Don't worry...it's a good game! For those who didn't read my (long winded) pseudo-review on the message forums,read on!
First, the game ISN'T as good as Syphon Filter...no question about that. Unfortunately for Ubisoft, the recent prior release and high quality of Syphon Filter are factors that are going to slightly shadow over Splinter Cell: Essentials. However, SF is a *great* game (in my opinion)...so "not as good as SF" hardly implies that SC stinks. In fact, I found it to be a much more "real - time" paced game (slower) with more suspense that SF (think: Resident Evil with terrorists instead of zombies)...in this sense, it draws me in much more than SF. A good analogy would be this: SF is to 'watching a good show on TV' as SC is to 'reading a great page - turning book'. Both have their merits and both will find fans with different tastes.
The graphics are not on - par with the console versions of SC, but they are (in my opinion) better than those of SOCOM (they are a slight notch below SF). The motion is smooth and the coloring and shading are what you should expect from a Ubisoft title (generally). Anyone going into the game with an expectation of the graphics from console SC games will be (modestly) disappointed. Those going in with no expectations (sans prior PSP experience) will be modestly pleased.
On the other hand, the sound is excellent in my opinion. This is a game that was made to be played with headphones. The directional nature of the sound, the dynamic range, the myriad of samples (sound samples) used, and the perfect integration into the gameplay are to be admired. It is rare for me to step away from a PSP game and say, "Wow! That sounded great!", but with SC, I did.
The control (I found) was remarkably good. I am a fan of the 'one analog stick' control mechanisms used on PSP games and on the original PS1 games. I know that this puts me into the smallest minority of players, but I find it difficult to be doing more than 3 things at once and lose interest in most games that require such. As a result, I prefer the control of PSP games like Star Wars: Battlefront II, SOCOM, and SF over their similar PS2 counterparts. The key (I think) is a 'quick and easy' toggle from movement to 'free - look'. The controls are very sensitive (as one would expect from a SC game), but not overly so. As a result, mastering the difference between a 'slight rustle' and a 'crunch' whilst walking through vegetation does not take 2 days of trial and error...but it does allow for a variety of movement rates. To me, the controls felt intuitive and I was rarely lamenting not having another analog stick or having to think about 'which button to use'.
The storyline might be a weaker point, but given the objective of the game (to provide a survey of prior SC games while including some new material) it is actually well - done. Given that I have not completed the game (far from it), I can't say that my next comment holds for the whole game, but it certainly does play a role in the early stages...
One of the factors that make games *with* a well - developed plot sink or swim is the presence of a factor that I like to call "investment". When you watch a story unfold in a game and your actions have a direct bearing on that story, there is a sense of urgency that you (the player) ascribe to your gameplay. Even the most mature gameplayer will concede that when a game has a good story there is a certain element of 'projection' of themselves into the fantasy environment of the game (much the same way that we do when we watch a good movie). We know that we are really not there, but something deep inside us (a very real primal instinct, perhaps) ignores the logic of the situation (that we are just observing a work of fiction or just playing with a piece of electronics) and acts on the tension created by the story. The extent to which the story is compelling and 'immediate' dictates how 'invested' we become in the game. In those cases where we are completely invested in the game and the story, this primal mechanism inside us actually creates a physiological response...our hearts race, our breathing speeds up, we perspire, our muscles tighten, and our concentration becomes heightened. In many cases, there is a release of both adrenaline and endorphins...in spite of the fact that the urgency and threat are all completely false and we have no illusions about this fact.
These physiological responses to images and sounds are (at least in part) what we enjoy about games...as a result, the more 'invested' we become in a given game, the more that we tend to like the game (and come back for more). However, because the immediacy of the story and the tension that it sets up are primary factors in the extent to which we feel the need to 'invest' in a game, a linear game with unknown long - term outcomes and connecting events has the greatest potential for 'investment'.
SC, however, is set - up as a series of flashbacks (which shouldn't be a spoiler)...at least as far as I have gone. Don't get me wrong, the *reason* that these flashbacks are revealed relates to an interesting 'current' storyline...but the causality of events (and outcomes) in the flashbacks do nothing to the main ('current') storyline. As a result, your gameplay in a flashback sequence doesn't build the same tension (or cause the same level of investment) as it could simply because you know that the end result of the flashback is only going to bring you back to the instant in time that you left to visit the flashback (and with nothing in the main story really changing). This isn't to say that there isn't a degree of investment *during* each of the flashback episodes (there actually is), it's just that the risk and urgency don't have some 'larger' relevance. Because we know this, it might affect our gameplay experience.
Perhaps the reason for this 'bite - sized' story technique being used by Ubisoft is the (mistaken) assumption that in a handheld game the action should be broken into smaller self - contained components to mirror the common gameplay dynamic (that people tend to play for more frequent, but shorter periods of time) for the experience to be meaningful. However, the separate unrelated 'episodes' are probably too big for the average 'on the go' game session anyway. Further, there is excellent evidence to support the idea that people 'on the go' are perfectly capable of picking up and putting down a single *continuous* storyline without losing any of the momentum or interest. What's the evidence? Before portable electronics, think about what business travelers (like me) did on trips to pass time (during flights, while waiting in line or for transportation, before bed in a hotel room)...they *READ BOOKS*. Just ask any of the booksellers at airports if there is an 'investment' problem with a story when it is taken is small, short pieces, and they will show you their sales statistics....there is no problem. Further, the game saving mechanism built into SC is probably the best that I've seen yet in any PSP game (aside from the longer-than-usual time to set up a save 'checkpoint')...this makes stopping and returning to your exact spot seamlessly and easily a non-issue.
So, the story doesn't create quite the level of excitement that some other games do...what else is lacking? The only other negative that I would comment on in SC is the lack of a strong online (infrastructure) multiplayer component. It seems that (anymore) this is an *expected* feature for tactical FPS games, and the reliance on a single - player storyline (or on meeting up with 5 others with the same game in close proximity....or, I suppose, trying to configure and use a tunnel server) does have a negative impact on replay value. Still, multiplayer isn't *totally* absent and (in my opinion) Sam Fisher is a lone - gun operator, anyway....so the whole idea of 'team' play here doesn't fit all that well, anyway.
In closing, barring the unfortunate proximity of the SC release to that of the somewhat superior SF and some minor drawbacks to the excitement created by the story (as well as the lack of an 'expected' online component), SC stands up remarkably well and should provide most players with an enjoyable (and, I am beginning to think) long game experience. In either case, it is absolutely far from the suspicions advanced by those who questioned the game because of the curious absence of 'pre - release' review development or the paltry reviews apparently leveled against it by one or two relatively unknown publications. This is a good game and I would tell any of my fellow gamers to buy it without reservation (not 'rent' it).
I'm not big on trying to quantify something that is absolutely subjective, but for those of you who would really like to have me condense this entire dissertation on the game down to a single number, I would give Splinter Cell Essentials for the PSP an 8.4 out of 10.