• It’s a cold, cold October night at the Terminal, and also just happens to be your first night working for the Upsilon Mercenary force. Strapping on your new armour and collecting your weapon you make your way to your briefing session looking to make that good first impression. You listen intently to the briefing, hearing how the Bus Terminal might be attacked by some group of spies that go under the name of Echelon, but scoff at the thought of some spy beating you and leave to go to your post. An hour goes by and just when you start to think this is going to be an easy ride, the words boom through your earpiece “Red Terminal being attacked”… “Green Terminal being attacked”. Sprinting towards the Red Terminal you think you see a shadow moving and switching vision modes you make out a silhouette of a human and start to shoot, only to be left dumb struck as this human bounds away with immense speed dodging your fire. It’s quiet now; too damn quiet… and your only source of light is what streams from your rifle piercing into the darkness. Ever determined to find this intruder you flash your searchlight high and low, and just when you think to give up suddenly your location meter goes crazy. You spin one way and see nothing, spin the other and still nothing… pulse racing, you fire in a crazy arc only to be silenced by the presence of someone behind you, but it’s far too late as this someone now has your neck in a crushing hold… “I wish I was a spy instead of a mercenary,” you say to yourself just as the Spy breaks your neck dropping your lifeless lump of a body to the floor…… Welcome to the world of Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell Double Agent, the game that makes every man, woman and child want to become a spy.

    Ubisoft have been there and done it before with the Sam Fisher, Splinter Cell series and Double Agent is the title for this latest offering. Since 2002 fans of Splinter Cell have been well and truly hooked, and have in the main loved every Splinter Cell moment giving gamers the chance to suit up in the skin of Sam Fisher, the greatest spy to have ever ‘virtually’ lived. Sam Fisher makes James Bond look like a wanabe, and in Double Agent we see Sam going rogue all in the name of a good cause. Coupled with the Multiplayer aspect of the game Splinter Cell Double Agent looks set to be an explosive smash hit… but if you are looking to find out what we really think of the game, then you had better keep on reading.

    Double Agent is the first Splinter Cell title to hit the Xbox 360, but for the Xbox platform, DA is the fourth offering against the Splinter Cell brand name. DA really offers two modes to play through. One mode offline taking you once again into the life and times of Sam Fisher ‘super spy’, and the other mode albeit containing various “other” modes being the Multiplayer aspect which; has been overhauled and updated to boot.

    Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell Double Agent

    Now I could go into a huge amount of detail about what surrounds the offline storyline, but the hype and news surrounding this game has been huge, and as such has already informed the gamer of what they were about to participate in. But for those that may not know… albeit I have to say, “where the hell have you been”, I will of course give you the quick and dirty version. So… in short the storyline for this point in Sam’s life takes you underground and assuming the role of a rogue agent looking to infiltrate a terrorist group that goes under the name of the JBA. Sam’s role is to gain the trust of the JBA and to undertake work for them, whilst at the same time looking to bring them down given his true affiliation really lying with the NSA.

    As you begin the game for anyone that has never played a Splinter Cell game before you are offered a couple of training exercises, and for those that have played the games before you still might want to take a trip towards the exercises as they will at least re-fresh your memory and show you a couple of Sam’s new moves. Don’t be too alarmed though when you play through this training to find how white your surroundings are or how strange Sam seems to look… this training is supposed to come across as virtual reality and therefore as your first experience of Double Agent should not be kicked to the curb with its blandness. After you have finished your training if indeed you take the training on you will then have the option to take on the storyline.

    Sam Fisher for the Splinter Cell pro is still played in the third person perspective and he still has all his moves intact, although along his journey has now gained some new moves to boot, including a very slick ice grab move seeing him pull his unfortunate target through the ice. Sam is still able to creep around, climb practically any object and grab his victims by the throat and this time carries a nifty little “am I still concealed” meter now on his body that will go from green being good to amber through to red when you have been spotted and have given your position away. And just to make it clear the concealment meter feature has always been there, but more as an on screen prompt rather than a gadget. Another adjustment with this game is that Sam no longer carries health packs, if you have been shot; then you need only hide away for a while for super Sam to heal again. Double Agent is certainly no run and gun game and if you have never played a SC game before you really should remember to take your time, stealth is the name of the game here, so practice those hide and seek skills… because you will need em.

    As you hit the real story line another new point you will make a note of is that you now have two trust meters. One aligned to the JBA and the other the NSA. This system is very neat and as you are playing a ‘Double Agent’ during a mission you will be sneaking around for both sides looking to keep each side happy. So one example of this, has you being asked to undertake some training by the JBA and given a time limit to complete it, with the NSA jumping in and asking you to bug the JBA hideout, and plant a virus… all needing to be done within the given time limit. This approach is very slick and you will now find yourself forever juggling many balls and attacking the multiple objectives in the order you desire. Fail to do so or get caught in the act and you will lose some trust from either side. Push your luck too far and you will lose all trust, which will only result in a mission fail/try again. This system pushes you a bit harder and adds some neat complexity to each mission removing some of the older A to B to C linear styling from the older games. This game will force you to make some conscious decisions that will tip the trust balance one way or the other and being told to shoot someone by the JBA is of course going to upset the NSA, so what do you do? Well to that, I will leave those decisions to you.

