Cart: Splinter Cell HD Trilogy Cab: PS3 Coin: Ubisoft Montreal
It is said that the greatest tool you will ever possess is the human body; strange that so few games have managed to simulate what it feels like to be in complete control of one.
It’s an endeavour that Ubisoft, either by accident or by design, seem to have undertaken more so than any other. Between their work on Assassin’s Creed and Prince of Persia, the art of body moving through space has been explored in great detail and realised with great success. Yet there is only one franchise from their stable that has truly grappled with the complex process of controlling body as machine as opposed to body as vessel: Splinter Cell.
The amount of real-estate that Sam Fisher’s body takes-up on-screen is a hint at the degree to which the developers focused on putting you in control of Third Echelon’s finest. Every measured movement, every environmental interaction, every piece of equipment – all have been crafted with one aim in mind: to make you feel like you’re right there in the darkness with Fisher.
The split-jump: as cool today as it ever was
It’s an illusion that Ubisoft completely nailed with the very first title; perhaps one of the series’ greatest achievements and yet perhaps its Achilles heel. The apparent relentless drive to improve upon the original formula has pushed Splinter Cell into realms that it arguably didn’t need to venture. Such was the strength of the original blueprint, as highlighted in this stellar collection.
On reflection, this feels more like two games than three. Splinter Cell and Pandora Tomorrow are clearly built upon near identical engines and mechanics and one feels more like a map-pack to the other. The most amazing, fantastically realised map-pack in the entire history of gaming, but a map-pack nonetheless. Both titles stand-up remarkably well today and the conversion work is solid. Whilst cut-scenes have sadly been stretched to within an inch of their life, the game engine itself has made the transition to full HD admirably.
It’s worth stopping to reflect upon the fact that with so little being changed from Splinter Cell to Pandora Tomorrow, and with so much being changed with each successive entry in the franchise thereafter, that these two games reflect the only phase in Fisher’s history where Ubisoft were content. I like that. Playing through both titles feels like coming home and is as much fun today as it was the first time around. It’s a bold reminder of just how strong, not just the Splinter Cell franchise is, but the stealth genre as a whole.
On the count of three…
Chaos Theory represents the first evolutionary step, with a significant number of mechanical and visual upgrades. From a floating camera to a third optical filter and a significantly overhauled engine: even today this is a truly beautiful game that could almost pass as a contemporary title. Not bad for something originally squeezed onto the archaic Xbox. A range of new moves and gadgets makes Chaos Theory perhaps the highlight of the entire franchise with Double Agent and Conviction being somewhat radical departures on a number of levels; successful, but radical. Chaos Theory represents the original concept spreading its wings before taking flight. The audio is of particular note with some superb background music that captures the essence of the franchise perfectly. There’s an effortlessly cool ambience throughout.
All in all, considering the asking price and the complete absence of Splinter Cell on the PS3, recommending this is a complete no-brainer. Each game is an absolute masterclass in stealth with their combined forces representing one of the most comprehensive stealth experiences available.
Quite simply: It’s the Orange Box of the stealth universe.
If I could criticise anything with the package, however, it’s the complete absence of the stunning multiplayer components of Pandora Tomorrow and Chaos Theory. Arguably one of the most original and ground-breaking multiplayer concepts ever: Spy vs. Merc was a deliciously addictive and challenging experience and its absence here is bitter-sweet. On one hand, playing through these titles again has made me re-live some extremely fond multiplayer memories but, on the other, I’ve been unable to make any new ones. Whilst newcomers won’t miss what they’ve never had, it’s a crying shame that the original multiplayer format won’t see the light of day again. Double Agent’s effort was a much faster yet less hardcore experience and Conviction abandoned Spy vs. Merc altogether. Surely Ubisoft recognise the need to resurrect this sublime experience in some format?
Change for change’s sake isn’t always advisable; going back to your roots is always a complete blast.