Earlier this year, Ubisoft released the sequel to its blockbuster hit Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell for the PC, Xbox, and (later) PlayStation 2. Pandora Tomorrow not only offered more of the same sort of spectacular single-player stealth action as the first game, again starring ultrasecret agent Sam Fisher, but also it boasted a genuinely innovative, new online multiplayer mode for up to four players, in which small groups of spies must match wits with heavily armed mercenaries in a deadly game of hide-and-seek. Sadly, the multiplayer portion of Pandora Tomorrow is completely gone from the new, late-breaking GameCube version of the game, which retains just the single-player portion found in previous versions of the game (and gains some gimmicky Game Boy Advance connectivity features that are barely worth mentioning). In fact, this version of Pandora Tomorrow was effectively gutted. Not only is it missing the other versions' most exciting feature but--much like the PlayStation 2 version--also it doesn't look nearly as good as its PC and Xbox counterparts. Furthermore, it suffers from poor pacing caused by too many abrupt checkpoints, save points, and loading times that have been injected into each level. The resulting product, while technically competent, simply cannot be recommended in good conscience.
There are only eight missions in total--the back of the box deceptively claims there are "32 levels," which is presumably the number of pieces the eight original missions were butchered into. And while the PC and Xbox versions' eight missions felt pretty substantial, these feel somewhat stripped down--regardless of whether you've played the other versions or not. As mentioned, your progress will be frequently interrupted by invisible barriers; sometimes you'll barely get past one or two guards before the next checkpoint or save point. In consequence, the missions lack a sense of cohesiveness, and when you combine that with this version's less-impressive graphics as compared to its old counterparts, the result is a single-player campaign that's too jarring to be impressive.
The core gameplay itself is basically the same as in the first Splinter Cell, which, for the most part, is a good thing. You'll sneak your way through the game's linear scenarios, avoiding or incapacitating any unsuspecting guards (or, sometimes, civilians) who might otherwise threaten your mission of secrecy. It's not difficult to alert passersby to your presence, either by moving too quickly (or otherwise making too much noise) or by blundering into a well-lighted area. There are other nasty surprises in store for you. Hidden antipersonnel mines (visible only when you toggle your thermal vision), infrared trip wires (likewise), booby traps, motion detectors, security cameras, and other such devices can make the going pretty tough at times.
You've got plenty of tricks up your sleeve, too. Fisher is typically armed with a silenced pistol as well as his trusty SC-20K multipurpose experimental assault rifle, which he can use for some silent sniping when lethal force is permitted or which he can use to fire off a variety of different gadgets. Those who played Splinter Cell will recognize all of these, which range from diversionary cameras to smoke grenades to electrifying (but nonlethal) rounds. Fisher's other gadgets include lock picks, an optical fiber wire used for seeing what's on the other side of a closed door, and his combined night vision/thermal vision goggles. Exclusively on the GameCube, via the Game Boy Advance connectivity feature, Fisher can also access a real-time tactical map of his surroundings, and he can remotely manipulate some objects (such as automated turrets). He's decked out to get the job done by any means necessary.
Considering the gameplay is as complex as it is, it's fortunate that the controls translated to the GameCube's controller (with its fewer buttons) as well as they did. Some aspects of the controls do take getting used to, but it all becomes second nature after a while. Notably, though, we were unable to figure out how to look through the scope of the SC-20K for quite some time. (The manual says to simply push button A, which is incorrect.) We eventually discovered that this is done by pressing down on--but not all the way down on--the left trigger for a moment. We got past the awkwardness of this particular mechanic soon enough.
Pandora Tomorrow's storyline is somewhat easier to follow than that of its predecessor, and some of the gameplay elements are thankfully a bit more transparent this time around. For example, the game inherits a somewhat contrived element from its predecessor: In Splinter Cell you needed to hide the bodies of your victims out of sight to avoid setting off an alarm, which would possibly result in the failure of your mission. You needed to hide all bodies even when there was no one left conscious to pay them much heed. Pandora Tomorrow at least makes it clear that this is always necessary, since you'll be chastised for not doing it. Also, in most missions, you don't automatically fail if an alarm is sounded; you'll be afforded up to three such mistakes, though at scripted points in each mission, the alarm stage will reset back to zero, and you'll be able to proceed somewhat less anxiously.
