Reviewed: November 9, 2006
Released: October 24, 2006
Splinter Cell: Double Agent is a fantastic game on the Xbox 360, but for those who haven’t moved onto the next-generation in video games or those looking for the most complete Sam Fisher experience, you might be surprised (like I was) to learn that you’ll find it on the original Xbox system.
Double Agent on the classic Xbox has larger levels, some, like the opening prison level is much longer, and there are even new levels not found on the other system like a very cool subway mission with an exciting walk along the top of a moving train.
While the trust system and mission timer add substantially to the suspense in the JBA levels on the 360, those same levels on the original Xbox are much larger with more guards, lots more cameras, and a nice new ability to subdue or kill anyone who discovers your covert ops rather than just ending the mission and making you start over.
The tanker level is quite different. The actual ship part of the level is better on the 360 but the icy stealth sections leading up to the ship are better on the Xbox. There are also subtle changes like getting your orders from different people on each system, plus getting new and/or different instructions from Lambert at the NSA.
The cruise ship level is a lot larger and more complex with some interesting opportunities you won’t have the option to even try on the 360 and lots more dialogue. In fact, the Xbox version had a LOT more dialogue, both for Sam and all the supporting cast, which ultimately tells a far more fleshed out story thus creating a more immersive gameplay experience.
When you boil both games down the 360 tells a more condensed version of the same story you get on the Xbox, only the Xbox provides a lot more story depth and character development with longer and more involved levels. While basically the same, the two games are remarkably different and quite possibly even complement each other, so if possible you should probably check them both out. The Xbox version even works on the 360.
Training is optional in this new Sam Fisher game, but I highly recommend you check it out. The cerebral-style presentation is a mix of the Matrix and a Star Trek Holo-deck and if you are playing in a dark room make sure to have some shades standing by – the snow-white screen is blinding.
Double Agent starts the story mode with a flashback mission where you and a new recruit are trying to disarm a deadly missile. This mission covers all the established nuances of Sam Fisher gameplay along with the new stuff like swimming under an ice pack, the new EM vision mode and EMP secondary fire on your pistol, as well as introducing you to the new mission scoring system that rewards you for ultimate stealth. It’s not enough that you hide the bodies…you must now do the entire mission undetected for the best score.
After your first icy training mission you’ll go undercover as you try to infiltrate a terrorist operation known as the JBA. To get in good with these guys you’ll need to break their leader out of the joint. A jailbreak wouldn’t normally be a big deal for Sam until you realize that you probably shouldn’t be killing the innocent prison guards.
And therein lies the new and innovative hook for Double Agent. As the name implies, you have to walk that thin line of posing as a terrorist while not losing touch with your NSA code of ethics. This is fleshed out in two clever ways. From time to time during the game you will be given critical choices, often life and death choices.
The first such incident happens early in the game when the head of the JBA wants you to “prove yourself” by putting a slug in the head of the chopper pilot who flew you out of the prison. Killing the pilot will obviously improve your trust relationship with the JBA while knocking you down a few notches with the NSA. I tried it both ways and no matter what you do the poor guy is dead.
And that is one of the few complaints I have with these “Directed Moments”. The decisions rarely affect anything other than the trust meter. I have to admit, I was really struggling with some decisions, both at a personal level and by putting myself in Sam’s shoes, but in the end it just boils down to who do you want to trust you the most. Obviously, you have to keep the JBA trust level up to finish the game, and you can’t lose all trust with the NSA if you ever want to go home after the mission.
I even tried to cheat the system. One mission you are instructed to “kill everybody” onboard a ship. I thought I would be sneaking and just incapacitate them rather than kill them, but somebody must have been watching because they caught on to my treachery and my JBA trust started slipping. Ultimate, I got the word from the NSA that I could do “whatever it takes” to maintain JBA trust, so I had no trouble capping anyone after that.
The other extremely cool concept in Double Agent is the dual-purpose mission. These usually take place at JBA headquarters or some location where the NSA wants you to complete objectives at the same time you are doing tasks for the JBA. The Xbox eliminate that pesky timer so you aren’t racing the clock anymore while trying to perform your NSA and JBA duties. You still have to watch where you go and who sees you, but the levels are now larger and more complex so it’s easier to avoid detection.
Naturally, this includes a lot of stealth, avoiding cameras, visual contact with real people, as well as not getting caught in certain “off-limit” areas. Anything you do that is perceived as sneaky will lose trust, and anything really obvious will destroy the trust entirely and the game is over.
The trust level carries through all missions all the way until the end of the game where you can opt for three possible endings based on your trust levels with each faction. For those that like to see all possible outcomes, it’s a bit harder to find that pivotal moment to save the game and explore each path, since trust is ongoing from the very beginning. Ultimately, you’ll be compelled to play the Double Agent at least twice if not three times.
