Splinter Cell: Double Agent Xbox 360 Review
Ubisoft have been one of the 360’s biggest supporters since the console launched, bringing a large collection of highly playable top-notch titles to the platform. Now almost twelve months in, and after a small summer respite they are back once again with a great collection of games heading into the Christmas period. First of the great games is the new Splinter Cell – yes, Sam Fisher is back after a long 18 month holiday since his last adventure so let’s start this review, or should we say, reviews.
Anyone that has put some solid time into any recent Splinter Cell game will tell you that both the single player and multiplayer aspect are two very separate entities, as such it is best to approach the game by splitting it down the middle and talking about each part of the game on its own.
Set in 2008, the main Double Agent single player campaign shares the same basic gameplay mechanics of the three titles that came before it. The game still adopts a third person view, stealth is still a must to stay alive and you must complete certain objective to finish levels. There are a few interesting changes though, most notably the implementation of a ‘trust system’ that alters how you approach each level. The addition of this simple idea changes how you approach the game and now all the objectives actually mean something rather than just mean a means to an end to complete a level. Each objective in the game is given to you from either the NSA or JBA and as you progress though the game you must keep each group happy or you will be extracted from the mission (AKA game over!). To go hand in hand with the addition of the JBA is the inclusion of some timed mission that take place in the JBA’s HQ which offer up some interesting objectives.
I am sure some will be more familiar with the game than I was, but having not played a Splinter Cell game in 18 months I went straight into the Training Mode to reacquaint myself goings on. In doing so it was noticeable that even though Sam is moving on in years he is still able to break out all his old moves, along with a few new ones. Once you start playing the first level and as you creep up behind the first enemy it is noticeable the old AI from Chaos Theory has being reused. All your opposition is still relatively smart but fans will still be able to make use of a few exploits to make the best of situations. Another thing fans will know that each action in the game will give you lots of options and Double agent is no different. Even the simple act of opening a door gives you the option to open it slowly, open it and bang it, use an optical cable and many more depending on what situation you’re in. The same goes for locks which you can pick or just break. Light switches, computers and more bring up the same list of options.
All in all Double Agent’s single-player campaign – which clocks in at around 12 hours (on default difficulty) is a whole load of fun to play however… it should be noted that because the game is so slow paced it is not going to be for everyone but for fans of tactical trial and error gameplay this is easily one of the best titles available – especially if the 360 is your only console option. The addition of achievements also adds greatly to the game’s lifespan, replay value and thankfully some of them are also very hard to get and no unnecessarily easy points are ever thrown around.
Other small aesthetically pleasing changes that may go unnoticed is the major reduction in size of the game’s HUD. The HUD is almost half the size of previous games but all vital information is still displayed on screen – it just happens to be implemented better. For example, the game’s stealth meter is now represented by a small light on Sam’s back which means you can easily see how well you’re hidden without having to glance off to the side of the screen. Of course gadgets once again play a part (it would not be Splinter Cell without them). Sam’s newest gadget is a watch with a 3D map to help you get around and a few other new ones and old favourites pop up as well. In the end it all adds up to Double Agent being a highly enjoyable game and while it is not the best single player experience on the 360 this winter it’s still a top notch effort.
Multiplayer however is a completely different beast…
The multiplayer options have been around since the second Splinter Cell and they seems to just get better and better as the years go on. As mentioned at the start of the review the game’s multiplayer is very different from the single player and this fact has never being more evident than in this edition of the game. Fans will be happy to know that the great Spies Vs. Mercenaries mode (where you download data from various terminals and return to the insertion point) returns once again, this time both classes are polar opposites of each other, even more so than in Chaos Theory. The spies now have almost nothing in common with Sam Fisher from the main game, in fact it’s a huge shift if you come from the main game as the spies move also twice as quick as Sam. They are also able to hang from ledges and jump around at great speed and seem very acrobatic. Of course they have to be this quick to have any chance of staying away from the tank-like brutality of the Mercs that are controlled by the other player – although they are forced to play from first-person perspective. It’s the huge difference in each character class the makes this mode a whole load of fun to play. It is hugely different from any other multiplayer experience on the market and can get very addictive.
