It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these retro reviews, mostly cos it takes me so damn long to complete these games. But I have finally completed this video’s subject: Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell from 2002. A stealth video game that I remember being very fond of back in the day. The game was inspired by the Metal Gear Solid series and was developed by Looking Glass Studios.
Set in 2004, the President of Georgia is assassinated allowing Georgian billionaire Kombayn Nikoladze to seize power. Former U.S. Navy SEAL officer and Gulf War veteran Sam Fisher is recruited by the National Security Agency to work within its newly formed division, "Third Echelon", Working with his old friend Irving Lambert. As well as Anna "Grim" Grimsdóttír, and field runner Vernon Wilkes Jr. Throughout various missions, Sam uncovers a plot by Nikoladze to detonate a nuclear weapon codenamed “The Ark” which is hidden somewhere in the USA.
For the purpose of this video and my general gaming pleasure, I amended the game slightly so I could play it in 1080p. This might have proved to be my downfall as the game had a tendency to keep crashing at the end of each level during cutscenes setting up the next mission. I suspect this was because the game was trying to switch aspect ratios to play the video files, causing it to give up and die like me during the presidential palace level. It was solved by skipping through them, but it’s a shame to miss out on cutscenes. It did also just crash randomly mid-level. So if you decide to check this out on PC, I recommend saving as often as possible. This is always recommended for older games anyway, as they’re not exactly forgiving with their autosaves.
But enough exposition, how does this game play nearly 20 years later? Does it have as compelling a story as I remember? Is it as difficult as all these older games seem to be?
During his first mission, Sam investigates the disappearance of two CIA agents in T’bilisi, Georgia. It took me about an hour to complete this relatively short mission and I learnt that our memories are fickle, and the gameplay is definitely not how I remember it. The mechanic for aiming and firing is incredibly clunky and I struggled to get to grips with it. I was aiming and firing but just kept missing. At first I thought the game was glitching but turns out I just needed to wait until the cross hairs came together before firing. I get that this forces you to use stealth pretty much all the time, but it was very frustrating.
I also made several poor attempts at sneaking up on guys and grabbing them. I was playing this game like assassin's creed and that just doesn't work. I needed to be patient and wait until they were stationary, then I could painstakingly edge towards them whilst crouching. Sam must have quads of steel after doing this so much. Annoyingly I could only grab them whilst directly behind them too, running up to them from the side was not wise.
So after taking an age to get used to all of this, I was thrown into a more action-orientated mission on an oil rig, where I acquired some information regarding “The Ark” and a potential leak within the CIA. I didn’t really enjoy this shift of tone after taking so long getting used to the stealth element, and why is it daytime damnit?
After this Sam heads to the CIA Headquarters to find out more. This was one of my favourite levels back in 2002 and remains so today. The tone shifts back to focus on stealth but this time you don’t even start with your gun, and you’re not allowed to kill anyone, which seems sensible I suppose. This mission required me to infiltrate the headquarters and retrieve information regarding a data leak, along with said leaker whose body I had to drag down an unnecessarily long set of stairs. Shame I couldn’t just throw his body over the side here. During this mission we’re also introduced to an array of gadgets, my favourite of which was the sticky shocker.
On to the kalinatek building from there and this was another level that was more action-orientated as the areas were so well lit up, I often felt like I had no choice but to go in hot. Not that I didn’t try to shoot out every light in sight though. It’s a legit tactic for Splinter Cell right? I also found a bug where the wall mines would occasionally blow up in my face while disarming them.
Our travels then take us to Myanmar, which I hated. You can't kill anyone and everyone has head torches, so my favourite tactic of just shooting out all the lights was ineffective. Then, just when I thought it couldn't get any worse, there's fucking guard dogs. I even had to walk away at one point before the mouse and keyboard got launched out of the nearest window. I even forgot what the objective was I spent so long repeating the same small sections
After what seemed like a brief respite rescuing some American soldiers from an abattoir, the penultimate mission sees the return of the dreaded guard dogs. but at least this time I can shoot people, and the dogs. Please forgive me. Sam retrieves information from a drunken and suicidal Feirong regarding “The Ark”. The information on the computer also reveals that Nikoladze has retreated back to Georgia, where he is trying to recover this mysterious weapon and he must be stopped if there is to be peace.
Finally, I’ve made it to the last mission at the Georgian Presidential Palace. Third Echelon sends Fisher to sneak in and to prevent both Nikoladze and the new President, Varlam Cristavi, from accessing the Ark key. We learn that the ark is a powerful nuclear suitcase bomb that is hidden somewhere in America. Fisher finds and assassinates Nikoladze, the only person capable of activating the Ark, thus ending the crisis.
Aside from inconsistencies in the level design and tone, the plot itself is fine, and a pretty standard Tom Clancy affair. I found with this game back in 2002 and now, that I wasn't really invested in the overall plot, and was more interested in just completing the mission. Which says to me the plot isn’t perhaps that compelling, but the game is enjoyable nonetheless.
I found the gameplay tough and generally frustrating, and unfortunately it did take away some of my enjoyment towards the end. I do acknowledge that it is mostly my own fault for choosing to play the king of stealth games though
Is this game good? Yes. Am I good at it? Hell no. For the purpose of nostalgia I'd probably recommend just playing it on the original Xbox if possible as I found it to be a bit buggy on PC. I'm not complaining for the £1 I paid for it though and it will probably work fine if you don’t mess around with the aspect ratio.
I’d recommend this to people who enjoy stealth, and masochists who enjoy the pain of repeated failure. For the more casual gamer like myself, it was a bit too difficult towards the end to be properly enjoyed.
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