PC Games: Splinter Cell-- Pandora Tomorrow

Many shooters have used stealth sequences to good effect, but few took stealth quite as seriously as Ubisoft’s Splinter Cell, in which black neoprene-clad secret agent Sam Fisher stalked his way through tricky situations with the aid of night-vision gear and lots of shadows. In Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow he’s still at it, only this time he’s tracking a terrorist intent on unleashing a biological weapon.

Like its predecessor, Pandora Tomorrow plays from the third-person view, although when Sam draws his weapon you zoom in over his shoulder. Unlike most action games, in Pandora Tomorrow you’ll spend as much time with your gun in the holster as out. Sam isn’t into taking on hordes of enemies head-on. Instead, he creeps his way to objectives, trying not to raise the alarm. Pandora Tomorrow lets you quick-save at any point, so getting it wrong doesn’t have to lead to frustration. The game is fairly linear in approach: in many situations there is just one way of doing things, and even when you do have more flexibility the choices aren’t vast.

Sam has an extensive set of moves at his command. He can climb walls, shimmy up pipes, sidle his way around ledges while hanging from his fingertips, and much more. Sam also has a great range of equipment on hand. He’ll usually be packing a silenced pistol and high-tech assault rifle, which are often used not against the enemy but aimed at any lights within sight. Darkness is Sam’s best friend, and the darker you can make it by shooting out lights, the better off you are. There’s also assorted gear like spy cameras, grenades and lock picks. A nifty touch is the optical cable, which lets you look under doors to see if the room beyond is clear before entering.

Moving fast or in the light increases your chances of detection. Crouching and moving slow, while sticking to the shadows, makes you nearly invisible except at very close range. Your night-vision gear — which also has a thermal mode that is particularly useful for spotting land mines — lets you sneak up on enemies unseen. Sam isn’t always able to simply dispatch enemies; sometimes, lethal action is not authorised, in which case he’ll need to pistol whip guards and hide their unconscious bodies in the shadows.

Pandora Tomorrow also introduces a four-player multiplayer component to Splinter Cell that utilises the same stealthy approach. While one side, the spies, plays from the third-person view, the other, the mercenaries, fights from the first-person perspective. It’s not the kind of online game you’ll want to play if run-n-gun is your idea of a game, but for more thoughtful players it can be a blast.

Pandora Tomorrow looks great (even in the dark) but it does require decent hardware. If you’ve got a suitable PC, and a taste for stealthy espionage, then it’s well worth the money.

Score Card

Visuals: Excellent use of lighting and shadows

Audio: Stealthily quiet

Gameplay: Strategic play is rewarded and mistakes are punished severely

Publisher: Ubisoft

Developer: Ubisoft

URL:www.splintercell.comPC

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Bruce Buckman

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