Reviewed: December 2, 2006
Released: October 24, 2006
A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of reviewing Splinter Cell: Double Agent for the PS2, and in that review I admitted to enjoying the last-gen version much more than the Xbox 360 version I had purchased on my own accord. Sure, the 360 version was a top-shelf game in its own right, and definitely sported some wicked visuals. But the PS2 game just seemed to fit that old familiar Splinter Cell mold a bit better – doing a better job of telling the story, and keeping a better overall gameplay flow, all while featuring some of the best graphics ever seen on the PS2.
Now, it’s my turn to review the Gamecube version of Splinter Cell: Double Agent – and while I am a veteran Splinter Cell gamer on Microsoft and Sony’s last-gen machines, this marks my first Sam Fisher adventure on Nintendo’s aged console. Color me extremely unimpressed. I love Splinter Cell, but this is terrible.
Anyone following the development of Double Agent will know that our beloved Sam Fisher has become one angry man since we saw him last – and for good reason, as Sam has received word that is dearest daughter has been killed. The news hits Sam pretty hard (as it should) and he makes the decision to give up his work for the NSA and go rogue while he sorts himself out.
After a spell, the NSA invites Sam back into the fold – asking him to infiltrate an elusive group of terrorists called John Brown’s Army (JBA), and destroy them from the inside. In order to do this, Sam goes underground – way underground. The Agency places Sam in prison, and tasks him with befriending and assisting a particularly important JBA member in his escape. In gratitude, the JBA member invites Sam to join the JBA and wallah – we have our Double Agent.
The interesting thing about the game is that this Double Agent stature introduces a new “Trust” system in which Sam has to appear “hard” enough to impress the fellow JBA terrorists – yet not take this hard temperament overboard, and jeopardize his position within the NSA.
With last year’s Chaos Theory, I was impressed with the way that the developers added the human element to the enemies – by having them discuss their families, future plans, etc. – and allowed the gamer to make last minute life-or-death decision to either knock-out, or quickly kill unsuspecting enemies. This new “Trust” system really kicks things up a notch, and Sam is now suddenly looking at things from two very different perspectives. This same decision – which was once merely ethical in nature – can now upset the balance of Sam’s status between the two opposing factions.
Sam’s signature moves are all present and accounted for – he can scale pipes, shimmy across ledges, ride zip lines, repel down walls, and climb fences. And best of all, he still gets to perform his hanging stealth kills from Chaos Theory.
Not much has changed with regard to Sam’s weapons gadgets – he carries the standard SC Pistol and SC-20K assault rifle, as well as the newly added knife from Chaos Theory. The Assault rifle can still be armed with gadgets like the signature sticky cameras and shockers, as well as a number of other non-lethal projectiles which become a real necessity in the double agent missions. Selecting weapons and gadgets has gotten much easier with every release, and Double Agent allows for quick real-time navigation of the selection menus.
In all, the Gamecube version mirrors the PS2 version for the most part – which would naturally lead the reader to believe that the game would be just as good – right? Wrong. Wrong, because the Gamecube version falls dead flat on the core Splinter Cell mechanics we have all come to know and love. And when the game cannot get these basic elements right – there isn’t much that can make up for it.
So what is broken? Well for starters, the controls are downright atrocious. Even the simplest of actions requires simultaneous Z-button combos just to make them work; manual aiming, initiating special moves, even simple looking at the map. Maybe it all is not as bad as Metroid Prime’s click-to-look scheme, but it is still incredibly frustrating.
And given the fact that the Gamecube’s controllers (both the stock paddle and the wireless Wavebird®) lack the analog precision of the competitions’ sticks, it doesn’t help matters. I mean, Sam Fisher is known for his trademark stealth and fluid movement, which is nearly impossible to achieve with the fidgety analog response.
Secondly, the game just doesn’t quite get the context-sensitive actions right. I don’t know how many times I would sneak up perfectly quiet onto an unsuspecting guard, only to be spotted at the last possible moment because my action button did not register correctly – even worse, there were a number of times where my action button inadvertently set off a stupid training cutscene.
And then there are the visuals. Yes, graphics will be covered in a subsequent portion of the review. But because the visual aspects are so integral to the Splinter Cell stealth gameplay – with Sam tiptoeing from shadow to shadow to avoid the watchful eye of the guards – delivering a game with poor visual quality is fatal error. More on that later.
Finally, while I was a bit bummed that my PS2 copy of Splinter Cell did not feature as many co-op missions and multiplayer modes as the Xbox version did, the Gamecube version offers even less. Yes, there are a few co-op missions, as well as some of the multiplayer – the fact that the Gamecube doesn’t support online makes the multiplayer game all but worthless. I mean, the visuals and control are bad enough in single player – trying to play while sharing a single screen is downright horrible.
As mentioned, Splinter Cell: Double Agent on the Gamecube just doesn’t cut the mustard with respect to the visuals. The Splinter Cell franchise’s gameplay is based on manipulating light and shadows, all of which are nonexistent on the Gamecube.
Granted, this is more the fault of Nintendo’s box rather than the software coding (as proven by the gorgeous PS2 and Xbox versions of the game) – but it really brings up the question; why? Why would Ubisoft Montreal even find it worthwhile to port their game to such a low-res system when resolution is key to the franchise? I really don’t know.
Bottom line, Splinter Cell: Double Agent’s biggest downfall on the Gamecube just happens to be what is widely considered its greatest achievement on every other system. That’s just plain sad.
Thankfully, Splinter Cell: Double Agent somewhat makes up for the visuals by keeping the top-shelf sound quality of the other games.
From the opening strains of the theme music, the game oozes that familiar Splinter Cell ambiance, and the excitement kicks in. The in-game music is perfectly fitted to the on screen situations, and appropriately grows in intensity as the tension starts to build.
The voiceover work is first rate as always, with Michael Ironside returning for one more round as our favorite undercover Agent – giving another top-notch performance that puts those mullet-headed Metal Gear jokers to shame. Unlike the previously mentioned series, Splinter Cell’s scripted drama seems real, not forced – and the calm, collected way Sam interrogates his captives really proves that he is the coolest of the cool.
In my PS2 review, I deservingly gave Splinter Cell: Double Agent a 9.0 for Value. The Gamecube version will be lucky to get half of that score. Why? Because there is nothing here that even wanted to keep me coming back other than to finish this review.
And it’s not because I have played out the game twice already on the other systems – I could play Splinter Cell all day long. No, it is because Splinter Cell: Double Agent on the Gamecube is just not very enjoyable when you cannot see what you are sneaking around, you cannot guide Sam with any precision, and when the only way to play with a friend is to cut the screen in half.
While I rated Splinter Cell: Double Agent for the PS2 the “best of the best” of the PS2 games out for the holidays, the Gamecube version is nowhere near as impressive. I might feature the same kick-ass storyline of it’s big brother, but if falls flat in presentation and gameplay.
If the only console you own is a Gamecube – steer clear of Splinter Cell: Double Agent. But if you happen to own a PS2 or Xbox – pick up one of those versions and you will have an awesome holiday.