Picture this. You're a deep undercover operative who's just spent the last month infiltrating an international terrorist organisation bent on the destruction of two major US cities. You've wormed yourself deep into the confidence of the upper echelons of command by unquestioningly carrying out their every whim, laughing at their jokes and making them cups of tea just the way they like it.
Then, one sunny day, you suddenly find yourself in a bit of a sticky situation. See, there's this girl you quite fancy in the gang who you've just helped plant a bomb on a cruise liner. Problem is, your boss back at the National Security Agency (NSA) wants you to sabotage the detonator, but if you do, the girl is going to die. Save the girl though, and you'll be responsible for the death of hundreds of bingo-loving passengers. What do you do? Be quick now, you don't have much time. What do you do? WHAT DO YOU DO?! Time up...
Welcome to life as a double-agent and Sam Fisher's fourth outing as gaming's coolest spy, which sees him going deep undercover to thwart the evil plans of Emile Dufraisne, the leader of a terrorist cell called the JBA.
Unlike the previous trio of games, Double Agent isn't just about creeping around in shadows and infiltration. Far from it in fact, because here, every choice you make and every action you perform has a bearing on the direction of the game.
Caught between the opposing wills of the JBA and the NSA, you quickly become embroiled in a confusing world of bluff and double bluff, where maintaining the trust of both sides is paramount. No longer are you just a spy, you're the master of your own destiny. With an all-new Trust system that visually represents your two employer's fluctuating levels of belief in you, you're thrown into a series of globe trotting missions with two sets of conflicting orders for each assignment. Every time you complete an objective for one side, their trust in you will rise, while the other will lose faith. Show too much loyalty to one side, and you'll either be unmasked as an infiltrator or disowned by the agency.
Despite the introduction of this sparkling new gaming mechanic, Double Agent hasn't forgotten its roots. Sam is still as stealthy and dangerous as ever and now possesses an even more deadly arsenal of skills for you to exploit.
Without doubt, this is the most diverse and open-ended Splinter Cell game to date - and that's saying something - allowing you to approach missions far more aggressively than in previous games, while never skimping on the staggering array of stealth options available to you. This freeform approach is further embellished by the option to either save anywhere, rely on predefined checkpoint saves, or, if you're really indecisive, a combination of the two.
While purists may well balk at the option of using a more head-on approach to complete your objectives and at the game's new and far more forgiving damage system, the reality is that Double Agent seems to have found that magical balance between challenge and accessibility, allowing covert connoisseurs to indulge their stealth fantasies while remaining flexible enough to welcome more casual, action-orientated fans to the fold.
Don't get me wrong, at no point can you break cover like some indestructible action hero, scything down scores of enemies with machine-gun barrages. Far from it - even the most aggressive players will have to master the art of disappearing, forming intimate relationships with the shadows and finding cunning and alternative routes to each waypoint. Your limited supply of ammo also constrains the style of play, forcing players to creep and prowl, avoid detection and take life from close range. In fact, given the game's dedication to freeform gameplay, it's almost strange that you're not allowed to pluck weapons from your enemies' still twitching fingers. This option may have been one step too far and could have risked tipping this title into the domain of the action shooter.