Ubi Soft is bent on extending the scope of the Tom Clancy series, and, from what we've seen thus far from its latest project, it seems that the French publisher will do just that. The next game is tentatively titled Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell and is being developed internally at Ubi Soft's Montreal studios. It's also something of a far cry from the rest of the series, which has traditionally focused on squad-based, tactical infiltration. Rather than putting you in control of a squad of assault specialists, Splinter Cell puts you in the shoes of a single supercommando of the Solid Snake variety. And instead of beating down groups of terrorists on the squad level, Splinter Cell has you sneaking through huge enemy compounds, taking out enemies on the sly, and dealing with all manner of security devices purely solo.
The man you'll play as is named Sam Fisher, and he's 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 U.S. government that is tasked with breaking codes and intercepting signal traffic. The NSA's operatives typically monitor transmissions sent all over the world, scouring 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.
We got to see quite a bit of footage of Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell, all of which was derived from what will eventually become the game's Xbox version, though a PC port won't be too far behind. The footage depicted all sorts of gameplay details, so, even though we weren't able to play it first-hand, we got to see many of its game elements in action. We also got to take in some of the game's cooler visual flourishes, albeit in a prototype form. Even at this early point, though, there was a good deal to be impressed about.
From a gameplay standpoint, Splinter Cell looks like it'll play much like you'd imagine it to. Sam's default mode of transit seems to be a languid sneak, though we also saw him shimmy and rappel, the latter with the aid of a thin cord. Some neat scenarios are possible, as you could imagine, and we actually got to see some of them in the demo. In one scene, Sam was rappelling down a wall, on the face of which was built a room-sized hole. The player controlling Sam proceeded to rappel to the opening's upper edge and then swiftly swung into the opening, knocking down the guard posted there. Still, other sequences we saw demoed some of the game's stealth elements. One had Sam infiltrating the interior of a dank warehouse, whose off-camera guards were arguing over the results of a poker match. Sam snuck a view of them and then proceeded to traverse the series of stacked crates that littered the warehouse's floor. As Sam got closer to the guards, we were able to hear their heavily accented voices much more clearly. In the final game, we presume that such a scenario would allow you several options in regard to how you'll clear it. Other sequences depicted Sam taking out distant soldiers, knocking out security cameras, and disabling mounted, motion-detector-rigged machinegun with a sniper rifle. One of the more interesting demos actually had Sam reprogram one of the mounted machine guns to recognize enemy soldiers as targets and hide under a stairwell. We were then able to watch the soldier walk by and get sprayed with bullets, none the wiser.
Grounded in Unreality
Splinter Cell will be driven by the next generation Unreal engine (whose demos recently impressed many at GDC), and, from what we've seen in terms of footage thus far, it's being put to some pretty good use. One of the neater sequences we saw took place in a CIA briefing room, one with a film projector turned on. The player controlling Sam quickly dispatched the person standing at the podium and proceeded to stand in front of the projector. What ensued was a beautiful display of the game's lighting system, with all sorts of sharp-looking shadows being cast by the projector's light source. Further, a proportionate chunk of the picture on the being projected by the device was displayed on the player model's back, in a manner that was incredibly realistic and impressive. If more visual touches like these are worked in, Splinter Cell has the potential to be really impressive-looking. Other cool visual touches were worked into the game's alternate view modes--night, as well as thermal vision, specifically. We've seen these sorts of things before, but the ways in which they were implemented in some of the demo sequences made it seem like they were being approached a bit more uniquely. Sam, for instance, uses his thermal goggles to scan numeric keypads for fingerprints to bypass certain security devices. If more elements like this one can be implemented, then these alternate view modes could prove quite compelling indeed.
We also got to witness a nice demonstration of the game's soft-body mechanics system in action. This involved an oilcan and a sniper rifle, though the results of their interaction aren't what you would immediately expect. Sam shot a hole through the surface of the can, and a thick stream of oil began to issue forth from it. After a few seconds, the stream weakened a bit in intensity, and a nice-sized puddle formed around the can. Then, Sam shot a bullet into the puddle, which caused everything to explode quite violently. If we see the same things happen to, say, fuel tanks on vehicles, then we're indeed in for some fun. All that we know about the engine itself, though, aside from its pedigree, is that it will allow for full-camera control. No specific figures have been quoted yet, though we can assure you that it is no slouch, judging from what we've seen already.
In truth, it's a bit too early to really get excited about this one, but what we've seen certainly shows a great deal of potential. The team at the Montreal studio certainly seems to know what it's after, and only time will tell exactly where it will sit amongst the stealth-action pantheon. If you're looking for some hard figures, though, we've got some for you: The game will feature 14 mission stages, one of which we can assure will take place somewhere in Russia. Further, you'll have access to 13 weapons throughout the course of your missions, one of which is the FN2000, an advanced, multipurpose arm capable of unloading various types of munitions.
The Xbox version of Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell reportedly will be playable at next month's E3, so keep your eyes here for updates until then. As it stands now, the PC version of the game is scheduled to ship a few months after its Xbox sibling. We'll have more on both games before that time comes, but in the meantime, enjoy the media that Ubi Soft has provided.