|Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell|
August 18, 2003 | Eddie Park
"You are Sam Fisher. You have the right to spy, steal, destroy, and assassinate to ensure that American freedoms are protected. If captured, the U.S. government will disavow any knowledge of your existence. You are a Splinter Cell."
So says the caption on the back of a copy of Splinter Cell. An innovative title that practically redefines the concept of stealth action, Splinter Cell has been ported to just about every major gaming platform out there. Every platform, that is, except for the Mac.
Thankfully, this little oversight has been rectified, and Mac gamers will be able to experience the joys of sneaking around in the shadows, commanding a host of high-tech toys, and uncovering a conspiracy that threatens the security of the world. Currently in the making by i5works and Aspyr, Splinter Cell should be gracing your screens sometime before the year is out.
Old Dog With New TricksSplinter Cell falls under the Tom Clancy game label, a name that most gamers instantly associate with stories that describe probable stories based off of real world events, often with a heavy dose of political intrigue and realistic action thrown into the mix. Splinter Cell is no different, offering a storyline set in today's world that takes into account current technology and political climates.
In present times, the threat of national security being compromised by advanced encryption and digital communication has led the U.S. government to form a new spy section. Dubbed the Third Echelon, this group specializes in infiltration and espionage, taking advantage of advanced technology and highly trained operatives to accomplish goals other groups would mark as impossible.
The Third Echelon also carries the nickname of Splinter Cell. This is earned because operations are usually carried out by a single operative supported remotely by a team of experts. The nickname also carries with it the connotation of a sliver of glass - sharp, small, and nearly invisible.
Players will control Sam Fisher, a semi-retired field operative brought back by the government due to his expertise and outstanding field record. Unlike most game heroes today, Sam is an older gentleman, graying around the temples, but still extremely competent despite his years. Even an expert such as himself will be pushed to the limits, however, by the conspiracy that he eventually uncovers and attempts to subvert.
Stealth Action RedefinedSplinter Cell lies squarely in the stealth action category that Metal Gear Solid made famous. Unlike other titles in the genre, however, Splinter Cell takes the stealth aspect and pushes it to new heights, giving players access to a huge variety of moves and actions. And make no mistake - stealth is vital every step of the way. Sam Fisher is not a one-man army, and every place he infiltrates will be full of well-trained guards. One slip, and players will almost certainly be staring at the dead body of their on-screen avatar a few moments later.
Sam Fisher's greatest talent lies in the ability to hide in shadows. To facilitate this, his stealth suit is equipped with photocells that can sense the amount of light around him, which is represented by a meter that goes from black to white. When in the light, anyone looking in Sam's direction will be able to spot him instantly. When in the black, he's a ghost, invisible unless someone bumps into him.
Facilitating the ability to hide in shadows is Splinter Cell's much-vaunted lighting engine. The use of light in the game has to be seen to be believed. Everything casts an appropriate shadow depending on the lighting in the area. The dynamic real-time shadows of moving objects, including Sam himself, can be used to either spot guards or give away one's position if care isn't taken. If an area is too well-lit for Sam's liking, he can opt to shoot out the lights in the area, darkening things considerably.
However, players must also take into account audio cues. While shooting out the lights is a great way to darken an area, the sound of breaking glass will almost certainly alert guards in the area. Likewise, sprinting across an open floor will make considerably more noise than sneaking across. When crouched and moving slowly, Sam has the ability to become virtually silent, meaning he can sneak up on or around a guard with relative ease. Likewise, sound can also become Sam's ally. If he needs to cause a distraction, picking up a discarded soda can or bottle and throwing it may cause nearby guards to investigate the noise, giving Sam time to get clear of the area.
Sam also has a host of other actions available to him as the need arises. He can climb objects such as drain pipes, vertical cables, and fences. He can also put his back to the wall and crawl across it, peeking around corners and even aiming a weapon around one if necessary. He can also climb hand over hand or bring up his legs and crawl along an overhang to minimize his visibility or to fit through tight spaces. Some of the cooler moves in his repertoire include the ability to land silently, rappel off of high places, and perform a split jump, which finds him hanging from a high place with close walls by use of a side split. Which leaves his hands free to wield a weapon if need be.
All these actions give players a great degree of freedom with which to tackle a mission. When presented with a particular problem, a variety of choices may present themselves. Perhaps sneaking up on a guard, knocking him out, and then carrying the body off into the shadows before a patrolling guard spots it is the way to go. Or maybe scaling a nearby wall and traveling by rooftop would be better, provided Sam can stay hidden from the eyes of nearby civilians. If things get sticky, Sam can always opt to snag a guard and use him as a human shield while firing away with his free hand.