Three can play at that game.
People always talk about hardcore gamers, but no one ever talks about hardcore games. After all, what would our favorite imaginary demographic be without the likes of Baldur’s Gate, Splinter Cell, and Eve Online? If it weren’t for deep, nerdy titles like these, we’d all be playing Bejeweled. *shudder*
So when an established “hardcore” series seems to go soft, we flip our lids a little. It’s almost like our own identities as nerds are diminished when our favorite series go mainstream.
In turn, it will probably shock and dismay you when I write that the Spy Vs. Merc multiplayer gameplay in Splinter Cell Double Agent is undergoing a major overhaul that, in the end, will make it far more streamlined and accessible to the general public. But before you take your flaming brands to the Ubisoft forums and set their community manager on fire, know this: Ubisoft’s revamped multiplayer monster is equal parts beauty and beast.
[image4]I had the chance to get acquainted with this new agent at a recent multiplayer event, and while it didn’t cover any of the game’s single-player content, it definitely provided some insight into the new dynamics.
At its core is a new three-on-three, cat and mouse match type. In each map there are four networked computer terminals (think refrigerators) that spies can hack to get files (cheese, probably cheddar). However, they don’t have to download everything at once; they can nibble a bit, draw out the Mercs (cats, duh), then run off to a different terminal and hack the rest (sneaky bastards). It’s like Tom & Jerry meets Mission Impossible, but without Tom Cruise and Xenu.
Before, Spy Vs. Merc played more like Merc Vs. Ninja. Sometimes the spies would go for objectives, but as often as not they’d just flip out and kill people. In Double Agent, spies won’t be killing anybody unless they’re really, really good, because two of their prime offensive weapons, the elbow strike and the taser, are gone. Mercs, on the other hand, have new and improved whiskers in the form of always-on motion trackers that automatically silhouette upright and moving spies with a convenient, glowing white border. It’s not a fair fight, and that’s the point.
Instead of going all Shinobi, spies have to sneak. Fortunately, every level has enough nooks and crannies to make an English muffin jealous, not to mention handy indicators that show rookie spies just what they can jump through or crawl under. Learning level layouts is crucial in Double Agent, and this on-the-job tutorial content will lend a needed hand to novices without compromising the complexity of the maps. The spies also get a new hacking tool that lets them disable any light or hack any computer terminal remotely.
[image5]It may not sound like much, but this tool is at the center of what makes Double Agent’s Versus mode so fascinating. When a spy enters a room, he can quickly disable every single light, which is fine because he has night and thermal vision modes. The merc, on the other hand, has a flashlight and EMF vision. The latter effectively spots spies, but only when the viewer is stationary. If he wants to move and look at the same time, the merc will have to use his flashlight, telegraphing his arrival to any nearby spies and providing them with a handy vision cone. Come to think of it, it’s not just a game of cat and mouse, it’s a battle of light and shadow, which, more than flipping out and killing people, has always been the nucleus of Splinter Cell.
Gadgets, then, have been like the ribosomes or flagella or whatever it is floating around in cells that makes them so fun to play. These, too, have been greatly streamlined, since each player only gets to take one into battle. During my play session, the spy flashbangs and gas grenades were instantly familiar and the merc drone seemed like an interesting idea. Merc assault rifles automatically come with three grenades, while spies can perform saucier acrobatics than ever before with the help of the “escape moves” button. When under attack, spies can hold this down to execute faster leaps, flips and rolls, helping them flee dangerous situations with cat, er, mouse-like grace.
Although some material is missing from previous versions of Spy Vs. Merc, Splinter Cell Double Agent actually takes the game back to its roots by placing a premium on stealth, shadows, and strategy. With its streamlined controls and simplified roles, Double Agent should be much more accessible, but no less intelligent when it sneaks into stores this October.