January 24, 2005

Splinter Cell Pandora Tomorrow – Review

Sam Fisher, the NSAís greatest secret agent in the war against terrorism, is back. Splinter Cell Pandora Tomorrow carries on shortly after Splinter Cell, this time fighting against an Indonesian guerrilla, threatening to release smallpox across the USA.

The development of Pandora Tomorrow has followed the simple principle of ďif it ainít broke, donít fix itĒ, which sadly seems to be so lacking in the thinking of many recent game sequels. This is probably due to the short period of time between the release of Splinter Cell and Pandora Tomorrow, meaning that the developers havenít had to improve the audiovisual experience, which so often seems to result in neglect of the actual playability. Basically, Pandora Tomorrow looks, sounds and plays the same as the original Splinter Cell, which is most definitely a good thing.

Moreover, a number of refinements have been made. The first and most important is the ironing out of the seemingly never-ending string of General Protection Faults which plagued the PC version of Splinter Cell, causing endless frustration. In-game changes include night vision blinding (when you look at a bright light while using night vision the entire screen whites-out for a few seconds), a few extra special moves, and a laser sight for your pistol. Sam Fisherís dry sense of humour is also back, again voiced by the excellent Michael Ironside, and the trend of snappy, amusing conversational which has become a major feature of Ubisoftís recent games is here in force.

However this game is still slightly disappointing. For a start there isnít enough of the ledge-hanging, girder-swinging, pipe-climbing monkey action that made Splinter Cell so enjoyable. Also the AI hasnít been improved, and as recent games (including Far Cry, also by Ubisoft) are creating unscripted AI, the very obvious scripting in Pandora Tomorrow is rather disappointing. Just to site one example Ė the guards going from not being able to see you at all as you hide in the shadows, to pinpointing your exact position the moment you shoot at something. Finally, most of the levels arenít as memorable as before, and the whole game is just too short, and leaves you wanting more (although this is obviously not a bad thing as far as Ubisoft are concerned). In fact, playing Pandora Tomorrow makes you want to go back and play Splinter Cell, rather than the other way round.

Pandora Tomorrow also comes with multiplayer capability, bringing a totally new style of game to the online community. Three different game modes Ė Neutralization, Extraction, and Sabotage, are played on servers with a capacity of just 4 players, 2 spies and 2 mercenaries. The spies are like Sam Fisher in the single player mode, albeit with a few less moves, and the mercenaries play like a first person shooter, but with vision modes of their own; motion sensor and electromagnetic.

The problem with Pandora Tomorrow online is that the learning curve is too steep, making it very frustrating when starting out, as the new player will invariably take heavy defeats all the time. Also the controls are configured separately from the single player mode, which is a strange and unnecessary annoyance. Finally, the entire multiplayer mode is rather buggy, for example lag created just by switching on your torch as a mercenary, and gun laser targeting which appears to snap to an unseen grid. This, combined with the need for a broadband connection to play it at all, means that a lot of patching is still required before the multiplayer mode is a viable and fun option for everyone.


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