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Splinter Cell – The evolution of gaming’s greatest spy


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Speculation around the announcement of the 7th Splinter Cell game seems to have reached new peaks recently, with many predicting confirmation of the project’s existence is imminent.

It’s a franchise that has a loyal following and has delivered quality games since the original debuted way back in 2002. The series seemed most at home on the Xbox and set a new benchmark for the stealth oriented shooter genre. We were introduced to newly recruited NSA operative Sam Fisher, and his loyal friend and boss, Irving Lambert. The dialogue between these two was a joy in itself, never mind all the action packed missions that went with it.

Over the years Fisher has become, quite rightly, an incredibly popular hero of the gaming world. Now fans have had to wait longer than ever for the next game in the series, and like me, are desperate for news that a new adventure is on the way. In the meantime, it seems like an opportune moment to recall exactly how we got here. So sit back, slip your night vision goggles on and stock up on sticky shockers, it’s time to head back to where it all began.

This story starts way back when Fisher first joined the NSA, as a member of the newly formed “Third Echelon”. The first game – Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell – centres around the hunt for international terrorist Nikoladze, who has managed to seize control in Georgia after its president is assassinated. The game has you traversing an oil rig, sneaking around inside a Chinese Embassy and shooting your way through high rise office blocks, as it shows off what it has to offer. In some missions lethal force is allowed, whereas other times, such as when you break into the CIA headquarters in Langley, it’s strictly non-lethal methods only. You’re plunged into some genuinely tense set pieces throughout the game, right up until you finally seize the opportunity to take down Nikoladze once and for all.

Meanwhile, you’re brought up to speed with world events via a news round-up between each mission which keeps you in the loop. Splinter Cell is an excellent start to the franchise, and my second favourite game in the series. The story is paced perfectly and easy to follow, and told effortlessly through a mixture of dialogue and varied styles of play. The characters are genuinely interesting and the globetrotting nature of the game makes it feel like a proper blockbuster title.

Splinter Cell 1 xbox

Fast forward a couple of years and the highly anticipated sequel, Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow landed on shelves. This time you had to stop a series of biological attacks spearheaded by the villainous Sadono. Oddly, this is the only game in the series where some of the voice actors differ, such as Lambert’s, which makes Pandora Tomorrow feel ever so slightly different to the rest. The environments are darker and more dingy, however the game contains one of the finest Splinter Cell missions of any game, which takes place aboard a moving train. What could have been a linear and overly simplistic mission, turns out to be an enjoyable Bond style romp from start to finish.

Fisher also has some extra tricks up his sleeve, such as being able to whistle to attract enemies, which helped to develop the gameplay making it feel like a step forward from the original. Despite being well received, I didn’t find the storyline or characters quite as gripping as the first game, as well as it having a less impressive variation in level setting and design. Still, Pandora tomorrow is a great entry in the series, and proved Ubisoft had a real success story on their hands.

Splinter Cell 2 xbox

Fans did not have long to wait before the excellent Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory was released. For me, this was the peak of the series and the gameplay evolved into something truly special.

You had more weapons and gadgets at your disposal, such as sticky cameras, and you could eliminate your enemies in more ways than ever before. The options available to you made the game feel so open and each choice you had to make, a genuine one. You were in control of how to tackle each mission here. The storyline was worthy of being a Hollywood movie script at times, and the game introduced optional, secondary, objectives you could complete alongside the main story focused ones. The tone of Chaos Theory felt darker and more adult; this was backed up by the improved visuals which made the action feel grittier than ever. The level design also impressed once again, seeing you exploring lighthouses and freight ships all in a one-man attempt to prevent World War Three.

In terms of the audio, Chaos Theory felt like a step up from the previous titles, matching the scale and ambition of the story being told. As well as all this, the game included an exclusive cooperative campaign which ran alongside the main story; it felt like all the stops had been pulled out for this adventure. I have played Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory too many times to recall, and will be replaying it for years to come. It is truly a fantastic game, one of my favourites of all time.

