Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow Xbox Review
With its use of shadows and beautiful visuals, the original Splinter Cell redefined the stealth genre considerably, preceding games and even titles that followed tended to feel a little lightweight in comparison. Even now, there hasn’t been a great deal to challenge Ubisoft’s title as far as hardcore stealth goes.
But the first game was a meteoric success, so it’s not a surprise that a sequel has been conceived. Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow is the resulting game. The new game offers more of the same, so obviously is lacking the innovation that the first title boasted, but does offer an equally fantastic – and in some ways better – experience than the already incredible first game.
So not a lot has changed, it’s still you as Sam Fisher sneaking around beautifully detailed and dark environments, but with a couple of new tricks (along with all the old ones) waiting to be utilized. The Swat turn move, allows you to quickly spin across gaps (like a doorway for instance) and amazingly not be detected by any enemies on the other side. Fisher can also dangle upside down on pipes and shoot his enemies from this position as well as whistling to distract any nearby enemies and perhaps to lure them into a particularly dark area to whack them across the head, rendering them unconscious. Sadly, just like the awesome split jump move from the first game (and back again here) at least two of these moves are mostly redundant, as there just simply isn’t many areas where they can be employed.
But along with the minor disappointments are some rather nice improvements, which includes more open-ended level design and a multiplayer mode that completely resolves the lastability issue of the first game. The targeting in the first game was inconsistent to say the least, but is entirely remedied this time, thanks to the inclusion of an infrared target. This allows for far more precise targeting for those devastating headshots and darkness cloaking light shattering that are both so crucial to gameplay.
One of the main complaints of the first game was the overly linear level design, which offered no choice of how you progressed through each level. Pandora Tomorrow, somewhat fixes this with more open-ended level design, providing players with at least a couple of routes to choose from on each level, it may be nowhere near the extent of something like Deus Ex, but it’s still nice to have just that little bit extra freedom.
Another apparent problem with the original game was its trial and error gameplay, which caused it to become a bit more difficult than the Metal Gear’s and Tenchu’s of the world. Having played it right through to the end, we agree that it did have some rather tough sections, but we never found it unfairly hard, like many others have frustratingly claimed. Pandora Tomorrow throws you right into the deep end and forces you to use non-lethal means to take down your enemy, which means that you best scratch that itchy trigger finger this instant as firearms are not allowed just yet or for a large portion of the game for that matter. Needless to say, Pandora Tomorrow is not one for those who enjoy nothing more then a good frag fest.
One of the main reasons for the first games unusually hard difficulty was its alarm system, which made stealth more imperative than ever – if you were to set off two or three alarms in a level the mission was over. It’s the same here, though even harder, with guards slipping on flack jackets when alerted once and strapping on helmets when an alarm is sounded for a second time, making those vital headshots virtually impossible to achieve. It’s a nice idea, but one which people who found the first games difficulty intimidating won’t be pleased with. On the good side at least certain areas reset the alarms, so as not to make progression too painful.
After the amazingly attractive original, it’s hardly a surprise that Pandora Tomorrow looks absolutely stupendous. The beautiful shadows, gorgeous sunsets and nicely detailed environments result in the game being almost graphically perfect. Levels look better than ever, thanks in part to many being larger in size and also the fact that much of the game takes place in external locations compared to the games nicely detailed -but at times – boring indoor areas. The jungle level about midway through the game looks particularly exceptional and is certain to rival the environment of MGS3 as far as rendered grass goes.
As good as it may be, once the game is finished, there is little reason to go back, another difficultly level is available, although even with this included it isn’t exactly worthwhile to dive back in to the game immediately. This is where the marvellous online and System Link multiplayer mode comes in. The mode features two opposing teams: spies and mercs. The spies are identical to Sam Fisher and must either neutralize or steal items whilst the mercs offer an outlandishly different style of play, with proceedings being played from a FPS style first person perspective, your mission – regardless of the game mode – is to gun down any spies who stray in to your path. Both teams are wonderfully balanced, with mercs being strong in a head on fight but not being able to see to the rear of them, while spies are unsurprisingly most efficient when sneaking about and choking the life out of their adversaries. Amazingly this mode loses little of the graphical splendour of the single player mode and lag is rarely an issue.
Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow is dangerously close to perfection, it’s visually beautiful with a fantastic, immersive single player mode and an even better multiplayer mode, which will keep you playing well after the main game is complete. This is quite simply the finest stealth game yet released and is unlikely to be beaten for quite some time.