Game: Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow
Pandora Tomorrow is the second game in the third-person stealth series, released two years after the original, and… well… it’s more of the same. Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing when the original was an enjoyable shadow hiding game, but if it’s not going to make any advances then it had better be very good at what it does. And while the game is mostly good, it doesn’t quite match the first Splinter Cell for consistent quality.
For anyone who hasn’t played Splinter Cell and has somehow managed to go all this time without knowing what they are, I’ll have to give some information about the series. The Splinter Cell games are about Sam Fisher, who goes around saving the world, or America, in a stealthy way. All while having three green light bulbs attached to his head, which somehow villains can’t see. Apparently terrorists are blind to bright green lights glowing out from the shadows. The levels are entirely linear, basically making them a series of situations that you have to work out a way around. It almost becomes like a puzzle game at times, making it sufficiently different from the more open levels of the Thief series. And they’re good games, mostly.
So let’s see what new features have been added in Pandora Tomorrow. There’s a new multiplayer mode which I’ll mention later, but what are the improvements for the solo player? Well, very little. Sam Fisher now has a couple of new moves such as the ability to perform a SWAT turn, letting him spin past openings without being spotted, and the ability to hang upside down from a pipe to shoot things. Neither of these are actually much use in the game after the tutorial level, making them feel like they were just tacked on at the end when they realised the game felt too much like an expansion pack. The levels certainly weren’t designed to take advantage of them. Other changes… nothing that I can think of, other than the obvious things like the fact that the levels are different.
Like I’ve said, keeping things the same when they work isn’t a bad idea, but as good as the original game was, it does start to wear out its welcome here at times. This is mostly due to some ridiculously hard sections in the middle portion of the game that had me regularly quitting the game in frustration. I’m not one to turn away from a challenge, but the problem here is that the challenge is artificially forced. Far too often, the game devolves into trial and error style gameplay, where it can take several retries before you even discover exactly what is setting off the alarms. Fortunately, most of these problems are confined to the dreadful jungle levels in the middle. At first sight these levels provoked a reaction of interest that the game was having a change of setting. This was quickly altered to frustration when starting to play it and hitting the quickload button for the hundredth time.
Thankfully, the rest of the game isn’t so bad, and much of it can stand up to the quality of the original game. The early levels do a good job of easing you into the gameplay style, and feature some interesting settings such as a moving train to sneak through. The highlights of the game come at the end though, with the final two missions, set in a TV studio and an airport respectively. These let you fully utilise your stealth skills and allow plenty of opportunity to think your way around a situation by using the many fun gadgets that you carry. Camera jammers and non-lethal ammunition is useful, but some of the most enjoyable moments are when you manage to lure a group of guards to a diversionary camera and then take out the entire lot of them by releasing the gas from it.
I haven’t mentioned the story yet. That’s mostly because, like the previous game, there’s not a real lot to talk about. This time, there’s a bunch of terrorists planning to release the Smallpox virus throughout America. It’s up to overly macho action movie cliché Sam Fisher to once again save the USA through stealthy means. And that’s about it. It’s all wrapped up in the usual dull political trappings, but it’s just an excuse to stick a bunch of diverse missions together. The only other thing worth noting is the final cutscene, where Sam carries out what is quite probably the most ridiculous plan I’ve ever seen to dispose of a bomb. It works of course, unlike what would most likely have happened if he’d tried it in real life, where he’d have been responsible for a large number of deaths.
So, mostly the single-player game is good, but it’s more of the same, and there are problems as mentioned above. There’s also a section where you’re basically forced into a shoot out with several enemies, and given the awkward gun firing controls in Splinter Cell, this is far from a good idea. But for each irritating moment of trying to find your way around a maze of landmines in the jungle, there’s a great sequence to balance it out. It’s just inconsistent in terms of quality.
There is a multiplayer mode, which does something a bit different from the standard deathmatch of most games. It is based around two teams, one of spies and one of mercenaries. The spies have to try to complete objectives stealthily, while the mercenaries have to try to stop them, not so stealthily. The spies are controlled as in the normal Splinter Cell games, but interestingly, the mercenaries have a first-person perspective and are controlled in a more traditional FPS way. Both teams have their own array of gadgets and weapons and offer a different experience. But it’s all irrelevant, since the online play was only available through Ubi.com, and they decided to close the servers, making the whole multiplayer useless unless you have a LAN. Even then, it was limited to a maximum of two players per team, and there’s a similar mode available in Chaos Theory now anyway.
Pandora Tomorrow, while not being terrible, is still ultimately a disappointment as a sequel. If you’ve played the other games then it’s worth a play, but if you’ve never played any before you’d be better off starting at the beginning or going straight onto Chaos Theory, either of which is superior.
Save System Review: Save anywhere.
Graphics: Fairly good, although not really much better than the average at the time, especially as they haven’t moved on at all since the original game.
Sound: Quite an important part to any stealth game, and it’s handled well enough, although nothing too incredible. It doesn’t quite create the atmosphere in the same way as the Thief games but it’s functional. The voice acting is good.
Bugs: None that I found.
Gameplay: The gameplay is mostly good, since it’s the same gameplay that made the original Splinter Cell so popular, but unfortunately the level designs of the middle segment let the game down.
Storyline: Typical Tom Clancy game story, pretty much just an excuse to tie the missions together. Still, at least there is a story and it’s mostly coherent other than the ridiculous ending.
Arbitrary Final Score:
Are you dying to play this game tomorrow or would you rather just get a splinter? Comment in the forums!