Ubisoft could only do so much sneaking in the shadows before they shook things up with Splinter Cell. For better or for worse, the Rainbow Six and Ghost Recon franchises both changed significantly, and it seemed destined to happen to the stealthy Sam Fisher, too. And change it has, with Splinter Cell Double Agent on Xbox 360, PC, PS2, Xbox and GameCube. Sam still sneaks around, much like players still give orders to Team Rainbow, but the super-spy’s sneaking has been augmented with new gameplay mechanics and a few new twists, most of which are surprisingly good revisions.
The basic premise in Double Agent is that Sam Fisher needs to take down the Jim Brown’s Army (JBA) terrorist cell not by eliminating targets from the rafters above, but from inside the organization itself. As such, players have two new “allegiance” meters, one that shows the level of trust Sam still has from the NSA, the other indicating how much the JBA trusts Mr. Fisher once he infiltrates its ranks.
With these two meters, players encounter multiple primary and secondary objectives, for the NSA as well as the JBA, in nearly every mission. The multiple objectives aren’t always at odds with one another, which means players can take their time through each level and do more “stuff” to make both sides happy, adding to both the intrigue and length of the game (about 10-12 hours). On occasion, though, certain objectives will require players to choose which side they need to appease most, which causes a healthy review of the trust meters to determine which side can best handle the snubbing.
Even so, there are really only four instances where the objectives and trust meters really put any stress on the player: the four levels that take place at JBA headquarters. In these levels, players have a time limit during which they need to achieve one key objective for the JBA, plus a few secondary JBA objectives and/or primary and secondary objectives for the NSA. Since there’s a time limit, it’s important not only to get familiar with the layout of JBA HQ, but also to pick and choose strategically which objectives to complete. It’s not terribly difficult to achieve the objectives once players learn the layout, but the meters’ sheer presence adds a level of intrigue that had been missing for a few games, even though Splinter Cell was still a good series.
One item Ubisoft added a few years ago to boost the series’ intrigue, online multiplayer, has undergone a few tweaks, but even then, the changes still leave a bit to be desired. In Splinter Cell Pandora Tomorrow, some players complained that the Mercenaries and Spies were imbalanced, which led to unfair or unbalanced online games. In addition, the need to memorize the intricate maps led to many controller-throwing moments for some gamers. With Splinter Cell Double Agent, Ubisoft has largely fixed the map-memorization issues, but the class balancing still isn’t quite right. Spies no longer have the same gadgets at their disposal (including no weapons at all), nor do Mercenaries have the same number of weapons. With a bit of time, players get used to the new pacing and gameplay, but the Mercenaries have been slowed so considerably and the Spies rendered so defenseless that the game still seems a bit unbalanced. In all honesty, if Ubisoft made the Spies a bunch of Sam Fisher clones, complete with all the gadgets and perhaps a stun gun, and made the Mercenaries regular guards, the multiplayer components would feel both more intuitive and mesh better with the single-player game. As it is now, though, they feel largely like two separate properties smashed together in the same packaging.
The biggest multiplayer drawback, at least on the Xbox 360, is the omission of co-op missions. A co-op mode exists on the current-gen versions, yet it’s completely missing from the next-gen SKU. Had Splinter Cell Double Agent looked considerably better on the Xbox 360 (it looks good, but not infinitely better than the stellar Chaos Theory on Xbox), or had it included a longer story or more versus modes, the omission could be understood. But none of those things are there, leaving one to wonder why Ubisoft gave next-gen gamers the shaft.
Still, if players can put aside the co-op cold shoulder, what they’ll find in Splinter Cell Double Agent is a solid game. The core gameplay is largely unchanged, and the worries many gamers had about the series becoming a run-and-gun shooter are largely unfounded, as the gunplay only crops up in the second-to-last level and if Sam Fisher sets off an alarm. Kudos to Ubisoft for trying something new with the trust meters and for weaving a story that’s more compelling than the last few Splinter Cell outings. Next time let’s just hope the company gives next-gen owners a complete game rather than an incomplete port.
- Overall: 8.5
- The story is better, the trust meters “work,” and the gameplay is still fun. Only problem: the next-gen content snub. Had it included online co-op and Ubisoft done more to integrate the single- and multiplayer modes, it would’ve scored a 9.
— Jonas Allen