Broad daylight, and Sam Fisher is dressed in dirty army fatigues rather than his stealth suit and goggles. He's sprinting through dozens of crazed, bloodthirsty enemies instead of creeping, hunched over in the shadows. It's demented, a little bit disturbing and completely different to any Splinter Cell mission you've played in the past. But then this is no ordinary Splinter Cell game.
The loopy level in question is set in the North African town of Kinshasa, where Fisher must assassinate a target. It sounds like the sort of ordinary job he's carried out a hundred times before (well, ordinary for someone who loves nothing better than creeping up behind an enemy, brutally interrogating him and then snapping his neck once he's got the required information). Except it's not, for three reasons: he's working for a terrorist group, his target is another agent, and Kinshasa is a civil war hotspot where both sets of insurgents are more than happy to train their guns on a slapheaded outsider. It's enough to add a few more worry lines to Fisher's already shriveled forehead.
Running through the crowds pretending to be an innocent tourist probably isn't the best idea then, especially since hidden landmines pepper the streets, so you'll have to fall back on your old skills to get by unscathed. There are lots of routes through the level, meaning you can sneak inside buildings, climb up drainpipes to access rooftops, use empty alleyways as shortcuts, and even rappel unnoticed along telephone wires right above the carnage.
The level in question also includes examples of the tricky moral dilemmas that are Double Agent's signature feature. In one courtyard tucked away behind some buildings you'll find two civilians on their knees about to be executed by a pair of trigger happy enemies. You can either stay to watch like a voyeur, or step in to rescue them. Saving them may reward you with help later in the level, but it could also attract other nearby enemies. Choosing whether to complete your mission also has repercussions, both in terms of your standings with the terrorists and the NSA agency.
JOIN THE DARK SIDE
These consequences manifest themselves in different ways. In general, missions consist of up to three objectives, but within each one you can stick to either the straight and narrow NSA path or less legal terrorist route. So if you feel the story appears to be shackling Fisher as a goody twoshoes, you could contradict it by choosing to be a bastard at one of the critical decision crossroads. Opposing approaches often result in taking different paths through a level, so there'll be plenty of reasons to play through again.
Fisher's cover doesn't just mean working for the terrorist group, but sleeping, eating and probably going for a few beers with them too to talk footy, women and which building to blow up next. If you agree to all their demands and do bad stuff such as kill innocents, parts of their HQ that were previously blocked off will become available. And you never know what a covert op like Fisher might find when he's got more license to snoop around. They'll also bombard you with better equipment and weapons, which could be crucial considering you won't be tooled up with the usual hi-tech gadgets and goggles any more. It's just Sam, his fists and anything he can manage to steal along the way.
'CHUTE TO KILL
This doesn't mean the fundamental stealth gameplay is dead and buried, more that the game gives you a greater amount freedom than the series has managed before. Fans will welcome the change. Double Agent has its fair share of more action-based moments, with some of the moral decisions made during interactive cut-scenes where the game switches to a more involving first-person perspective. Even the familiar scrolling blocks of text when you interrogated someone or received in-game orders from Lambert have been removed, forcing you to pay closer attention to what's been said and by whom. Double Agent has to be the most cinematic Splinter Cell game to date.