Gruff, tireless agent Sam Fisher and his top-secret missions in all the Splinter Cell games have helped to popularize a style of play that blends a lot of sneaking around with quick, short doses of extreme force. But if you've only played Splinter Cell on the GameCube, you'd never know what all the fuss was about. Versions of the series that have appeared on Nintendo's console during the past several years have tended to be stripped of their visual embellishments, as well as some of their key features. Unfortunately, this latest episode is no exception.
Splinter Cell Double Agent for the GameCube is based on the same content and campaign found in the Xbox and PlayStation 2 versions of the game (as opposed to the Xbox 360 and PC versions, which are different). The difference is that it strips out the Xbox and PS2 game's online multiplayer mode and looks quite a bit worse in a lot of spots. There are no upsides; even the controls aren't as good in this version. Splinter Cell controls are pretty complicated in the first place, but because of the GameCube controller's smaller number of buttons compared to other platforms, you're forced to use some weird button combinations for some important actions, such as pressing the Z button and the start button at the same time to get to your mission objectives and your map.
Other than the technical differences and missing features, Double Agent for the GameCube is basically the same game as Double Agent on the PlayStation 2. You play as Sam Fisher as he tries to infiltrate a terrorist organization to find out what makes it tick, which is the same as on the Xbox 360 and PC. But the missions in the other versions of the game are completely different from the missions in the Xbox 360 and PC games. The story is told differently and in a much better way, but not one of the gameplay changes in the Xbox 360 or PC versions are in here. This game holds over a lot of the good-looking animations from its predecessors, but there's not much nice to say about the graphics beyond that similarity. Ugly dithering effects and noticeable seams mar the textures in the environments, and even Sam Fisher himself doesn't look quite right. The visuals are enough of a distraction to impact gameplay, because the lighting doesn't seem right, which makes it less clear when you're hidden from enemies' view. At least this version of Double Agent still sounds great, despite a lot of recycled sound effects from older games. Michael Ironside again provides Fisher his distinctive voice, plus many more lines of dialogue than in Double Agent's Xbox 360 and PC counterparts. The game has also got a musical score that epitomizes such a spy thriller.
On the Xbox 360 and PC, Splinter Cell Double Agent's story has an interesting hook but leaves much to be desired in terms of plot and character development. On the Xbox, PS2, and GameCube, it's still not the greatest story ever told, but there's substantially more and better dialogue, stronger characters, and a better ending. Yet, the same basic plot and main characters remain. Plot holes from the Xbox 360 and PC versions are plugged. For example, while it's inexplicable why Fisher would get to use his government-issued experimental rifle while working for terrorists in that version, on the Xbox, PS2, and GameCube, we learn that Fisher's commanding officer plants the gun by tricking the terrorists into believing he's an arms dealer. The relationship between Fisher and the one female member of the terrorist group is also revealed in greater detail on the Xbox, PS2, and GameCube, making Fisher's moral dilemma about how to deal with her and the rest of his mission seem much more interesting. In fact, the entire trust system--one of the new features in Double Agent--is handled completely differently in these versions of the game. Fisher still must try to balance his level of trust with both the terrorist group and the National Security Agency, but the conflicting choices he'll have to make when forced to follow contradictory orders aren't the same in these versions--nor are the consequences.
Despite a new look to the onscreen interface and the ability to work with computer-controlled allies in a few sequences, the underlying gameplay in the solo campaign is nearly identical to that of last year's Splinter Cell Chaos Theory. This means you'll be spending most of your time skulking through shadows, sneaking up on foes and putting them in a vice grip, or using either lethal or nonlethal close-combat attacks to take them out of commission. As always, Fisher must stand perfectly still for his aim to be true, preventing this from being a run-and-gun style of game. However, it can still be satisfying to squeeze off single, silenced shots to down unsuspecting enemies from afar. Fisher will also do plenty of climbing and crawling through this game's complex, multistory environments. And while you get to decide whether to sneak past foes, knock them out, or do them in--and also whether to take on various optional objectives--ultimately, the solo missions are linear in nature. So Double Agent's mission design really is quite similar to that of the last Splinter Cell game. It also recycles the same animations and sound effects, creating a similar overall presentation. The game does have a different feel than its predecessors, though.
Occasionally, you'll be forced to make a moral choice of some sort, such as early on when you've got a chance to kill a man that one of your terrorist "friends" wants dead. This just comes down to a button press, and the consequences aren't usually significant, but it can still be fun to play through sequences multiple times to see how the mission objectives finally pan out. There are also three different difficulty settings to choose from, and even at the normal setting, the level of challenge is significant. You can save your progress at any time, which you'll want to do because you'll need to sneak past dozens of accurate, deadly foes in any given mission. Enemy behavior isn't terribly complex, but enemies use cover well, and their bullets hurt a lot. Sometimes enemy resistance is so dense that Double Agent boils down to feeling like trial and error, but usually you have a variety of options for dealing with enemies or navigating the levels. So when the going gets tough, you'll sooner just rethink your strategy than get frustrated. Like with the previous games, expect to put in a good 10 hours or so before you reach Double Agent's conclusion, which will be affected by some of the key choices you make.
If you've had your fill of the solo missions, Splinter Cell Double Agent offers a complete set of two-player cooperative missions, which are on the second of two discs contained in the GameCube version of this game. The co-op missions hark back to the compelling but underdeveloped co-op gameplay that was introduced in Chaos Theory; on the Xbox 360 and PC, the co-op missions are just a multiplayer variant against computer-controlled opponents. This means you'll undertake story-driven missions from the perspective of other agents in the employ of Third Echelon, which is the same organization that pays Fisher's bills. These missions tend to be loosely related to the solo campaign and add an interesting layer to the story.
Additionally, you and your partner will get to use a variety of double-team moves, such as using one another as a human ladder. Some cool new co-op moves are also in here, such as the ability to cooperatively interrogate foes for when a little intimidation is not enough. The co-op missions still feel rough around the edges, because it's possible for both players to instantly fail if just one player makes a wrong step off a ledge, for instance. But this mode can still be fun, and it's also worth noting that there are nearly four times more co-op missions here than were bundled with Chaos Theory. Only the Xbox version features cooperative play online, which is another reason the Xbox version is definitely the one to get (at least of the old console versions) if you have the choice.
It's impossible to look at the GameCube version of Splinter Cell Double Agent completely in a vacuum when there are other, far superior versions of the game available for the same price and with much more to offer. It has a decent campaign, and the co-op missions aren't bad, but so much of Splinter Cell has to do with the graphical presentation and how it ties in to gameplay that this version just can't be recommended. Even if judged strictly on its own merits, while ignoring the presence of other versions, Splinter Cell Double Agent for the GameCube comes up short.