Author: Jason Smith
It was with great anticipation I opened my playable demo of Splinter Cell for the Xbox late last week. For those of you that have lived in some mysterious cave for the last year or so, Splinter Cell is based on a Tom Clancy character where you play the role of Sam Fisher, a field operative of a secretive "black-ops" NSA sub-agency called Third Echelon. I am not going to go further into the background around the game as Nathan has covered this previously with his PC Preview of the game which can be found here.
Now down to the nitty gritty, the playable demo really only involves 10 mins or so of actual playing time, but this alone almost has you begging for more upon finishing the brief mission. During this time you will be sneaking, jumping and crawling your way using all of your abilities to outsmart the guards that you stumble across in this encounter. Playing as Sam Fisher gives you access to a large arsenal of gadgets at your disposal, these include infra red goggles, night vision goggles, optical cable with camera attached for sliding under doors to see what's ahead, and your ever faithful 5.72mm silenced pistol, with even more available when the game is released. Other things that you can interact with are bottles, light switches, computers, cans, security cameras, overhanging pipes and many more. Actually the way the game is designed, pretty much anything you could imagine that looks useful, actually is.
Your immense talents allow you to make use of your immediate surroundings, this includes sneaking up on unsuspecting guards, making use of the shadows, grabbing unarmed civilians and interrogating them at gun point. While I should mention your not allowed to kill civilians, you can always knock them senseless with the butt of your pistol and dump the body in the shadows so they won't alert anyone of your presence.
Small things like this make the game that much more enjoyable, for example I could imagine if you were in a situation with a large amount of guards pursuing you, a few pistol shots to take out the lights, switch to your infrared or low light goggles, and all of a sudden the situation that moments before seemed hopeless would suddenly be in your favour.
The accompanying game sounds also impressed me greatly, things like hard drives on computers whirring, doors opening, light switches flicking on and off, telephones ringing, all make sounds similar to their real life counterparts. Once again small things that are often overlooked that add immense atmosphere making you believe that you actually are Sam Fisher, and it's your life on the line!
I am a great fan of the checkpoint system that the developers have implemented in Splinter Cell, basically after every little encounter or hiccup you will reach a checkpoint prompting you to save your game, this can save huge amounts of frustration in having to redo large portions of the game. It saves those moments where your moving along nicely in a game only to have a stupid mistake cost you your life, and then you must spend the next 15 mins of your time to returning to the scene of that mistake.
A few small issues that I encountered while playing the demo were, at present it seems that bullets do the same amount of damage to enemies no matter where you shoot them, for example I managed to shoot a guard twice point blank in the knee and he fell over dead, yet another time it took three shots to the head before he hit the deck. I have always been a fan of the ever popular art of head shots, but in this case it's wiser to go for the chest, as it's a larger target and has the same results as shots to the head. At another point I failed to neutralise a civilian and I then pursued him into a small room where a guard was located only to have the door suddenly close behind me, now you would think that it would be a case of simply kill the guard, knock out the civilian and open the door and it all would be fine, well you would guess wrong, no matter what I tried I could not open the door and the only way around this was to restart the level. While concerning I am sure these issues will be addressed by the time the game is released to the general public.
Simply put, this is going to be the game that dares to topple Halo as the benchmark title for this platform. I can assure you as soon as this title becomes available, which is appearing to be the 29th of November for Australian readers, don't hesitate to spend your hard earned dollars as by early indications it will be definite must have. Stay tuned for a full review in the near future!