The next Cell? We're sold.
A common question regarding Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow concerned its status as a true sequel to Splinter Cell. What I've gathered from several highly-covert (ie. very drunk) talks with Ubisoft reps indicates that Pandora Tomorrow wasn't initially considered a true sequel to the original, but instead more of a stand-alone expansion emphasizing the amazing new multiplayer game. So, it's been assumed that the next step in the Splinter Cell franchise would be called Splinter Cell 2, and it would most certainly appear on the Xbox.
Thus, I proudly present you with this preview of Splinter Cell 3, for the PC.
Confused? Don't be. After one look at Splinter Cell 3 in action I knew it was at least two sequels better than anything before it - and just about anything else in the pipe, for that matter.
Just to clear up the platform issue: Splinter Cell 3 was shown at E3 2004 only as a PC game, and while we'd be shocked if the game didn't also come out on various consoles, Ubisoft was quite tight-lipped about it all. Presumably the company is still waiting for the thumbs-up from Sony and Microsoft. We'd recommend keeping those fingers crossed.
While questions regarding the platforms went largely unanswered, a comprehensive E3 demonstration left little doubt as to whether or not this game will be as sweet as its predecessors. If what they showed off is any indication, it will be, and then some.
The story this time revolves around the shady activities of the Japanese Information Defense Force, which has subversively started a conflict between North Korea, South Korea, Japan and the U.S. As always, the delicate balance of world power lies in the hands of Sam Fisher, who must use a combination of stealth and force to undermine the efforts of those responsible for the war.
And don't think for a second that Splinter Cell 3 won't be a ridiculously beautiful game. By way of a brand new engine, the game's visuals are nearly photo-realistic and absolutely breathtaking. The Splinter Cell franchise has historically represented the nadir of technical and aesthetical visual mastery, and Splinter Cell 3 furthers this tradition with exquisitely mapped surfaces, fantastic animation, dynamic lighting, and realistic weather effects, all seamlessly incorporated into one of the most ambient and immersive visual presentations ever.
For example, one episode had Sam stalking through a lush Japanese garden illumined by the soft light of an overhanging paper lantern. To avoid the searching eyes of a stalwart Japanese guard standing on a hill above Sam's position, Sam shot out the paper lantern in true Splinter Cell form. However, instead of fumbling around in the dark like yesterday's Splinter Cell henchmen, this guard immediately lit a bright, pink, phosphorescent flare and began walking towards the ledge overlooking the lantern. As the guard and his pink aura of certain death approached from above, Sam quickly pressed himself against the earthen wall. Just in time too, for instead of merely peering over the edge, the guard threw the dazzling flare down the rocky path on which Sam had been standing and watched as the flare's rays sliced through the retreating shadows. In Splinter Cell 3, the guards and the graphics are equally sharp.
In another sequence, Sam climbed along a pipe above a janitor mopping up a hallway. The janitor was methodically wiping up the floor (the area he had already done was so clean and shiny, you could actually see the janitor's reflection in it) when Sam, overcome by the janitor's incredible work, decided then and there to immortalize this preternaturally well-rendered floor by killing the apparent artist. Dangling down behind the custodian, Sam hung onto the pipe with his legs, grabbed the guy by the neck, hoisted him into the air, and broke his neck with a goosebump-inducing 'puhpuhpuh-pop.' Then, Sam gently let the dude slip from his grasp and crumple to the floor (yay rag-doll physics!) and continued along his way, careful not to set foot on the beautifully shiny surface.
Then there was the time Sam made his way along a crawl space underneath a bench in a guard station. As he stopped to follow the conversation between the guards, one of them dropped a handful of change right in front of Sam's face. The change clattered inches from his nose, and you knew when the guard stooped to collect it Sam would be discovered and shot like a rat in a hole.
Fortunately, the guards had more pressing matters to attend to, and as one left, Sam followed him into the next room, which he crossed before sliding back a paper screen and entering a chamber on the other side. Sam was about to follow when he saw the guard's progress halt just on the other side of the paper wall. After creeping silently toward his gloomy silhouette, Sam took a moment to focus. Then he struck through the wall, grabbed the guard by his face and ended his life with a powerful neck twist. Snap, crackle, dead.
Several classic gadgets and weapons could be seen in the E3 demo, such as the sticky-cam and sticky shocker as well as Sam's experimental rifle. However, Sam's gun can now be modified with different barrels on the fly. In the demo, Sam used a smoke grenade to trigger a sprinkler system, which, thanks to an awesome new weather system, began to produce puddles on the ground. When the guards came to investigate and were sufficiently ankle-deep in the puddles, Sam fired off a shocker and fried 'em. Sucks to be security.
Sam also comes equipped with some new gear, such as the combat knife, useful for dispatching enemies as well as cutting through cloth obstacles, and the electrostatic beam. With this handy gadget, Sam can scramble the signal in electronic devices. For example, if a guard were watching television, Sam could scramble the signal and mess up the picture. The guard, not wanting to miss another second of MXC, would then naturally attempt to fix the picture, leaving him vulnerable to the tip of your blade. Who says TV is harmless?
Sam's incredible arsenal and slick gadgets have always injected a creative element into Splinter Cell's gameplay, but the levels themselves were always very linear affairs. Splinter Cell 3 changes all that with much more open-ended levels. Multiple paths to each objective will significantly impact the replayability. Can't seem to accomplish a mission by going through that window? Then try a different route!
As opposed to traveling directly from objective to objective, Sam will have primary objectives and secondary objectives in different parts of each mission. This way, Sam can choose to either go straight for the primary objective or take his time and complete all the secondary objectives, too. Sam must be careful though, because any secondary objectives left unfinished might come back to haunt him later in the game.
While they were busy tweaking the basic gameplay design, the developers also saw fit to alter the gameplay paradigm a little by emphasizing the action side. In addition to the bevy of handy new stealth moves, Sam is now ambidextrous, able to shoot his gun using either hand. This means he no longer leaves himself open when shooting from around certain corners – just switch hands and you'll stay better protected.
Included in the demo was an all-out firefight between Sam and several gunmen, which involved much more running and gunning than what we saw in the earlier games. But this is Splinter Cell after all, so don't expect the gunplay to be a cakewalk. Even the programmer giving the demo could barely survive his encounter.
Pandora Tomorrow changed the face of the series with its terrific multiplayer. Splinter Cell 3 takes it in new directions with a new online co-operative campaign. Functioning as a unique mode with levels built specifically for it, this campaign is planned to be several hours long, include its own unique objectives and intertwine with the storyline of the single-player game. Even cooler is the fact that the co-op mode includes new co-op play mechanics. Players can help one another negotiate walls by giving each other boosts, using ropes for rappelling and even climbing on one another if one player is hanging from a high ledge. The demo even showed one guy holding the legs of another, slowly lowering his teammate out of a vent and into a room, Mission Impossible style.
Despite the numerous distractions at E3, nothing could take our eyes off the gorgeous, compelling Splinter
Cell 3. Well, except for the THQ girls, and the Activision girls, and
of course the Ubisoft girls. But that's just fantasy, whereas Splinter
Cell 3 will become a reality when it hits shelves sometime this year.