, the controls were mostly useful, although they differed from the on-screen instructions sometimes.

Overall, my first impression is that this game still looks good. Damn good. When it was originally released, Splinter Cell had cutting edge dynamic lighting and it still holds up, even 13 years later. The game has a mechanic with a meter that shows you how well lit you are. This corresponds to how far away enemies are before they can see you. While it’s not always super accurate (the games awesome lighting doesn’t “get through” to the meter sometimes), it’s still a fun mechanic that is well implemented and makes a lot of sense.

The story revolves around a Georgian dictator who stages a cyber attack against the US. The plot takes you from Georgia to Washington DC to China and back again. At first the sequence of events seems strangely prescient, until you realize that cyber warfare was a legitimate concern in 2002 when the game was released, and that predicting a military-backed kleptocracy in the Caucuses is a bit like guessing that a quick game of Civilization in the evening will end with you blearily realizing that you had to be at work 30 minutes ago.

The other part that really surprised me is how well the levels are laid out. You never feel like you’re on rails, but the game is definitely herding you where it wants you to go. Because it doesn’t feel strict, the scripted events seem very dynamic and exciting. This balance is something that games today can’t even figure out. You either hit immersion-breaking invisible walls or you can feel an event coming a mile away.

Of course, the lack of options in how to progress through a level is what finally caused the console port controls to bite me. I zip-lined down a rope while climbing an oil platform, only to immediately fall into the sea and die. Reloaded the game and tried again with the same result. The next time I tried jumping a little earlier. Then a little later. Then I tried to glitch the terrain over to where I needed to go. This eventually devolved into me quick-saving, then quick-loading over and over and over again until one time, randomly, I stuck the landing.

Control difficulties aside, Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell stands on its production values, story, and gameplay - all three of which still hold up even though the game is old enough to be in junior high.

Mission: COMPLETE.

Roosky's rating: 4.0 / 5

At the time of writing, Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell is available on GOG and Steam for $9.99. The best sale price to date was $2.49.

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