E3 06: Splinter Cell: Double Agent Hands-On

Kinshasa is a hotbed of conflict, but Sam Fisher is characteristically unfazed. We snuck our way through the war zone in our first stab at the fourth Splinter Cell.

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LOS ANGELES--Remember that demo of Sam Fisher's latest mission we told you all about earlier this week? We got to try the Kinshasa mission out for ourselves at Ubisoft's gala E3 booth. The demo demands that Sam Fisher kill a key figure for the terrorists, whose group he's trying to infiltrate, and you'll have to fight or sneak your way through an intense civil-war scenario to do so. Or not, since you'll have the choice of whether or not to carry out the assassination once you reach that pivotal moment. As we've reported previously, what you decide to do will have a bearing on the progression of the game (in as-yet-unspecified ways).

That assumes you can reach the end of the mission, which we had a particularly hard time with, considering we must have wiped out half a dozen times trying different strategies for getting through the level. Double Agent seems to be the most dynamic Splinter Cell yet, since nearly every time we restarted the level, enemies seemed to be in different positions and events occurred in a different manner. Furthermore, the level designers have designed most missions to give you multiple paths toward your objective, so you'll have a good amount of breathing room to try out different strategies.

For instance, at one point we snuck around a building and came upon a couple of bad guys holding some civilians hostage and making menacing motions with their rifles as if they were going to execute them. We had the option of taking out these bad guys, but we could also just sneak past while the executions were unfortunately being carried out. But after we died fighting the terrorists once, we restarted the level and found that we could shimmy up a drainage pipe attached to an entirely separate building and proceed toward our objective using an entirely different route.

It's a good thing there were multiple paths for getting through, because the run-in-and-shoot-everybody strategy wasn't working out so well for us. Both sides of the ongoing civil war in Kinshasa will regard Fisher as an enemy here, so even though they're busy fighting each other, they'll also take you out if you don't try to stay somewhat covert. So it became useful for us to watch our visibility, which works a little differently in Double Agent, considering the on-screen meter that indicates how well you're hidden has been removed. The designers have decided to contextualize it within the game by putting a little green-to-yellow-to-red light on Sam's shoulder that indicates whether you're being noticed or not. Even when you zoom to aiming mode, you'll see the same sensor on your rifle.

We've noted before that Sam Fisher will be doing a lot of costume changes between missions, dressing appropriately for the environment he's in. During our hands-on, we learned this will affect his gear in a given mission. In the Kinshasa level, for instance, Fisher's lacking his typical loadout of thermal and night vision (it's too hot for that suit, after all). Here he only had a pair of sunglasses, though we found it amusing that we could flip these on and off with the same D pad control as the night goggles, and this would simply make the environment brighter or darker depending on whether we were wearing them or not.

So far, the newest Splinter Cell seems to be upholding the positive elements of the series' long-established stealth formula, and it's adding in some new design elements that we hope will keep things fresh. We're still very curious to find out how the purportedly moral decisions in the game will affect your progress, since Ubi reps have implied that what you do will determine what game content you get to experience to some extent. The game is now confirmed for a September release (which we hope won't change), so we hope to bring you more information in the coming weeks.

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