More changes for the multiplayer in Double Agent sees a rise in the amount of players about to take part in game. In Chaos Theory there was a four player maximum but this has now risen to six players which opens up a whole host of new options. Spies Vs. Mercenaries now offers up to 3 Vs 3 matches – which is a whole load of fun over Xbox Live but 1 VS 1 still offers a huge, if not bigger thrill as well. Thanks to Ubi changing things around for this year’s offering, we now get some of the best multiplayer fun seen in a Splinter Cell game, ever.
Sadly, not all is hunky-dory in multiplayerland as one favourite feature from Chaos Theory has been thrown to the wayside. The missing element is the full co-op mode which many loved in the previous game. We see no reason why Ubi would choose to intentionally take out this feature so perhaps it was only not implemented due to time restrictions. To partially make up for its removal, co-op style sub missions have being added where you and a mate can take on computer controlled bots on multiplayer levels. While this is not as good as a fully featured co-op it can be fun in short burst. If you do get bored of this there are still all the other modes named above which are fantastic fun to play.
Series fans will be happy to hear the guttural voice of Michael Ironside returning to voice Sam Fisher once again. As always Ironside does a great job bringing the Veteran agent to life although this time Sam seems to be much less talkative than before. However, there is a good reason for this as his character in Double Agent is more ‘straight to the point’ and ‘let’s get the job done’ than he was in the series’ predecessors. Other acoustical highlights come with Dennis Haysbert coming back to voice Lambert and also doing a great job. In fact all voice work, no matter how small, seems very well done with everything from one-liners to long monologues spoken with just the right tone. The soundtrack, as always, seems James Bond/ other spy films I cant think of right now inspired and fits perfectly with the in-game on-screen action. The soundtrack also never seems to take over and remains perfectly understated throughout the game.
Although Double Agent is a multi-console release the 360 version looks every bit the part of a ‘next-gen’ title. Every facet of the game is highly detailed with both the characters and all parts of the environment having loads of work put into them to make them stand out, look highly realistic and have that striking “wow” factor that is all the craze these days. This aspect is made even better as each of the game levels in the game are so vastly different from the last so there is always something new to see around every turn. There is definitely a wider variation of locations than there was available in Chaos Theory and Pandora Tomorrow and the levels themselves seem more open with multiple ways to tackle the different objectives set. If I was asked about Double Agent’s stand out moment, it would have to be the game’s most memorable level – the one set in Africa as it is stuffed to the brim with eye-candy.
One part of the game that deserves to be talked about separately is the game’s lighting, and in a weird turn for the series it is the daytime levels that are the most spectacular. Once again the Africa level talked about in the previous paragraph is a shining example of how Ubisoft have flawlessly put together a fantastic lighting engine to bring the game to life. All in all Double Agent is a visual treat, but we should not really be surprised by this as high quality presentation has always been a trademark of the Splinter Cell series and bar a few frame rate and animation hiccups Double Agent is nigh on perfect graphically.
So should you buy the game? Well… if you liked Ubi’s previous efforts in the series then we’re glad to report Double Agent continues this familiar approach and does not dare to tread on the path it has created over the past few years. Because of this fans of the series will no doubt be pleased with what’s on show in this effort. Be warned… the Splinter Cell series has a reputation for constantly polarizing gamer’s opinions. There will always be people that hate the games for some reason and another group who love the games for another. It is this ‘marmiteness’ that stops us from flat out recommending Double Agent to everyone reading this review. Even though we have chosen to score the game relatively highly, that does not mean it is for everyone.
Double Agent is not likely to change the opinion of the series’ naysayers but ‘Fisher Fanboys’ should find a lot to love in the game. Those that go into the game in a hype filled haze of excitement expecting a true ‘next-gen’ Splinter Cell will no doubt be disappointed – Double Agent is more of a tight refinement than a full on revolution of the genre.
While Double Agent won’t bring new fans to the genre there is no doubt that it is the epitome of fan service.
8.9 out of 10