Splinter Cell: Double Agent
for the Xbox 360
As a fan of the stealth game genre, I am baffled by the fact that I haven't paid attention to the Splinter Cell series up until 2009 or so. Yes, as much as I love sneaking, Sam Fisher's antics just didn't fit my unreasonable fear of the dark and so I stuck with Hitman, a much more imaginative and a brighter, more colourful series. However, seeing how there hasn't been any information on the continuation of the Hitman franchise and MGS 4, another game I tried, was about as stealthy as Modern Warfare, I gave in and decided to check out one of the Sam Fisher games.
I made a decision to purchase the Xbox 360 version of the latest game in the series, Double Agent, and didn't regret it for a second. In my eyes, it was an imaginative, quite bright and overall excellent stealth game. However, I was quite surprised to find out that the game was not exactly well-received by fans of the franchise. So, now, a year later, let's attempt to go through Double Agent again and see what's up with all the disagreement concerning the game.
Let's start with the plot. As a subscriber to one of the Russian gaming magazines, I remember that prior to the game's release, the developers said that, unlike the previous games where the story consisted mostly of radio talk with Lambert, the new game have a progressing interesting plot with multiple endings and tough choices the player is required to make. And they pretty much weren't lying about that.
One of the few darker levels of the game. For that I am thankful.
Alright, the story itself might not be that good. The game begins with an introductory mission after which we learn that Sam's daughter Sarah has been killed in a road accident. Because of this events, Sam has a slight mental breakdown and decides to accept the mission to infiltrate a group of terrorists known as JBA as an inside man. After that, it is, of course, revealed that the JBA are planning to destroy New York, Mexico City and LA with some super secret bombs or something. Doesn't sound too interesting? It shouldn't.
Yes, the central story in the game is not particularly good but it gets the job done, especially because the game manages to succeed at storytelling. As you become a part of the JBA, you get to know all the people working there and there is a big chance you might like some of them. The people at JBA all have their own personalities, are particularly memorable and you genuinely don't want some of them to die which makes the last missions of the game particularly difficult.
This isn't helped by the fact that the moral choices in the game are downright fucking ingenious. Yes, Double Agent utterly succeeds at the part where many, many games fail. Not only is there no clear line between good and evil, but you can never guess the consequences of the choices.
With the story out of the way, let's proceed to the gameplay. It's basically your standard stealth affair - you sneak around, climb on stuff, knock people out and slit throats. Also, you can move bodies out of sight (a feature gone from Conviction and that makes me bad, btw). The stealth indicator this time is more resembling of Hitman: Blood Money: if it is green, they can't see you, if it is yellow, they can see you, but haven't seen you yet, if it is red, they have seen out and are looking for you.
The stealth gameplay in here works really really well due to the fact that the game doesn't suffer from too much repetition. It's still all very thrilling and sneaking around is as fun as ever. The fact is, also, that apart from the usual tasks you get in such games, Double Agent does get inventive at times and presents you with varied tasks and a lot of ways of completing them.
Even though it's a stealth game, you will be using weapons. A lot.
However, it's not all perfect. In another attempt to add variety, the devs have come up with the JBA undercover levels in which you can't kill anyone and you basically fail if you're found doing something you shouldn't be doing. Not to say that the premise is bad, but the missions can get quite infuriating and encourage "trial and error" gameplay which I don't particularly enjoy.
Apart from the main goals, the campaign also has secondary objectives by completing which you earn different upgrades and pieces of equipment. Those objectives aren't particularly inventive and mostly work along the lines of "do not alarm anyone". However, there is an additional task of collecting all the information about the JBA people which is fun, if ridiculously hard at some moments.
The game also has a multiplayer mode... which I haven't played due to lack of players so I can't really say anything about that.
Now onto the graphics. Double Agent is relatively old but I'm not joking when I say it might be one of the prettiest games I've ever seen. There are some shade-rendering problems here and there but the game looks really good. The NPC models are all well-drawn and animated and the scenery is breathtakingly beautiful at times. The absolute high point for the game's presentation is the Syberia level which looks absolutely amazing.
The voice acting is not really anything I should comment on - Michael Ironside is good, as always, and other people are just there barely noticeable and hardly playing a huge role. The music - hell, I don't remember any of it.
With all that said, Splinter Cell: Double Agent is a great experience, a really solid stealth game with great setting, memorable characters and fancy gameplay mechanics. You might not enjoy it if you really hate having to save all the time or are not sure whether you like stealth or not, but for me this is a must-have and an achievement in combining great storytelling and really fun gameplay.
And that's it. I think you know what's next.