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Being in Sam Fisher’s increasingly geriatric stealthy slippers can’t be easy. After all, he spends roughly 76% of his time cowering from gun-toting terrorists in pitch-black missions that make the dark side of the moon look like Faliraki in mid-July. And when the gruff CIA operative’s not stuck in actual inky blackness, he’s forever cast in the figurative gloom of Solid Snake’s shadow. Poor, sneaky old sod.
Don’t cart the decrepit codger off to the old folks’ home yet, though. Because through the modern wonder of the hi-def update, Fisher’s first three PS2 titles finally have the chance to get the jump on Kojima’s mulleted hero. So does a shiny lick of HD paint help Splinter Cell to outdo Metal Gear’s efforts? ‘Hell’ and ‘no’. The visuals may be ultra-sharp now, but they still can’t hide a host of plain-Jane textures or fugly character models. After Arkham Asylum’s slick sneakery, the trilogy’s deliberate, slow-moving take
on stealth also feels outdated. Chiefly because… it is.
If you’ve never crept into Sam’s kidney-crushing suit before, his games blend heavy doses of covert action with slightly clunky shooting mechanics. Back in 2002, the original’s light-and-dark mechanic was a revelation. Rather than having to carefully watch enemy patrols to get your sneak on, you could simply shoot out the nearest lightbulb to bathe your surroundings in darkness. It’s just a pity that, in 2011, Splinter Cell’s lack of ideas beyond this central concept are exposed under the harshest of spotlights.
The original game is by far the worst offender for dreary pacing and unglamorous objectives. Break into five identical computers to get passwords for five identical locked doors, you say? Be still our beating numerical combinations. Compared to the megaton set-pieces of MGS, it falls short – hacking into data terminals can’t match blowing up a 100-foot tall nuclear tank.
Luckily, things improve with its sequel, Pandora Tomorrow. Boasting far more varied locations, it ditches coma-inducing offices for sweltering jungle infiltration and a thrilling rooftop chase on a Parisian train. The switch helps the game’s pacing no end, making Pandora much less of a slog.
Rounding the trilogy off is 2005’s Chaos Theory. Thanks to beefed-up animations, Sam’s movements in his PS2 send-off are graceful and fluid. Squint, and it could almost be a new(ish) PS3 title. Just try to ignore the cringe-worthy chewing gum product placement.
There’s no denying that this is a generous package. For 20 quid, you’re getting three ten-hour adventures, all offering trophy and 3D support. Still, there’s also no getting around the overly restrictive gameplay on offer. Weighed down by dim-witted AI and a reliance on trial and error, it just can’t compete with Snake’s more open-ended sleuthing. And with more recent PS3 fare such as Uncharted 2 blurring the lines between stealth and action, these relics can’t quite keep up. Sorry, Sam old buddy, but its time we dropped you off at that great retirement castle in the sky.