    Moving away from the offline storyline and pushing forward, The Xbox LIVE Multiplayer aspect to Double Agent is a completely different kettle of fish. In terms of available options within Multiplayer, you have your standard ranked or un-ranked offerings played over quick match or custom match games. You have a co-op option to play through some select LIVE missions with friends, going up against mercenary controlled bots. You also have a ‘home’ feature where through play on LIVE in ranking yourself up you obtain new character skins and other nice to haves which you can then tweak your LIVE persona with. The menu system in Double Agent is very easy to navigate and uncomplicated which is really perfect for us gamers that don’t need the hassle of bouncing around multiple menus when all we really want to do is “get it on”.

    Now I mentioned the fact that the Multiplayer aspect of Double Agent is a “different kettle of fish” and by that I mean, there is no Sam Fisher in LIVE, yes there are spies, but they are so far removed from Sam it’s untrue. In LIVE you will either choose the side of an Echelon Spy played in third person or an Upsilon Mercenary played in the first person view.  In a nutshell the objective for the spy is to hack various terminals and return the data back to their base with the mercenary taking the role to… well… really just kill the spies.

    Now if you have never played Splinter Cell over LIVE then you will have no idea what I am talking about, as this is all you have seen. But in Double Agent the spies have had a complete overhaul. For a kicker the do not carry a gun anymore, they can only carry one type of gadget now, only holding three rounds of that said choice item and they seem to have had NOS implanted in their ass as they now move around like lightning, and have turned into acrobats, with some new evade moves all on the press of a button. The spy is now at a disadvantage in a lot of ways, as he can no longer try to tackle a mercenary head on… but now stealth and their new, found speed form the advantage and need to be used if you are to evade being spotted and in short… slaughtered. The spy also carries a nice new toy and that is a hacking device on their arm. It is this device you will use to hack a terminal once you have it in sight, and it is this same device that can be used to blow out windows, turn off lights and even attack a mercenaries vision capabilities. This device is very slick and within minutes you will find yourself the pro at using it.

    The mercenaries have also had some tweaks in their department and they now have had the majority of their gadgets removed. Now they carry their assault rifle equipped with a frag grenade launcher/torch and now carry new remote control drones that can be used to scout out areas they cannot reach and detonated at the press of a button. The mercenary still has their take down spin move along with their rushing tackle move but instead of throttling a spy to death with their gun they can now pick the spy up and carry out a lethal head-butt killing move. What the mercenary lacks though is speed, but their equipment and vision modes make up for this lack of speed and at least gives them better tracking capabilities in hunting the spy down. Its not that they cannot keep up with a spy, but they certainly cannot bound around as freely as a spy can.

    I mentioned this before with the “skins” note but to explain… as you play through LIVE now you are assigned characteristic values at the end of each match dependant on how well you did and what you used throughout the match. So you are given scores as a spy for using stealth, acrobatics and the use of your gadgets and as a mercenary, scores against direct action, tracking and gadgets. These scores between both choices form an overall score and will level your online persona up and in turn unlock new features for you such as skins to change your characters appearance. These scores will also open up more maps for you to play through on LIVE as I do need to make the note that the first time you play on LIVE you will instantly notice that you are only given three map choices. This caused me some early frustration but I soon got over it as I saw more and more options open up as I continued to play. And in a way this is good as the early maps allow you to practice and perfect your skills as the maps that become available later will push you harder each time.

    Now no game is without its pro’s and con’s but before I move on to that piece I will highlight just how damn fine looking Splinter Cell Double Agent is. Graphically this looks and feels every bit a, Xbox 360 game in all its HD loveliness. Lighting and shadow work is superbly done and on both the offline play and LIVE play your character and characters you interact with along with your surroundings all look sexy as hell. Audio wise it again ticks all the boxes and you only need to be moving through the ice level with the wind whipping around you to give you the impression you are right there and experiencing the harshness yourself.

    Sheen and Shine out the way the game is not altogether perfect. For starters the offline play unless played on Hard has become a little too forgiving. Now this is good and bad in a way, in that good for players that always found previous SC titles too hard and bad in a way that the hardcore SC fan now seems to be breezing through the game. Another problem with the offline play is that the game has been slated as too short, and whilst at the time of writing this I have not finished the game yet… I have been able to rapidly move through a large portion of the game. Now finally the only problem in my opinion on the LIVE portion of this game is with the mission loading and briefing screens you are forced to watch over and over and over again every time you wait for your match to start. These have already driven me nuts and to be told for the zillionth time how to hack a terminal and then what my job is really starting to grate on my nerves and a simple “yes I am not stupid”… “Please allow me to turn this feature off” tweak would have been nice.

    In summary… if you have never played a Splinter Cell game in your life then this really is the one for you as it will not bleed you dry at the first mistake you make and will truly excite you as you play through both sides of the Double Agent fence. Ubisoft have gone and done it again and have given us a doozie of a game to play.

    Score: 9/10

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