Microsoft has a lot to thank Ubisoft for. It was Ubisoft that took one of their most promising projects and made it exclusive to Xbox before the system had established itself and thus a system mascot was born, until Sony got in on the act of course. Until now, except for one release, this trend has continued and Ubisoft continues to see Xbox as the Splinter Cell console so it is no surprise that the first next generation Clancy game has made it to the Xbox 360. Double Agent tries a lot of new things that work, and tries to mix up the gameplay and it has succeeded for most of the game but it probably isn't enough of a departure from the series to call it a revolution of the series.
Splinter Cell Double Agent is set in 2008 like many of the other Tom Clancy Games with Sam at his lowest ebb after losing a partner on the front line and his daughter while away on a mission. Sam blames the NSA for his life and begins to rebel, leading him to what the game terms the most dangerous mission of his life. For those who have played Splinter Cell essentials, the backstory is filled in quite well but those without a PSP should try and get a look as it explains a lot of the lead up to the storyline in Double Agent.
As we mentioned before this game is not a massive departure from the series and those who have played the first three games on the console will no doubt be right at home once the game boots. For those who are experiencing Fisher for the first time, a training mission series has been included to learn the ropes. At first the game feels like a graphics update to an old engine with old objectives, but a few missions into the game things really start to heat up and you get that old 'just one more try' feeling again and again.
Sam is still controlled from the third person and, in terms of how he moves and the options on offer, not much has changed. What has changed is the constraints the developers have placed on the gamer. For instance in the second mission set in a prison, Sam has no weapons and you have to make do with what you have and can find. Sam also for the most part does not have his suit, especially during the non-NSA missions where he truly looks the part and Sam's character comes out in many ways. For the first time Ubisoft has shown us how lean and mean Sam really is and yes he has lost the grey haired Clooney look.
The objective style remains the same with Sam having to go from point to point performing tasks and moving onwards. There is a much bigger focus on the stealth aspect however because of a new mechanic which probably isn't as realised as it could have been. Throughout the game you have to maintain trust with both the NSA and JBA and doing things in the game affect this. For instance if you disobey a NSA order you lose trust with them but gain it with the JBA. This is not a game where there is one way to complete it, before you do anything you need to analyze how this is going to affect the trust meter. Those who run and gun through the previous titles will find themselves having to employ true stealth to stop the trust meters running out.
There is however a few problems with the title such as the length of the missions and the JBA missions. In the JBA missions you have to prove to the leader that you are of a quality that he needs. If we are to be cynical these really seem to have been thrown into artificially lengthen the game as with the next generation art, it takes a heck of a lot longer to build a level, but it does have its cool aspects as well. However visiting here three times does become a bit excessive and by the time the third mission is done you really do want to get the game over with and onto the good missions.
The locations for the game are wide and varied ranging from a power plant through to a cruise ship, somewhere in Africa and escaping from a prison. There is no mission which makes you go "wow" such as the CIA from the original game which is a masterpiece of gaming, but it's not as lackluster as Chaos Theory and Pandora Tommorow. Also the levels are a lot more open and there is a few different ways to tackle challenges. There are some linear sections but it is no where near as bad as the previous titles. Still, the sandbox style is something Ubisoft needs to continue to improve.
Visually the game is stunning however we did have one problem when using lower settings to see how it looked. The game just isn't bright enough, we had to max our TV out with brightness before we could play the game properly but this is not a problem for those with HDTV or LCD screens. As mentioned before, Sam cuts a rough, ripped figure and shows just how muscle bound he really is and the enemies also exhibit realistic animation thanks to the Havok engine being employed. Voice acting is once again provided by Michael Ironside who suits the character extremely well and the soundtrack is once again brilliant although Ubisoft is not releasing it separately as per the last one.
Multiplayer has returned once again for the next generation and Ubisoft have worked on tweaking what was already a pretty good system. Those without Live can also play offline with a number of bots that Ubisoft have included however you can only play as the spy in this mode which is a shame as playing as the mercenaries is quite fun.
Double Agent is a fine piece of work and excellent start to the next generation of stealth games on the Xbox 360. It still doesn't go as far as many would have liked but considering Ubisoft wanted the game out this year they have done an excellent job. If this is any indication of what's coming, then Splinter Cell will be one of the Xbox 360 premiere titles for a long time to come.