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Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow

Score: 100%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: Ubisoft Entertainment
Developer: Ubisoft Entertainment
Media: DVD/1
Players: 1 - 4
Genre: Stealth/ Action


Graphics & Sound:

Splinter Cell was one of the first Xbox games outside of Halo to show us what the Xbox was truly capable of. Sure, the PS2 and GC versions looked decent, but neither of them came close to matching the awe inspiring look of the Xbox. Somehow, whether through the acts of the Almighty himself or just plain skill, Ubisoft has managed to make Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow look even better than its predecessor.

Nearly every image that flashes on screen has been improved. Sam has received a nice overhaul, complete with a ton of new, smoother looking animations and new body armor. The same goes for enemies, all of which look incredible. It's a damn shame that half the time you won't even get to see them since it's so far. But then, that's just testament to the game's lighting system. The times when you do see your enemies, you'll more than likely see then when using Night vision or Infrared. Both effects look great. One really noticeable thing this time around is that environments feel much more open. When walking through the narrow corridors in some areas, you can always tell that something is going on somewhere else. Usually, you can't reach it -- but it doesn't feel as closed off as the areas in the original. Lots of special effects and real-world touches (such as varying architecture styles that accurately reflect the countries the missions take place in) all add up to one stellar looking game.

One of the things I always felt bad about missing in my Splinter Cell review was that I failed to mention that Michael Ironside was the voice of Sam. I don't know why this bothered me, but let me go ahead and give props to Michael for this excellent voice work in both titles. The addition of Dennis Haybert (David Palmer from 24) makes Pandora Tomorrow one of the best voice acted games to date (even beating out Everything or Nothing's all-star cast). Sound plays just as big a part in that game as anything else. You can hear things coming for you and even get a better idea of how stealthily you're moving through the area. However, all these things pale in comparison to the REAL star of audio department -- multiplayer. Being able to whisper stuff to other players as you snap their neck is a stroke of brilliance and adds a whole new dimension to online competition. Another cool addition is the Spy Bullet which, when planted, allows you to hear the other team's communications.


Gameplay:

Once again you are Sam Fisher, member of the NSA's top-secret Third Echelon initiative and member of the 'I could kill you with my pinky finger' group. When political events warrant the need for action, but are too sensitive to be handled by a large group (such as, say Rainbow Six or Ghost Recon), Third Echelon calls in special one man teams known as Splinter Cells. As the saying goes, 'Like a sliver of glass, a Splinter Cell is small, sharp and nearly invisible.'

In large part, Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow remains unchanged from its predecessor. All of the espionage stealth action that made the original so incredible is back. However, this isn't to say that Ubi Soft hasn't gone back in to make improvements. Outdoor missions have been thrown into the mix and call for radically different strategies. Instead of only thinking about enclosed areas, you now have things like trees and tall grass to contend with. Another fun twist is that you will also have to look out for trip-wire traps, as well as the cadre of dogs, cameras and other things that make a Splinter Cell's job that much harder.

The biggest news in Pandora Tomorrow is its innovative multiplayer mode. The premise of the mode, which can be played both online (with Xbox Live) or off, is simple. Players are split into two teams: ARGUS mercenaries and Shadownet spies. The object of the game is simple, kill the other team. Things are complicated just a bit when you throw in the fact that both teams are playing an entirely different game. When playing as the mercenaries, players view the game as if it were an FPS, while as the spies players play the game from the third person perspective found in the rest of the game. Each side has their own abilities and equipment that is available only to them. Mercenaries have to find the spies and shoot them, while spies need to remain hidden and try and sneak up from behind. The mode takes a little getting used to at first, but once you get into it you're likely to spend more time with it than in the single-player game.


Difficulty:

Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow is a hard game -- that's all that really needs to be said. Enemy AI is just as smart this time around, making stealth a hard prospect. Much of the game's difficulty relies mainly on the parameters set. In missions where you're allowed to use lethal force, which is rare, it is easier to get past some enemies. When you're not -- then things get tough. Three degrees of difficulty are offered -- which gives you some wiggle room if you find the default settings too hard or too easy.

Game Mechanics:

Perhaps the biggest change in Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow is the inclusion of multiple paths during missions. In the original, missions were very linear and usually expected you to follow a specific path. The structure of missions is much looser. Some missions allow for branching paths which will sometimes unlock easier ways to complete objectives. This gives the game a much freer feeling than the last. In a way this seems like it was meant to help alleviate some of the trial-and-error gameplay found in the original. In some cases this helps, but trial-and-error is still a problem within the game. Sometimes you can work around it, but there are a few moments which require near-perfect execution. This is one of the game's few flaws.

As far as controls go, they are as smooth as ever. The menu system remains unchanged for the most part, only the weapons selection system has seen a slight change to make it more accessible. All of the moves from the original have returned and seen an increase in usefulness. A new group of moves have also been added, including the ability to hang upside down and shoot.

Considering the massive improvements to the game, it's hard to pass up on Pandora Tomorrow. If you're gaming on Live, this is the game you should be playing.


-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker

Microsoft Xbox Dead Man's Hand Sony PlayStation 2 The Suffering

 
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