The AI in Double Agent has been significantly increased from anything you might be used to from previous Splinter Cell games. Enemies are far more observant, especially in those dual-role missions. As always, your best tactics is stealth, since once the enemy spots you, their new intelligent carries over to their new deadly aim and damage. You can now die as quickly in Splinter Cell as you can in Rainbow Six.
The level design is brilliant, both visually stunning and with longer and more complex levels than the 360 or PC versions. One early mission has your skydiving onto a glacier, slipping past two guards, diving into the icy water, cracking through the ice and taking out a few guards, blasting a hole through another part of the glacier, swimming some more, then getting aboard a giant multi-level ship. Admittedly, this is broken up into several sub-levels, but they all comprise a single mission.
Shanghai has to be one of my favorite missions. Just after I got to rave about this city in my Tomb Raider review, Sam Fisher gets to pilot a chopper onto a rooftop, then sneak around, rappel down the side of a building trying to hide in the shadows between the bursts of the brilliant fireworks display, use a laser mic through a windows, then sneak back inside, crack a safe, ride on the tops of glass elevators, and all during the countdown to Happy New Year.
Controls are simple and intuitive. The left trigger is a non-fatal attack while the right does damage up to and including death. Once you grasp this simple concept it’s easy to EMP a light rather than shooting it out and revealing your position. Interestingly enough, the Xbox version relies on your use of Sam’s collection of gadgets a lot more than the 360 version, which you could easily complete without ever using your cool toys.
There are some great mini-game moments like cracking a safe using an X-ray view of the tumblers, or hacking into countless computer systems by locking down access numbers within a certain time limit. You also have all your favorite toys like remote cameras with knockout gas and explosives, the snake cam, and all sorts of other nifty gadgets.
Double Agent takes the online experience to new levels, even beyond what was established in Pandora and Chaos Theory. It’s now far easier to get online and get hooked up with similarly skilled players in a quick match or you can go hardcore in ranked matches and try to move up the highly competitive leaderboard. Modes include; Team Hack, Death Match, Team Death Match, Blitz, Sam vs. All, and Countdown, with some excellent multiplayer level designs.
There are plenty of modes for versus, team play (Mercs vs Spies), and the online co-op mode is fantastic with 15 exciting levels (versus the 3 on the 360). In comparison, the Xbox has a far superior co-op mode while the 360 offers a better versus and team multiplayer experience. Again, you really need both versions of Double Agent for the “full experience”.
Double Agent is by far the prettiest Splinter Cell game in the franchise history, and the designers did an admirable job of making this game look as good as it could possibly get on the Xbox. The lighting is fantastic with real-time shadows that totally play into the entire stealth aspect of the game.
The character model for Sam is amazing and all his gear is rendered so you can see everything he is carrying. Thankfully, that annoying yellow-green status light is gone and Sam now has his visual and audible alert meters back on the HUD where they belong. Overall, a stunning experience which each new level getting better than the one before it.
Michael Ironside turns in another outstanding performance as the grim, sarcastic, (and this time bitter) Sam Fisher. He does a fantastic job of adding that “edge” to Sam, so you just never know if he is going to go too far or not far enough. There is a great story being told (especially on the Xbox) and for the first time Double Agent tells it in a linear fashion without jumping around to various locales and random scenarios. The game shows much more structure.
Michael McCann provides a wonderful score that ranges for upbeat techno and spy-tingling tunes you might hear in an episode of Alias, then it cranks down to some edgy atmospheric orchestrations that cue with the suspenseful action. Chances are if Sam is about to be detected, the music is going to let you know a few seconds ahead of time.
Sound effects are fantastic as always complete with realistic weapon sounds as well as all sorts of futuristic noises for all the toys on your tool belt. There are also some amazing environmental effects that bring all of these amazing levels to audible life. You’ll actually get cold chills walking around the ice and diving into water that is only a few degrees from becoming solid.
The solo game clocks in at 10-12 hours, which isn’t that bad, especially when you figure that most will play the game at least twice if not three times to experience all the endings. Plus with the fluctuating nature of the trust meter and branching missions and storylines, there are a lot of ways this adventure can unfold.
The online modes will certainly keep you playing this game for months to come, especially the co-op missions which are totally addictive and great fun. Just look at all the people still playing Mercs vs Spies from the last game. The multiplayer has been definitely tweaked making it much more accessible to the novice gamers, but learning the maps is always a key factor, so learn them fast or get left behind.
Splinter Cell: Double Agent is a great game and the best version is surprisingly on the Xbox. You’ll get a much more familiar Sam Fisher experience with more gadget-centric gameplay, deep story and character development, longer and more complex levels, and an online co-op experience that puts the 360 to shame.
Double Agent is fun, exciting, intense, and definitely a great send-off title for the classic Xbox. What it lacks in 360 visuals it more than makes up for in substance and gameplay and that is what ultimately counts.