Splinter Cell is the latest Tom Clancy-inspired action game from Ubi Soft, and at ECTS today we were treated to a behind closed doors demo of the previously elusive PC version.
Unlike previous Tom Clancy games, Splinter Cell puts players in charge of a single character rather than a squad of special operatives. The central character, Sam Fisher, is an elite NSA operative trained to work alone and used for situations where even sending a highly trained squad into a dangerous situation could arouse too much attention. The situation in Splinter Cell is about as delicate as they come--Georgia has declared war on America and is conducting its attacks via the Internet, attacks designed to mess with the country's infrastructure by interfering with the workings of various corporations and the government.
Some time ago, Hideo Kojima was quoted as saying that he was very much looking forward to Splinter Cell and after spending some time with the game ourselves it's really not hard to see why. The opening sequence of our demo showed Sam in an outside location at night--this proved an ideal spot to show off some of the game's lighting effects as even small moths attracted to a street light were casting shadows onto Sam and his surroundings. The darkness also afforded us our first chance to check out Sam's impressive night vision goggles in action--goggles which give the game's visuals the effect of a slightly grainy black and white photograph.
Areas of darkness and shadows serve a very real purpose in Splinter Cell, as was demonstrated to us when Sam got inside a building and found himself staring down a long corridor at a guard who was blissfully unaware of his presence. The corridor was well lit, and although taking the guard out with a sniper shot would've been possible, there was no way of being sure that there wasn't a second guard just around the corner that would've been alerted by the noise or by the body of his colleague falling to the ground. With the developer giving our demo opting for a stealthy approach, we watched Sam systematically shoot out most of the lights in the corridor before moving into the shadows and making a noise to deliberately alert the guard--when the guard walked down the corridor he wasn't equipped with night vision goggles and so wasn't able to locate Sam at all. Needless to say he made for a very easy target. Ordinarily time would have been well spent hiding the body at this point, as it was later demonstrated to us that bodies left lying around in the game can still be found a good time after the event.
With the corridor in darkness, we were then treated to a demonstration of Sam's thermal goggles which behaved exactly as anyone who's seen the Predator movie would expect. Cold areas become dark blue, while warm areas show up as red, yellow or white--the results on screen were extremely impressive as we could clearly make out the light fittings and body of the guard that had yet to lose all of their warmth.
Due to the fact that Splinter Cell takes place "the day after tomorrow" Sam has an impressive arsenal of gadgets at his disposal, these include a fibre optic camera that can be slid under doors before going through them, a modified F2000 gun capable of lunching grenades, and sticky cameras. Sticky cameras are small enough to be fired from a gun and, once they adhere to a surface, the player can look through them and even rotate them to get a good view of the location ahead. The cameras are capable of using night and thermal imaging, although only one can be used at a time and because they're in short supply it's a good idea to retrieve them for use again once they've served their purpose. Even more impressive than the sticky camera is a variant called the diversion camera, these have the added ability to make a noise that attracts nearby guards before gassing them when they get in range--the activating of the noise and the gas has to be done manually though so it's certainly not a weapon that you can fire and forget.
All of the missions in the game will require a great deal of stealth and while gadgets such as the cameras make matters easier, there are plenty of other factors that do a good job of making life difficult. For one thing, players will really need to keep an eye on where their shadow is being cast--one scene that we saw featured a pair of curtains with a gigantic shadow of a guard in the next room being cast on them by a spotlight.
To list every single neat feature that we noticed in our relatively brief demonstration would take forever, but to give you some idea of just how detailed this game really is it's actually possible for Sam to hold his breath while using the sniper rifle. While holding his breath Sam's aim is much steadier, but if he doesn't make the first shot count he could get into all sorts of trouble because seconds later when he gasps for air his aim is all over the place for a couple of seconds.
It goes without saying that we're looking forward to getting our hands on a copy of Tom Clancy's Splinter and since Ubi Soft is planning to simultaneously release both the Xbox and PC versions of the game before the end of the year it shouldn't be long before we do just that. In the meantime, for more information you should check out our previous coverage of the game.