(So, as usually happens, anytime I say posting will be light, I follow up immediately with another post).
Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell over the weekend (after an abortive attempt at renting Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball (see a review at Ben’s site) — the disc was horribly damaged). I didn’t particularly like the subject matter of the game (given current world politics, the sudden explosion of military-themed games & movies is disturbing (although a good idea commercially)), and I’m not generally a huge fan of FPS, but I have to say, I really, really liked this game.
First off, the graphics are just beautiful, with the notable exception of how the game treats water. It’s reminiscent of a bunch of tiled animated gifs, with no real translucency to it. The characters, compartively, are very smooth, with very few hard edges. There are also some 3D issues — if you stand right next to a wall and dump a body, half the body will disapear through a wall (which, incidentally, reduces the chance of someone spotting it), but overall, it’s a beautiful game to watch.
The gameplay is fantastic. Each mission is introduced with some cuts of a newscast highlighting international events, followed by a briefing from your CO. Then the game begins. Throughout, your missions are updated (via some nice voicework) through a little app in the top left corner, that looks like a pager (although if you go into the ‘opsat’ screen, there’s a palm logo up top, like you’re using a Palm Pilot (random advertising, I suppose, as there’s no reason for it to be there)). Each mission itself is broken down into smallish objectives, with a save points quite frequently (which is important, as it’s really easy to fuck up in this game).
The first mission is a training mission (ostensibly a test to see if you’re worthy of being this special ops guy) that doubles as teaching you the controls. I always really like it when games incorporate the learning into the storyline, so thumbs up for this. I’m also a fan of the fact that it’s possible to complete many of the missions without killing everyone in site (some in fact, you can’t – no body count allowed). It’s often much harder to knock people out rather than simply shoot them, but it adds an element of humanism to the game for me — I’m not a cold-hearted killer, I’m a spy, only killing when it simply can’t be avoided (I personally have shot many more cameras and lights than I have people)
The music is non-obtrusive, which is good for this sort of game, and the sound effects are brilliant, making full use of the benefits offered by Dolby Digital sound. There’s also lots of humorous snippets from the characters in the game that do wonders to add life to them.
My only real complaint is one that I often have with these sorts of games: if there’s somewhere I can’t go, make it so that it doesn’t look like I could. A set of pipes with a visible gap, I could crawl under or over, so this doesn’t count. Fire, a wall, a fence, rubble, these are good blockages. But it annoys me that just because the controls don’t support slithering on your belly, you can’t go under that wall.
This game gets high points from me, and gets the best recommendation I can give: I think I’m going to buy it. It’s also XBox Live enabled, so there’s the possibility of extra missions once the main game is finished.