Splinter Cell is fast becoming one of the more prestigious stealth franchises on the market today. There isn't much reason for this other than the quality of the game, the gameplay and the situations the game can put you in. Earlier this year the Xbox system received the sequel but like the original game PS2 users had to wait a little longer to get their mits on it. The game is now available on the PS2 and rather than leave PS2 users out in the cold and just port the game straight across, Ubisoft have added a few new things, but have also had to make some changes due to the limitations of the system.
In Pandora Tomorrow you again take control of Sam Fisher, a super spy who is under the command of the NSA and for most people in the world, he doesn't exist. Sam has had a few changes since the original game but retains his gritty look and quick wit. Pandora Tomorrow revolves around more varied parts of the globe than the original game and is based around a terrorist plot to unleash a deadly strain of smallpox in the United States in an attempt to remove American forces from Indonesia. At the beginning of the game not much is known about the character Sadono and his cohorts and this is where Sam and you step in, visiting hotspots around the globe trying to piece together the puzzle and ultimately save the world. Lambert puts it best when he says that Sam is fast on the way to becoming the most famous unknown author of world events.
The stealth gameplay of the original has returned and some people will still complain that it feels linear. Your task remains the same, be as seen as little as possible, get in and get out. The game does give you a little lee way and you can usually set off three alarms before being pulled out of combat. Nine missions make up the game and it is possible to complete the game in a day, especially if you're a Splinter Cell veteran but the missions mostly are significantly longer then the original game and also offer tougher challenges and more hairy situations for Sam. Like the original PS2 version, an alarm number is shown on the screen and at various parts during missions this will revert back to zero. Also like the original PS2 game, Sam has a pair of binoculars although the only time these seem useful is towards the end of the game when you are forced to use them by a mission goal. They aren't useless but they aren't nearly as useful as they could have been. The game never really creates a situation where using them is more advantageous then the SC20K scope.
As mentioned before there has been a few changes to the PS2 version of the game, some to add challenge to the game while others may have been due to the limitations of the console. It does change the game significantly at some points, areas where you may get stuck on the Xbox version seem to have been toned down for the PS2 but other easier parts from the Xbox seem tweaked to make them more difficult. Some levels have had structure change and this has increased the difficulty level but also the realism of the game. In the PS2 version of the game you won't come across environmental objects there just so Sam can progress further in the level. At times this comes across as being the way the developers intended the game to originally be, but other times it feels like this was done because of limitations of the console, especially when it comes to how many enemies are present in any one area.
The developers have also added a brand new level to the game, however to call it a level would be generous. It's more an prologue level to a mission about halfway through the game and features lots of jumping and falling down platforms before progressing through a series of caves to the level itself which appeared in the Xbox version. It offers a new challenge to players but doesn't add as much to the game as many would have liked and doesn't put it in the category of must play for those who have already completed the Xbox version. The other change becomes prominent in this level as well and that's the way Sam disarms mines. Rather then just select the option as per the Xbox, a mini game has been included which can induce a great deal of frustration but definitely adds to the gameplay and adds even more depth to an already fantastic game.
The AI also seems to have been tweaked. Other then the aforementioned areas where less enemies appear, they don't seem to be as smart. If you have already completed the Xbox version the scripted events will come as no surprise to you, but even so they don't seem as smart as the enemies which featured on the Xbox. They still come after you and can pump Sam full of lead faster then you can say sub machine gun, but it seems that the true challenge of Pandora Tomorrow will be found in the Xbox version even with the new environmental changes featured on the PS2 version. One confusing aspect about the AI is the way the developers have changed some of the enemies. Throughout the whole game you will come across the same grunts, where as on the Xbox towards the end you came across some incredibly tough mercenaries.
One great thing about Pandora Tomorrow however is the game is always fair in its challenge. Unlike the original game it never feels like it is over powering you, and when Sam does get shot or killed you know you made a mistake rather then blaming the AI for being too tough or smart.
To deal with the enemies Sam has his SC20K and pistol and all the gadgets that go with it such as the diversion cameras and shock bullets etc. However in something new he has a brand new wardrobe, which helps him fit in with the current level and while this is only aesthetic, its a nice change to see Sam out of his typical black suit. Also, rather then just having indoor levels, you will find missions set in the jungle, urban environments and an industrial area.
Throughout the course of his duties, Sam will be tasked with different objectives. Some return from the original game like hacking a computer, or taking someone hostage but others are new. One task includes infiltrating a rather large naval vessel and is one of the many highlights from the game. Other examples include a level set inside a TV station, an American embassy, and a dense jungle just to name a few.
Obviously with the port to PS2 the graphics have taken a hit but not nearly as much as many people would have expected. Sam is still highly detailed and most of the levels return in all their Xbox state. The only major change is the lighting. Some areas that were almost pitch black on the Xbox are beaming with light. Whether this was a change due to the system or to enhance the challenge is debatable. Overall though the graphics for the ps2 version are very impressive and manage to maintain all the game mechanics such as shooting out lights and hiding in the dark from enemies. In an interesting twist, the product placement for Sony Erricson which featured throughout the Xbox version has been removed for the Sony console.
One of the most impressive aspects of Pandora Tomorrow is the multiplayer. Ubisoft was somewhat criticised in the original game for not including multiplayer but the wait has definitely been worth it. Rather then include a generic capture the flag or deathmatch style gameplay they have built something completely unique and something which really fits well into the franchise. You don't play as Sam Fisher but take the side of either the Argus mercenaries or Shadownet spies. There are a few significant differences between the two sides such as the fact one is played in third person whilst the other first person plus the different visual abilities of each such as thermal and motion sensing vision. The game modes which have been included basically revolving around the one task of either defending or retrieving a top secret canister. The single player is great in itself but the muiltiplayer adds another dimension to the franchise.
Splinter Cell Pandora Tomorrow is a great game which all PS2 owners should try. Ubisoft have created not only a fantastic single player campaign but one of the most unique multiplayer concepts around today. They really worked on the things that worked in the original game and added some new items and options for players to keep the franchise fresh and that's exactly what they have managed to do. If you're looking for some stealth action or are fans of the original game, Pandora Tomorrow should fit your gaming desire well and the PS2 version lives up to the high quality of the franchise.