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» Splinter Cell Double Agent (Xbox 360)

Introduction

Over the last four years Sam Fisher has built up a reputation as being the quintessential stealth super-spy that we all wish we could be. Instead of resorting to heavy shoot-em-up tactics to mow down endless waves of enemies, Fisher is all about using gadgets and employing stealthy tactics to make his presence virtually unknown. After seeing the death of his trainee and his six year old daughter, Fisher’s career takes a turn for the worse as he becomes imprisoned. Still working for the NSA, though, he must now gain the respect of a well known terrorist group to bring them down from within.

What is a Double Agent?

As the name suggests, a double agent is essentially a spy who is fighting on two sides with entirely opposite morals. While working for the NSA, Fisher is expected to complete missions in a professional manner without killing anybody unless it is entirely necessary. On the other hand, the JBA will constantly test Sam by forcing him to kill innocent civilians amongst other things. Double Agent puts a heavy emphasis on the new trust system, which constantly keeps track of how fond each side is of Fisher. If he becomes too ruthless the NSA could get him in serious trouble, but if he’s too clean he could blow his cover and lose his life. Generally speaking, the latest inclusion in the Splinter Cell series incorporates an in-depth storyline with tons of choices that lead to multiple endings in order to make the entire experience much more relevant.

Did I just see something?

The previous installments in the series have looked great on previous systems, so naturally Splinter Cell on the Xbox 360 looks better than ever. The new high definition visuals are much crisper than the old Xbox could deliver, while the character models and level designs carry the same amount of realism as before. Fisher’s wardrobe consists of some interesting looking suits, and even the enemies have a much more intimidating appearance. Other new features, such as HDR lighting and improved weather effects, all help to contribute to a simply great looking title, but sadly it’s not without its flaws. The frame rate has a tendency to drop below a steady 30 FPS when there is too much commotion on the screen, and this unwelcome stuttering can really detract from the overall flow. If you can see past this and the occasional camera hitch, then Double Agent will definitely deliver a satisfying performance.

Likewise, the sound has always been an important aspect of the series so you obviously won’t get shortchanged here. As you are sleuthing around, the overlying uncomfortable silence makes every footstep extremely important, and you’ll also need to watch out in case you brush up against any objects. In the event that you are detected, all hell breaks loose as gunfire sprays in all directions and a fast paced instrumental piece intensifies the moment. The voice acting is as solid as ever, and it can be comical to listen in on enemy conversations before you decide to slit their throats. Although there isn’t a meter that measures ambient sound directly like there was before, it’s clear that the overall presentation in Double Agent is worthy of bearing the Tom Clancy name.

Spy Games

The basic formula for any stealth action game holds true to the entire Splinter Cell series, but Double Agent expands on the basics to make the gameplay more captivating. By having to balance your trust with two rival factions, you’ll constantly be faced with life-altering decisions that will ultimately change the final ending. This, in conjunction with enhanced AI, more inspiring level designs, and an overall stronger sense of freedom, makes for a spy title that can easily be deemed as a must have.

As mentioned, trust plays a critical role in determining your character’s true alliance. Your years as a hardcore spy in the service should convince you to stick with your past, but recent wrongdoings in your life might sway you to take out your anger on the world. Aside from having main objectives for each level, there are secondary and tertiary missions that can boost trust for either side and even unlock new weapons and gadgets. The story will branch off depending on how strong your ties are, and you’ll often have split-second decisions forced upon yourself that will really get the blood rushing through your body.

Directed moments, as they are referred to, are interactive situations in which you have very little time to make a decision. The first of these comes up when the JBA ask you to kill a helicopter pilot who was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. By not killing him the JBA will be one step closer to discovering you as a spy, but by shooting him in the head the NSA will surely frown upon your merciless killings. Although these moments only come up once every couple of missions, being caught off guard with such a scenario will have conflicting thoughts race through your mind, which is certainly entertaining to say the least.

