Just look at that box shot. How scary is Sam Fisher there? Notice the freshly shaved prison bonce, scowling eyes and handcuffs? Ooh, he looks a bad 'un. So has everyone's favourite stealth pensioner (well, until MGS4) really turned to the dark side? Well, that's up to you. It all depends on what choices you make at key moments throughout the game. Sam now has to negotiate with two factions, the NSA (as ever) and a terrorist group known as the JBA, both of whom will demand you perform tasks for them throughout the game. The thing is, these tasks often conflict with each other, so breaking a criminal's neck in the prison level to protect a JBA contact will annoy the boys back at the NSA. This works both ways and if Sam loses the trust of either faction they'll punish him by giving him fewer weapons the next time he takes a mission from them. Decision-making is not only strategic, but also morally murky. Would you blow up a ship, killing thousands, just to maintain your cover? It's an enjoyable system, one that makes Double Agent different and gives the series some much-needed emotional resonance. Where Metal Gear only has to grow a moustache to start a massive internet rumour, poor old 'Cell has been battling indifference (on PS2 at least) since the second game.
STEALTHY AS SHE GOES
We'll assume you know what Splinter Cell is about. Lurking in the shadows, learning guards' patrol routes to squeeze past unnoticed and generally doing a lot of stabbing, cutting and neck-snapping along the way... SC:DA is your classic stealthy sneak-'em-up. And as always this Cell is ridiculously dark, meaning you'll have to play most of the game in green-o-vision through night vision goggles. That said, there is the notable exception of a daytime level that takes place in a sun-drenched African city, a first for the series.
On the rare occasions that you're able to play without the pea-cam, the game looks gorgeous. Subtle particle effects such as heat haze and steam really add to the atmosphere to create one of the PS2s prettiest titles. It may still be the ugly duckling when compared to its 360 big brother, but as far as conversions go Ubisoft have really done a very professional job. The action is slick, the controls silky smooth and the production values are first-class. But that's not where Double Agent's problems lie.
IT'S SERIOUS SAM
Ultimately we just feel the series hasn't made much progress since the original. It's almost as if Sam is treading water now. Sure, he's as spry as ever, but the eyebags are beginning to weigh heavy on every aspect of the game. Most of Double Agent can be seen in any other Splinter Cell. Yep, there's still the odd exhilarating moment, like a moodily-lit prison break or sneaking through a bombed out Middle Eastern hotel complete with flickering lights which constantly rob you of cover, but you always feel that the same game is behind the scenes running the show.
Now that Snake is back with a proper 3D camera in Subsistence, it makes recommending Double Agent over Metal Gear doubly difficult. On the one hand you have a technically solid game from a group of talented developers which is constantly enjoyable. But on the other you've got a title which is the brainchild of an off-the-wall, utterly barmy and completely brilliant visionary. And for all the 20-minute waffles, we'd still rather play the game which lets you punch guards in the plums and walk about in a camouflage suit that smells of poo. Sorry, Sam.
The best Splinter Cell yet and a top-notch stealth game. But Sam needs some new ideas to topple Snake.
- Figurative back-stabbing
- Literal back-stabbing
- Skin-tight lycra