The slow-burning, illicit sexual tension that evolves between Agent Fisher and terrorist Enrica Villablanca in Double Agent is a perfect metaphor for our feelings toward the Splinter Cell series as a whole. Because love, true love, isn't something that happens in a heartbeat. Often, you're attracted to nasty, dirty imperfections, and the quirks that you
once hated become your biggest infatuations.
Back in Black
At first, Sam Fisher's antics couldn't annoy you more if Ol' Three Eyes took it upon himself to stealth his way into your home while you're asleep and awaken you with a mouth-to-mouth re-vomitation. The camera steadfastly refuses to stray round corners, instead flapping in Fisher's face like a demented daddy longlegs. Meanwhile, the control system is clunky beyond belief, making it difficult to change one weapon for another without knocking your thermal goggles over your head. To virgin eyes as yet unfamiliar with Earthling concepts such as 'love', Splinter Cell: Double Agent must seem messier than a pig explosion in an abattoir.
But those eyes are wrong. Splinter Cell is a prime example of a series that deliberately creates a discord between the player and the on-screen action in order to ramp up the tension.
After all, you are but one ageing agent fumbling around in the dark with a thousand gadgets strapped to your waist, like a Swiss Army Colostomy Bag - so it shouldn't be easy to flip between weapons while scrambling for shade under gunfire. And as for the camera - well, you can't see round corners like a protein-based periscope in real life, so why should you here? The brokendown, tortured character of Fisher sets this apart from Gears Of War-type worlds of marines with buffaloes for abs - this is real espionage.
All this is well and good, but to be honest, we've already spent three episodes sneaking around dimly-lit factories as Fisher. Double Agent really needs a hook if we're going to avoid the temptation to slam the lights on, shout 'we're off, then' and bolt to wherever it is we go when we're not playing games.
Well, Double Agent has that hook. This time round, you're undercover, trying to infiltrate a terrorist group known as John Brown's Army. Although Lambert's still barking orders at you thanks to that cochlea implant, there's many an occasion where you have to ignore the NSA's wishes entirely and commit horrific atrocities so as not to attract the JBA's suspicions. It's a fantastic dynamic. Body counts and side missions count too, and balancing your behaviour can be tricky.
Better yet, you become the embodiment of your playing style - murder everyone in your path, and the NSA will deny your sneak-o-equipment, leaving you over-reliant on your brawn. On the flipside, leave too many witnesses and the JBA
won't trust you with guns, cutting off that particular safety net. The further you go down each route, the harder it is to turn the tide. It's brilliant, and we instantly wanted to replay Double Agent to see the 'other' ending. There's also a third 'perfect' ending, but by then we were a bit tired and needed to lie down.
Drink To My Stealth
It's a shame that this might be Fisher's swansong on Nintendo3 - at least for a while. But then, it'll prove hard to top this - it takes everything that was good about Chaos Theory and tightens it up, to the point that the once-heralded quicksave option now feels slightly cheap. A strong co-op mode and a compelling story ensures that Fisher's once again crawled into our hearts - and long may he stay undetected.
Ubisoft's dependable Montreal studio has produced a Splinter Cell on a par with the 360 version of the same name. This will tingle your heart strings just as much as your fingers.
- Gameplay perfectly balanced
- A strong co-op mode and a compelling story
- The camera refuses to stray round corners
- Control system makes difficult to change one weapon for another