Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow Review

Review Format:

XBox

After the huge success of Ubi Soft’s stealth-em-up ‘Splinter Cell’, comes Tom Clancy’s inspired sequel ‘Pandora Tomorrow’. Michael Ironside reprises the main role of Sam Fisher, a skilled operative called in to bring down an Indonesian terrorist network. Protected by the Fifth Freedom, he is permitted to spy, steal, destroy and assassinate to protect his country. Fisher’s objectives are communicated by Irving Lambert, who’s voiced by 24’s President David Palmer (Dennis Haysbert).

Missions are set in a variety of worldwide locations including a medical lab in Paris, a hijacked train, the streets of Jerusalem, a training camp in Indonesia, a Jakarta Television station, submarine and Los Angeles Airport. Each has a distinct look, and presents it’s own variety of challenges. There are multiple ways to complete each objective, giving you scope to experiment to find the best approach.

There are number of specialist skills at your disposal, including the ability to climb between two close walls, repel down buildings and zip-lines, pick locks, disable bombs and motion devices, interrogate the enemy (with a gun to their head, naturally), peak under doors with a fibre optic cable and hang from pipes. Added to which is an arsenal of weapons including guns, bombs, spy cams, bugs and tranquilliser darts.

To say that the enemy A.I is impressive would be an understatement. They react to sound, shadows, and changes in the environment. Switch a light off and they will go and investigate, or throw a diversionary object to get them to leave their post. After a brief introductory segment in Timor, you are thrown right into the deep end where non-lethal force is required. This means you have to quickly learn to get past the enemy without killing them, a skill that is essential in later levels.

You must always be conscious of your surroundings. Walk past a light and a 50-foot shadow will be projected on the wall. Walk over broken glass or a creaky floorboard and create unwanted noise. This is a game of detail, and if you don’t pay attention to it, you’re cover will be blown straight away. Some levels will have you throwing your controller down in frustration, but then picking it back up for one more go. The AI is undeniably less forgiving then I am…

While the graphics are rich in detail, you will probably experience about 90% of them in black and white. Night vision is essential in this game, where the darkness is your only ally. If in an area of strong light, or a torch is being aimed directly at you, then your night vision will be ineffective. In these circumstances, your Predator-style, heat-seeking vision comes in useful to get a clear view of guards. It can also be used to see traps and laser beams that are undetectable to the human eye. In a neat touch, if you kill a guard with night vision on, you can watch their body heat draining, before becoming stone cold.

The Splinter Cell theme is composed by Lalo Shifrin, best known for creating the theme for Mission: Impossible. The in-game score is equally cinematic, which adapts to build the tension.
In addition to the single player game, ‘Pandora Tomorrow’ also offers fantastic multiplayer features. Two teams of two players can take part in three varied game modes via Xbox Live. As a Shadownet team spy, you adopt a traditional third person view, making use of many of the skills found in the single player game. Without lethal firearms, spies must make use of their stealth skills to reach objectives undetected.

The rival team takes control of an ARGUS Corporation Mercenary, whose job it is to hunt down and kill the spies. Armed to the teeth with heavy firepower and explosives, spies are no match for a mercenary in a direct confrontation. In an interesting move, Mercenaries have a first-person view akin to Halo or Timesplitters. This view is well suited for your gung-ho objectives, and adds great variety to the game. The only disadvantage is that you cannot see behind you, giving cunning spies the chance to sneak up and break your neck. Usually players can only communicate with their teammate, but if a spy gets close enough to a Mercenary to get them into a chokehold, they can briefly communicate before turning out the lights.

To make their way in the dark, spies can make use of their night-vision, or thermal imaging modes. Use them wisely however, as Mercenaries can detect when electrical items are being operated, highlighting their position. Mercs are also armed with a motion-tracker, which will detect anything but the smallest of movements. Mercenaries also have a torch on the end of their gun, so you may need more then shadows to hide your whereabouts. Both teams are equally matched, and carry the required skills to get the job done – if you’re good enough.

In Neutralisation mode, spies must find and neutralise viral ND133 containers. In Extraction mode you must collect the viral tubes and take them to the extraction point. Sabotage mode requires you to place a modem near a viral container to destroy it. All the while, Mercenaries must prevent spies from completing their objectives. In addition, if either team eliminates the other, expiring all their lives, they will be declared victorious.

There are eight maps on offer, including a museum, warehouse, Vertigo Plaza, Schermerhorn Waste station, Krauser Lab, Cinema, and the DefTech Belew building. With new downloadable content on the way, featuring two levels: Federal Bank and River Mall, there are plenty of environments for all your espionage needs.

To get to grips with the multiplayer modes, there are two tutorials on offer, catering for Spies and Mercenaries. You can even visit any map, to better learn the environments.

But it can’t all be good can it? Well, the game suffers from a number of bugs, which affect both the single and multiplayer modes. Thankfully Ubisoft has gone some way to correcting many of the issues, by releasing downloadable patches via Xbox Live.

Also, save points are few and very far between. As the game encourages exploring multiple approaches to complete a particular objective, experimentation will quite often lead to disaster. In some instances you will slowly creep around a base for 10 minutes, carefully picking off each guard in total silence, before making one mistake and having to do it all again. Once you have worked out how to get past an obstacle, you can however retrace your steps with little problem.

These however are only minor annoyances compared to the rich game playing experience that ‘Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow’ offers. While the single player mode itself is reason enough to buy the game, it’s the groundbreaking online features that will have you dropping your jaw.

With cutting-edge graphics, intelligent gameplay, and a multiplayer mode to even make Solid Snake jealous, ‘Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow’ has officially over taken ‘Halo’ as the must-have Xbox game. Get it now!

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