Every gamer with two controllers to his or her name has been raving like a complete maniac about the console version of Pandora Tomorrow, and with good reason. With features like mercs vs. spies, nonlinear gameplay paths, and a whole lot more, the game was a standout hit when it was released on the Xbox and PC earlier in the year. But the real news has snuck past the launch frenzy and infiltrated your cell phone. Splinter Cell Pandora Tomorrow is a perilous download indeed, because once it's on your handset, your formerly productive, multifarious existence will collapse to a single, all-engrossing question: What's the best way to get past that next set of guards? One would assume that protecting the Four Freedoms would be a full-time job, but Gameloft turned it into a waking obsession. In all, the French developer has eclipsed its own almost-peerless standard with this one; SCPT is a perfectly balanced stealth masterpiece for mobile.
There aren't many companies that can port console titles to mobile effectively. The two platforms are so technologically disparate that developers must often remake the game entirely--and, in many cases, a big chunk of a title's integral design evaporates along the way. But Gameloft has already proven its capability with numerous excellent console ports, including plenty of other Ubisoft properties, like the first Splinter Cell, XIII, Rayman 3, and Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time; in each case, the developer has captured the heart and soul of the console version in less than 200K.
SCPT builds on its mobile predecessor's core gameplay by adding a number of twists to the 2D sneak-and-spy mix. For example, Pandora Tomorrow makes much more extensive use of lighting and shadow to boost stealth possibilities; if you're in a dark area, you can move surreptitiously past guards without recourse to judo choke hold or pistol. Fisher's pistol mechanism has been retooled to allow for much more accurate up-and-down aiming--a must for mine disposal. The grizzled superoperative has learned to swim (or at least walk around in liquid) and is tricked out with a brand-new oxygen meter to measure submersion time. He can also drag his victims into darkened areas or borrow their eyes to pass through retinal-scan doors.
You'll have to use all of these skills and more to make it through eight levels of espionage and stop the deadly conspiracy (the details of which remain murky--and entirely irrelevant--through the course of the game). The early missions take place in rural locations like East Timor and Indonesia, which are protected only by guards and mines, but the later levels involve breaking into fortified buildings stacked to the ceiling with surveillance equipment. The game's levels are fairly linear in terms of where you can go, but each screen is solvable in several different ways. You can dash or roll past guards when they aren't looking, taking care not to boost the alarm meter into the red zone; you can take hostages; or you can go in with pistol blazing, if you're feeling especially belligerent. Three guard bullets is all it takes to put an end to Sam's life, so both common sense and the scoring system call for secrecy. Gameloft put a great deal of thought into design and layout, lending an almost puzzlelike quality to many of the later levels: You may have to grab one guard, throw him off a ledge onto a mine, duck into a doorway until the hue and cry fades, and then make your escape by grabbing another guard and using him as a shield against an auto-machine gun, all in the correct order.
SCPT's audiovisual prowess is much more than a complement to its avidly entertaining gameplay. The graphics are crisp and detailed, featuring flowing character animation (including a fantastic blood jet from ballistically perforated guards), voluminous mine explosions, and dark, clammy backgrounds. It's unbelievably cool to watch Fisher's trademark glowing tripoint stalk in the darkness behind an unsuspecting goon. The sound is also excellent, with a number of short, pulsating tunes for the start of each level and clean effects for explosions and gunfire. The only real problem with SCPT is a fairly minor case of control lag, which will probably account for several frustrating botched goon-grabs before you learn to compensate.
Splinter Cell Pandora Tomorrow is one of the most compelling mobile games around. It combines bleeding-edge production with fantastic gameplay mechanics and churns out several hours of pure infiltration bliss--or more, if you take into account a time-attack mode and the eternally burning urge to better your top score. This game's so good it practically could have been a mobile-to-console port.