Ever since Sony announced the PSP, there was always going to be speculation that Ubisoft would bring across what some would say is its most popular franchise to the PSP. Sam Fisher has once again returned in his sixth game, and amazingly the formula is just not getting old at all. Ubisoft have crafted a game that tests your mettle with action skills, puzzle solving skills and adventure skills while putting together some of the most enthralling, yet realistic storylines. This is exactly what the PSP version has tried to replicate, and while the game has run into a few problems during transition to the platform, overall it plays extremely well and gives us a nice sneak peek at the first next-generation Splinter Cell due later this year.
Splinter Cell Essentials is basically a compilation of the best and most popular levels from the three main games so far as well as a few filler levels that provide information about the upcoming game such as the training level where Sam visits his daughters grave after she is killed by a hit and run driver while he is on assignment. He continues to blame the government and it is this that causes him to defect, a key factor to the storyline. It's a twisting storyline that will leave you speechless and wondering just how one of the US army's proudest turns his back on them.
As with the other games, you control Sam from a third person perspective but due to the PSP controls a few changes have been made, which are commented on further in this review. At the base level everything remains the same, and this familiarity will be welcoming to those veterans of the series. Sam has all his moves and the game will actually use context sensitive controls to determine what you can do where. For instance, the game will detect an area that Sam can do his famous splits jump to reach high ledges. Sam moves extremely well and basically anything you can do in the other three games, can be done in the PSP version, all in extremely high graphical detail.
There are a few problems we have with the game and the first stems from the structure. Although Ubisoft has worked to re-design the levels from previous games, it still doesn't excuse them for what some may call a cash cow. Essentials is far from it, but it's also not as original and in-depth as the other three games. The other major problem with the game is the controls. Having to stop, press a button, and move the camera before shooting can lead to many unfortunate deaths and the small screen also makes it hard to spot well camouflaged enemies. This makes the game more of a challenge but this should be caused by good programming, not a flaw of the system itself.
The levels are very enjoyable to play through, and there are a few bonus levels you can unlock which really give an interesting taste test into the upcoming fourth console game. In terms of levels which return, you can expect to visit the famous Oil Rig from the original game, complete with new objectives but heavy mention of Nikoladze. You will also visit new areas such as the prison, and a boat carrying nuclear weapons made famous by the leaked screenshots of the next game, and for those who are veterans of the series, escaping this prison will still prove somewhat of a challenge and before the end you will get one heck of a huge preview of the next game. This level is so incredible and fun to play that we won't spoil it, but it's almost worth buying the game for just to play through it.
The visual side of the game is quite impressive but there are a few areas that could be improved. As mentioned before it is hard to see enemies sometimes, which can make the game harder, and there are areas where the game looks as poor as its DS counterpart. Overall though, Ubisoft have captured the visual style of the series well and you will find most gadgets such as night vision on offer along with their associated graphical effects. Voice acting has been done extremely well and the cut scenes are definitely on par with its console cousins, giving you just enough information in a detailed video to get you going on the next mission.
The PSP game also has multiplayer via the WLAN feature of the PSP. In this mode you can play spy vs spy combat style with either a time or frag limit. As you can tell, this pales in comparison to the extensive multiplayer of the previous two console games but considering the way the PSP is designed to be used on the move, it really suits the game well.
Essentials is a game that Splinter Cell fans should own, and for those who want tactical action on the go, you can't go wrong with it. Those looking for a one hundred percent perfect port won't be happy because while Ubisoft has done a tremendous job, there is still room for improvement for the inevitable second PSP game. In the areas Essentials does well, it excels, but what it doesn't do well keeps it from the must buy list for all but the most hardcore Sam Fisher fans unfortunately.