The computer AI has undergone improvements, but it is still lacking in some areas. Rival guards have a greater sense of environmental awareness, so leaving locked doors open and unconscious bodies on the ground will ensure that an alert is issued. Depending on the difficulty you select, enemies will be keener to your slightest moves, and they will be able to deliver deadly blows if you are detected. As always, light can be used to your advantage if you remain hidden in the shadows, but there is a ridiculously noticeable problem in this area. Even if you are only a couple of feet in front of a guard, you won’t be detected even if you should clearly be seen. Furthermore, performing actions, such as hacking computers, also won’t give away your location as long as you are in the dark. While the game is much easier considering the fact that you are basically invisible in the shadows, it’s unfortunate that the computer AI is virtually blind in some situations. This is less of an issue on the harder difficulties, but even on the easiest setting it shouldn’t be so simple to evade the guards.

As always, Fisher comes packed with the latest gadgets and spy moves to help him maneuver throughout the world. The controls are almost exactly the same as in previous versions, so veterans should have no trouble at all jumping right into the game. Newcomers should definitely complete the two training levels, and aside from earning you some achievement points these tutorials can be very worthwhile if you pay attention. The dual analog stick setup allows you to control Fisher from a third person view, while the left and right triggers perform knockouts and stealth kills, respectively. ‘B’ and ‘Y’ are used for basic acrobatics, while ‘X’ draws your weapon and ‘A’ will bring up the context-specific action menu. Weapons and accompanying gadgets can be selected by holding the right bumper, while the different goggles can be accessed by using the D-pad. The remainder of the game relies on developing an understanding of how Fisher interacts with his environment, and after a little practice the spy moves you’ll be able to pull off look real impressive.

Probably the best update in Double Agent revolves around the level designs and mission structures. Instead of containing a series of loosely based missions throughout similar, cramped environments, Double Agent is all about variety. One moment you’ll be traveling through Iceland in an open arctic setting, and before you know it you’ll be rappelling down the side of a massive office building. Because you can finally experience the action from the terrorist’s point of view, there is so much to be explored that just wasn’t available before. The JBA HQ levels initially require you to complete some obscure task within an allotted amount of time that is always way too much, so the rest of your time can be spent exploring the terrorist base. It’s incredibly important that you don’t get caught when heading through restricted areas, so an unparalleled amount of stealth is required here. You won’t have any gadgets and you certainly can’t kill anybody, so one false move could set you back a lot. Interestingly enough, you can develop relationships with various characters inside the HQ that can develop considerably as the game progresses. Overall, the gameplay mechanics are reminiscent of past titles, but innovative missions make up for the lack of new spy controls.

Double Agent in the Long Run

The single player campaign should only last you about ten hours or so, but there is so much incentive to start over from square one. For starters, the trust system does allow for multiple endings, but this is only the beginning. By completing secondary objectives, for example, you can unlock hidden gadgets that would otherwise remain hidden for the game’s entirety. At the end of each mission you are given a stealth rating that can actually go below zero percent if you shoot the place up, and again certain achievements can only be earned if you play like a pro. With multiple storylines, plenty of unlockables and a personal desire for self improvement, there is a lot to be made out of Double Agent’s single player campaign.

If that’s not enough, the beefed up Spies vs. Mercs multiplayer game type is back and better than ever. The Xbox Live TrueSkill matchmaking service will create teams pitting three nimble spies against three heavily equipped mercenaries. The goal here is for the spies to reach designated terminals in order to download top secret data, while the mercenaries are simply there to seek and destroy any intruders. Once a certain terminal is being hacked, all the mercenaries will be alerted immediately with directions on how to get there. Spies are at a major disadvantage when it comes to combat because they can only perform stealth kills if they are perfectly timed. As a result, they need to destroy lights, hide in the shadows, and be prepared to find cover at a moment’s notice in order to survive. Best of all, as you play online more and more maps and suits will become unlocked, which is great considering some of the later levels are extremely complex. The multiplayer is easy to get the hang of, so you won’t have to worry about a steep learning curve here. To top everything off, there is even a cooperative mode which can consist of clans with friends or computer controlled AI, and Double Agent definitely proves itself to be much more than a cheap thrill.

Conclusion

Although there is room for improvement, Splinter Cell: Double Agent delivers an enthralling experience that never runs dry. The story is much more involved when compared to previous titles, and the newly implemented trust system makes the whole Double Agent appeal much more vital to the gameplay. A solid single player game in conjunction with addictive multiplayer modes is a recipe for success, so any gamer can’t go wrong with Double Agent on the Xbox 360.

Gameplay 18/20
Graphics 17/20
Sound 18/20
Value 19/20
Preference 18/20
Overall 90/100



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