Splinter Cell was easily one of the bright lights in the Xbox lineup last year. Ubi Soft's stealth action game was an impressive entry in the genre, and it featured stunning visuals to complement its slick gameplay. Following the game's successful release on the Xbox, Ubi Soft has tapped its Shanghai development studio to bring the game to the PlayStation 2. We had a chance to spend some time with the game, and we're impressed by what we've seen. Rather than create a straight port of the game, the Shanghai team has actually reworked the game to offer new content and has tightened it up a bit from its Xbox predecessor.
For those unfamiliar with the game, Splinter Cell puts you in the shoes of a single supercommando named Sam Fisher. Fisher is a member of Third Echelon, a made-up splinter group of sorts of the National Security Agency. For those not up on Clancy mythology, the NSA is a branch of the US government that is tasked with breaking codes and intercepting signal traffic. The NSA's operatives typically monitor transmissions sent all over the world, scouring them for anything that could pose a threat to national security. When something of the sort arises, they call upon their secret weapon--the Third Echelon. The members of Third Echelon are of a different breed entirely. They're trained to work alone, and they're trained very well. They're usually sent in to take care of business in situations where a group of operatives--even secret ones like the NSA's--would arouse too much attention. They're taught to go in, neutralize the people or objects that need to be disposed of, and vanish without a trace. As a result, Splinter Cell will require you to sneak through huge enemy compounds, take out enemies on the sly, and deal with all manner of security devices using your wits and a host of gadgets. The game's plot, is set in the near future and involves Fisher taking on the Russians and the Chinese. The story unfolds slowly, because despite his status as a valued member of Third Echelon, Fisher is ultimately just a cog in the NSA machine, and the NSA gives him information only on a need-to-know basis. While the core story hasn't changed for the PlayStation 2 game, there have been some refinements to the story that help smooth out the narrative. For example, the game now features new cutscenes and an entirely new intro that offers a better context for the game's first mission and a better setup for the new mission.
The most significant changes to the game can be seen in its visuals, which are surprisingly close to those in the Xbox game. The PlayStation 2 game manages to crank out details and lighting comparable to those of its Xbox cousin. Sam is highly detailed and animates well. The environments you'll find yourself in are also comparably impressive. Fans of the original game will notice that level layouts have changed slightly, but the new layouts play as well as the originals. The only hitch to the game's visuals can be seen in the ambitious lighting effects, which result in some frame rate hits. The Shanghai studio's use of the Unreal engine, and the lighting options the engine offers, has allowed the developers to make lighting as integral a component in the game's visuals and gameplay mechanics as before. There have been some slight cuts to effects in a few places but nothing glaringly obvious.
While the visuals required some work in their transition to the PlayStation 2, we're pleased to report that the gameplay has made the journey to the PlayStation 2 without a hitch. Sam's core mechanics have come over intact--he's even picked up a new gadget along the way--and they map out nicely to the PlayStation 2 controller. In fact, the control feels a little better on the Dual Shock 2. Some tweaks have also been made to the game's save system, which has resulted in better placement of the save points in the game.
From what we've played, Splinter Cell is coming together nicely on the PlayStation 2. Ubi Soft Shanghai's work to ensure that the game is tailored to the PlayStation 2's strengths, along with the team's refinement of the original game's content, should keep the game fresh even for fans of the original. PlayStation 2 owners jonesing for some quality stealth action will want to keep on the lookout for Splinter Cell when it ships this April. Look for more on the game in the coming weeks.