E3 2002: Splinter Cell preshow report

The Xbox version of the upcoming stealth action game from Red Storm Entertainment will be at this year's E3.

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We recently had a chance to check out Red Storm Entertainments stealth action game Splinter Cell at trip to the Ubi Soft offices. In this game, you'll assume the role of Sam Fisher, a National Security Agency operative in the Third Echelon division--a part of the NSA that's highly secretive and one the NSA will disavow as a splinter cell if any of its agents are caught. Ultimately, Sam's mission is to prevent terrorist biowarfare attacks.

But in order to accomplish his mission, Sam must learn how to use stealth effectively. Part of what makes Splinter Cell's stealth element interesting is the stealth meter located at the bottom right of the screen. A small bar on the meter will slide to the left and right depending on how well hidden Sam is within the environment, but the movement is entirely dependent upon Sam's position in relation to the terrorists. It's not based on whether or not he's standing underneath a light or some other light source.

Sam will have a huge number of gadgets to use over the course of a mission. One of the most important items is the heat vision goggles, which not only help detect enemies, but also help you solve puzzles. In one particular situation, you'll have to make a decision as to how you want to get through a specific locked door. You can either scrounge around and look for the passcode that may be hidden in a desk, or you can wait for one of the enemies to punch in a code and go through the door. Once the enemy is safely inside, you can don the heat vision goggles and discover not only which buttons were pressed to open the door, but also what order they were pressed based on their heat level--the lighter colors mean that those buttons were pressed first, while the darker colors mean they were pressed last. Sam can also use night vision goggles that produce one of the most realistic night vision effects to date.

Other useful items in Sam's arsenal include optic cable and sticky cameras. Sam can push the optic cable through the cracks of a door to see if there are any enemies lurking behind it. The optic cable effect is especially well done, because as a wire it can be difficult to move into a proper position. Sam can fire a sticky camera onto walls so he can look around corners without being detected, or he can place them in a room, find a nice hiding place, and watch what goes on from a safe distance. The sticky camera can be moved around just like a regular security camera.

Sam's primary weapon is called the FMP 2000, a modular gun that lets Sam attach different components when the situation calls for it. He'll be able to connect a scope if he needs to take a target out at long range, or a grenade launcher if he needs to take out multiple targets at once. Of course, there will be moments when Sam will need to take out enemies quietly, in which case he can use his silenced pistol. Shooting is done primarily in an over-the-shoulder view, but the game will switch to a first-person perspective for sniping.

The controls in the game appear to be a combination of the control schemes of Tomb Raider and Metal Gear Solid. Sam can grab onto ledges and pull himself up, and he can also perform soft landings so enemies can't hear him jump down into an area. In addition, there are some surfaces, such as creaky wood floors, where Sam will have to use his slow, creeping walk.

Even in its early state, Splinter Cell looks amazing. All the textures in the game are incredibly crisp, the character models are very detailed, and the lighting is spectacular. One of the coolest lighting effects was shown in an early level, when Sam was standing in a garage where a light was shining from behind a rotating fan. The blades of the fan would cast shadows on Sam and the surrounding area as dusty beams of light would shine through. Even basic light sources like lamps produce an amazing effect.

Splinter Cell is easily one of the most impressive games in the Xbox lineup, and we'll have more on it from the show floor.

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