Tom Clancy has been a famous name for quite some time, and more recently famous via Ubisoft for many of the video games carrying his name. Late last year Rainbow Six 3 was released for the Xbox and became a huge hit, and with the original Splinter Cell a massive success on the Xbox, confidence would have been riding high in the Ubisoft camp about Pandora Tomorrow. The good news for them is, Pandora tomorrow is one of the best games on the Xbox so far.
As with any Tom Clancy book or game, the storyline revolves around a political crisis currently occurring around the globe. As the game begins, an Indonesian militia leader by the name of Sadano Suhadi leads his loyal team of terrorists into the US Embassy in East Timor and blows it to pieces. It is from here we are reintroduced to Sam and Lambert again and the whole vicious circle of political intrigue begins again. Before the game is complete (which will take you around ten hours), you will encounter a few twists and turns in the story until the thrilling climax finally takes place.
The mechanics and gameplay of the second title in the franchise primarily remains the same but there has been a few changes since the previous Xbox version. You still play as super spy Sam Fisher and your task is to basically get in, get the information and get out with being seen but a few changes have been introduced to help players with their tasks. The first change is an alarm counter is now present on the screen. First introduced for the PS2 version of the original game, it makes it easier to know just how many more times you can be spotted before they can the mission. Sam also now has a pair of binoculars, which again was introduced into the PS2 version of the original game and has now made their way into the sequel for the Xbox.
The storyline is set across eight missions which may not seem like many, especially considering the original had ten missions, but there is a major difference for this title. The maps are huge and will take considerable time to complete. There is one map which is completed rather quickly but other then that sit down with a cup of tea and get ready to play because these missions are no walk in the park. With the game being a sequel there is no true training mission, although during the first stint of the first level you are introduced to Sam again and how he goes about his business, most useful for new players. Once that's complete however you are on you're own and some areas may have you pulling you're hair out.
There is a great variety of tasks which Sam has to pull off to complete his mission. Tasks such as hacking a computer, infiltrating an enemy village, gaining access to a rather large naval vessel (we won't spoil what that object is as it is definitely one of the highlights of the game) and others. If you're not a patient gamer then perhaps this game isn't for you because patience is one of the keys to completing missions without being seen. Sometimes rather then running in gung ho and shooting enemies or trying to capture them, it is best to wait and see what they do as they may move to a more vulnerable position. This is especially required towards the end of the single player campaign.
The game is challenging, but the challenge of the game seems incredibly balanced. When Sam is caught or shot, most of the time you have made a mistake and you will know it. The game never seems to over power you and make you feel as if this section is impossible to complete. Some areas do require quite a bit of guess and checking but the best thing to remember when playing this game is the most obvious path or set of tasks may not be the way the game intends you to complete that area.
To deal with this Sam still has his SC20K rifle and pistol. Most of the time you will have the SC20K by default and it also comes with its variety of weapons returning from the original game such as the diversion camera and sticky cameras. One niggle we have with the SC20K in the sequel is the rate of fire. If you tap the trigger, Sam fires one shot, however hold the trigger down and it becomes a machine gun. We wasted many bullets due to this, obviously making the game harder due to a reliance on the pistol.
By far the biggest new addition to the game is multiplayer. Ubisoft have come up with one of the most unique styles of gameplay for an online game in quite some time. The maximum amount of players in each server is four (2 spies, 2 mercenaries or 3 vs 1 etc) and this can lead to some tense situations. Whilst its true that for most of the time you may be walking around rather then in action, it's that tense situation which really makes the game, and seems to work really well on Xbox Live with the additional use of the voice communicator between team mates. The game is also highly balanced with no one team having a major advantage, although it did seem as though the spies had to make a mistake for the mercenaries to track them which may become a problem in six months time when a bunch of crack spies are on the servers.
The graphics in the original title were impressive but in Pandora tomorrow they are even more refined. Rather then having levels set in urban areas the whole time, sometimes Sam will find himself in the jungle and to cater for this the developers have given him a whole wardrobe of clothing to choose from. The dynamic lighting aspect of the game remains and shooting out lights becomes a useful strategy when hiding from enemies. The character model of Sam has changed slightly as well, he appears more beefed up in the sequel and his facial model makes him look more gritty.
Ubisoft pulled out all the stops when allocating sound parts with Michael Ironside returning as Sam, Dennis Haysbert as Lambert and the other voices from people such as Grimsdotter appear to be the same. In the sequel Sam is a lot more outspoken about his tasks and is no longer a yes man leading to some tense moments between him and Lambert. Lalo Schifren most famous for the Mission Impossible theme wrote the theme for the game as well.
Splinter Cell: Pandora tomorrow is everything fans of the franchise would have wanted out of a sequel. A thrilling storyline, many new locations to visit with some interesting tasks and multiplayer out of the box on Xbox Live. The original game broke ground on the Xbox in terms of graphics and stealth gameplay, whilst the sequel breaks ground for multiplayer and the ability to now set missions in areas such as a jungle. There is no doubt in our mind that Splinter Cell: Pandora tomorrow is an early contender for Xbox game of the year and any stealth game coming after it is going to have to be something special to top this one.