Splinter Cell 3 xbox

With Splinter Cell: Double Agent, Ubisoft tried something a little different, and managed to pull it off. Fisher goes undercover into a domestic terrorist organisation, John Brown’s Army (JBA), and you have more freedom than ever over how you play. A trust system means you can choose whether to play it straight, or turn and ally with the bad guys. What differs also here is that Fisher is based in a “hub” area and leaves it to undertake his missions. It’s a level within itself, which is effectively JBA’s HQ, and you will gain access to more areas as you progress. As a result of the trust system the game has several endings and there is a terrible decision to be made, which I won’t spoil here.

Other than this it plays very similar to its predecessors, but Double Agent is a refreshing change of pace for the series, which despite dragging a little in some parts of the game, is a thoroughly enjoyable adventure for Splinter Cell fans.

Splinter Cell 4 xbox

Several years went by and Splinter Cell: Conviction was delayed, seemingly forever, before finally being released in 2010. This game implemented the biggest changes to the gameplay so far, with additions such as the “Mark and Execute” and “Last Known Position” mechanics.

The first is Fisher’s version of “Dead-Eye” and lets you take down multiple enemies at once. The latter shows a silhouette of Sam when he regains his cover and indicates where his enemies last saw him. Both changes work but overall affect the style of gameplay, meaning it is much easier to run and shoot your way through missions rather than adopt stealth. The environments are much larger and easier to rush through, making the game feel like more of a balance between action and stealth than the previous entries.

Conviction also includes an exclusive campaign to be enjoyed in co-op, which is a prologue to the main story. The main campaign centres around Sam investigating his daughter’s death, and feels like a much more personal tale than the other games. If the change in gameplay style doesn’t bother you too much, there’s plenty to like about Conviction, despite it also being a bit on the short side.

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The latest release, Splinter Cell: Blacklist, signalled major changes once again for the franchise.

Fisher is now the head of the newly formed Fourth Echelon and based on an airborne transport plane, the Paladin. A group called the Engineers is launching a string of attacks in an attempt to blackmail the U.S. government to recall all troops serving overseas. In terms of story and scale it feels as if the stakes have never been higher for Fisher and his team, and the game includes some impressive set pieces as well as twists and turns in the story. Some familiar faces from the past are along for the ride too which help a very different Splinter Cell game feel a little more familiar.

You select which mission to play via the centre console in the Paladin and this acts as a “hub” area, working in a similar way to in Double Agent. Alongside the main story missions, there are others where you have to eliminate enemies which come at you in waves. Although these side missions are a nice change from the main story arc, there are a fair few of them, meaning they can get tiresome after a while. However, it’s not a serious issue and it was good to see new things being tried in the decade strong franchise.

I really enjoyed Blacklist, mainly because it was so much fun to play. It cut back the action elements of Conviction, forcing you to return to a stealth focused style of play you learned in the earlier games whilst telling the story on a much larger scale.

Splinter Cell 6 xbox

The only game I have missed out here is Splinter Cell: Essentials, which was a PSP only title. You learn more about Fisher through playing a series of flashback missions, however many (including myself) don’t consider it part of the main series… and it was pretty rubbish anyway.

Other than that though and there we have it. You’re now either up to date with your Splinter Cell history, or that trip down memory lane has bumped Splinter Cell 7 right back up to the top of your wish list. Who knows what Ubisoft will do with Sam Fisher next, but fans are clearly eager for more.

All we ask is, please don’t keep us waiting much longer Ubisoft!

Darren Edwards
Darren Edwards
I have been playing games since a very early age, thanks to my Dad's encouragement. I've been an Xbox gamer since the very beginning, the Master Chief is to thank for that. I'm also a big Nintendo geek, and my other half is a PlayStation nut. I'll play pretty much anything in any genre (although FIFA and COD maybe pushing it).
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