Much like the original Splinter Cell, it must be said about Pandora Tomorrow that it occasionally devolves into pure trial-and-error gameplay. The missions are completely linear and tightly scripted, so if you're jumped by bad guys or you stumble over a trap of some sort and thus fail your mission, you'll just reload from the last checkpoint and then try again--this time knowing exactly what's coming up. This doesn't necessarily mean you'll always get through the tight spots on the second attempt, because, in fact, Pandora Tomorrow can be pretty tough. Some sequences demand you to silently make your way through environments while using both your night vision and your thermal vision to see all the dangers in your surroundings. Then you might need to silently take out a small squad of guards.
Enemy artificial intelligence is about the same as in the previous Splinter Cell, which means guards will basically patrol around in a set pattern, giving you the opportunity to sneak up on them or shoot them. If you make too much noise or otherwise reveal your position, though, they'll either come investigate if you weren't too blatant about it (usually setting themselves up for easy kills or knockouts), or they'll open fire and sound an alarm. Fisher can't sustain much damage, but it's still quite easy to outshoot your enemies as long as you don't alert too many of them at a time. The fact that the gameplay sequences in which you aren't permitted to use lethal force are so much harder than the ones in which you can shoot to kill says a lot about the AI. Strangely enough, the AI seems to have worsened in translation from the original PC and Xbox versions in how enemies seem to have a distinctly easier time engaging Sam from a distance than from close range, where they'll often stumble about, unable to draw a bead on him. Simply put, the enemy behavior in combat just isn't very convincing here. A side effect of this is that the game itself is less challenging than the other versions.
Those who've previously played the PC or Xbox versions of Pandora Tomorrow will also spot a few, negligible additions in this version, such as a new type of minigame for defusing trip-wire booby traps and a new rappelling sequence in one of the missions in Indonesia. There's also a rudimentary mission-results screen in between each level, though it doesn't give you any incentive to retry a mission. These types of things don't make up for the compromises made to the single-player portion of the game, much less the missing multiplayer mode--evidence of which may only be found from the single-player pause menu that invites you to go "back to single player menu" as though there's still an alternative. But this is a minor point. One of the biggest issues with this version is that the lighting effects have been substantially toned down, resulting in a much more rigid sense of where it's dark and where it's light. However, the shadows onscreen aren't necessarily a good indicator of how concealed you are. You'll end up staring at the little light meter in the corner of the screen rather than intuitively sticking to where it's dark. It's easy to nitpick over these types of things, but, at any rate, single-player Pandora Tomorrow has a number of memorable moments that shine through even in this version of the game.
As mentioned, the GameCube version of Splinter Cell Pandora Tomorrow doesn't look as impressive as the PC and Xbox versions, and it looks just marginally better than the PS2 version, though it's still a pretty good-looking game on its own merits. However, the game's frame rate is prone to heavy fluctuations, adding to the inconsistency of the experience. Sam Fisher and his foes mostly recycle the same animations from the original Splinter Cell, so the visuals won't be as breathtaking as when you saw them the first time (though Fisher has a few cool, new animations you'll notice). But, for what it's worth, the animations still look terrific, and a lot of the lighting effects and new environments look very good as well.
Also for what it's worth, most of the audio in Pandora Tomorrow is very good, especially Sam Fisher's gravelly voice-over, again provided by career tough-guy actor Michael Ironside. There's some pretty great, dry banter between Fisher and his commanding officer during the course of the game, which helps flesh out these characters a bit more. However, a lot of the voice-over for the game's secondary characters is surprisingly bad--and not only is it amateurish, but it just doesn't fit. The illusion that you're in these various international hotspots is shaken by the fact that almost every voice you hear is speaking in fluent, unaccented English. Fortunately, the rest of the game's audio fares much better. An appropriately tense-sounding musical score again picks up and trails off depending on whether you're sneaking or fighting for your life (though, as in Splinter Cell, the musical transitions are overly abrupt, and the way the music loops is a bit too noticeable). Ambient noises and various footstep sounds are all very well done.
Pandora Tomorrow's audio may have survived the translation to the GameCube pretty much intact, but the same can't be said for a number of other important aspects of the game. Sure, if the PC, Xbox, and PlayStation 2 versions of Pandora Tomorrow never existed, and this version was released closer to the time when they were, then this might have seemed like a pretty good follow-up to its predecessor. But the fact of the matter is, Pandora Tomorrow for the GameCube doesn't exist in a vacuum. So even those who only own Nintendo's system would be selling themselves short by picking up this version of the game.