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Splinter Cell Double Agent Member Review for the Xbox360

AcidTrip By:
GENRE Action 
DEVELOPER Ubisoft Montreal 
M What do these ratings mean?

I think, it's safe to say, that this game has been what the Splinter Cell franchise has needed. Up until Double Agent, we have been privy to Sam Fisher globe-trotting across our vast planet, righting wrong-doings and trying to prevent World War 3 in the process. Perhaps it was a natural progression from Chaos Theory, or perhaps the writing team/development team had finally decided that after three games of the same "sneak here, kill there, climb up and get the Gold Star" gameplay that enough was enough. I could certainly see how that was the case.

Double Agent begins with a pretty standard Splinter Cell mission. Definitely one we'd come to expect from the series. However, upon completion of the mission, Sam Fisher is given the bad news that his daughter has been killed in a car accident by a drunk driver. Of course, this sends our hero deep into a downward spiral of depression, one for which Sam's boss Lambert seems only too eager to take advantage.

With Sam's consent, Lambert offers him a long-term mission to infiltrate a home-grown terrorist organization called the JBA (John Brown's Army), to which Sam, being depressed and really having nothing else to live for besides the job, agrees to. A series of bank robberies and murders are staged to help give Sam credibility as a criminal. He is eventually caught and sent to prison, orchestrated so that he shares the same cell as Jamie Washington... a rather prolific JBA member.

From there on in, Splinter Cell takes an entirely new direction. Gone are the rubber black suits, the high-tech, James Bond gadgetry, and the awesomely cool night-vision goggles (for the most part). Instead, we are given an edgier, meaner, balder, and slightly more psychotic Sam Fisher to toy with. The game works on a number of levels, thanks to this new direction. The path that was growing rather stale of ducking, covering, hiding, gathering intel, and occasionally laying waste to terrorists who got in your way was, for all intents and purposes, not that fun anymore. The development team behind this (Ubisoft Shanghai), had decided that a new, fresh approach was needed to continue the franchise.

And in the end, that's where this game really shines. No more are we intelligence gatherers trying to find out all we can by going behind enemy lines, and safely making our way back out again. Now, the player is a *real* spy. A NOC (Nonofficial Cover operative) that has been given the task of infiltrating the JBA, gathering intelligence, and hopefully shutting it down before the damage can be done. While it does sound slightly like the older versions, I can assure you that Double Agent takes a fresh, new spin on almost every angle of previous Splinter Cell games.

The player is tasked with gaining the trust of the JBA. This of course could mean murder, destroying cruise ships, or even allowing someone you know from the NSA to be capped (maybe even pulling the trigger yourself). Gaining trust from the JBA is essential, for without it, your cover is very vulnerable, leaving you paranoid as to whether or not any member of the JBA would spot you for what you really are. Because of the intense and rather brutal nature in which to gain trust from the JBA, Sam Fisher also needs to find a balancing act. Lambert and the NSA will continually give Sam Fisher assignments while he is on a mission with the JBA, that will more often than not contradict those the JBA has set for him. This gives the player a whole new realm of choice previously unseen in past Splinter Cell iterations. It is really up to the player, and how much the JBA's (and for that matter, the NSA's) trust is really worth to them. Lose too much trust from the JBA, and your cover is blown, leaving you to be taken out behind the shed and executed. Too much trust lost from the NSA, and they will restrict your methods more and more until they declare you a rogue and a convert to the other side.

And its perhaps because of this constant weighing of trust that really makes Splinter Cell: Double Agent a truly paranoid game. Whenever you're off doing something you shouldn't be doing in the JBA HQ, Sam will begin to sweat nervously, and his eyes will shift from side to side, trying to keep a lookout while simultaneously trying to get his NSA objectives completed. It's really the little touches like this that makes Double Agent such a captivating game. I more often than not found myself sweating, my heart beat pumping wildly, and my mind racing with paranoia. Perhaps it's due to the very nature of this game, but it perfectly builds the suspense up with each high-risk objective. And you, the player, are often caught in the middle, trying to weigh the trust of the JBA and NSA objectively, whilst also trying to maintain the illusion that you're really with the JBA.

The game is perfect in a few respects. At least, from a narrative and presentation perspective, anyway.

The problems I found with Splinter Cell: Double Agent, are perhaps more technical in nature than anything else. I found the score, the presentation, and the narrative very compelling. And the constant wave of paranoia you felt while doing something incredibly risky was also a welcomed experience. However, something about the animations, the controls, and perhaps even the engine itself felt kind of... dated. While Splinter Cell: Double Agent for the X-Box 360 definitely feels like a next generation game in presentation, it just doesn't seem to make that next leap in the gameplay aspects. We are given a new view, a new slant on how to play the series, yes, but it also feels like we're still playing the *same* series. I guess, in the end, this is an old dodge with a new coat of paint. A fresh--almost breathtakingly so--approach to an otherwise stale and dated franchise. While the new coat of paint and the new bells and whistles are certainly enough to make any fan of the series instantly snatch up a copy, I still have to wonder just when we're going to get that true, honest to God next generation Splinter Cell experience.

Perhaps Convictions?

Graphics: B

The graphics definitely scream "Next Generation", but really, that can only be said because of the incredibly realistic sweat and the great lighting that comes along with this game. True, the models look great, and the environments look great close-up, but when we start getting into the draw distance, it just seems to take on a less polished approach, and hopes that good bloom effects can make up for it. Overall, solid graphics.

Audio: B+

The score, the soundtrack, the sound effects, whatever else you want to throw into this category, all of it is rendered perfectly here. From the hail of gunfire, to the explosions, to even the way the voice acting is carried (brilliantly)... everything from an audio perspective is carried out with style and finesse, and is truly a professional sounding game. Truly great audio to be found here.

Gameplay: B

Gameplay in this game is definitely what we've come to expect from the Splinter Cell franchise. Whether or not that's desirable depends on your own personal taste. I personally found it a little dated and a little tougher to swallow this time around, but die-hard fans of the game will definitely find themselves in familiar, yet comfortable shoes.

Replay Value: B-

Strong Multiplayer, branching paths, and an almost sandbox like nature to the level designs gives Splinter Cell a very, very hefty amount of replay value. But, like I alluded to earlier, unless you're a die hard fan, or perhaps a new addition to the Splinter Cell fan club, you won't find a whole heck of a lot to do here. Still, it's great to pop in every now and again and see if you could find another way through.

Overall: B

I give Splinter Cell: Double Agent a strong score of "B". While it does definitely shine with presentation and style, it just doesn't seem to amp up much more than that. The gameplay feels dated, and the replay value isn't really going to keep you playing for months on end. It is, however, an enjoyable stealth game that will leave you satisfied with the iteration, if only to leave you hoping and praying for something truly mind-blowing the next go-round.

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