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GBA Review - 'Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell'

by The Cookie Snatcher on June 6, 2003 @ 12:09 a.m. PDT

Splinter Cell will grant players access to the highest echelons of national security, where shadowy operatives have the freedom to do whatever it takes to safeguard America. In Splinter Cell, the player controls Sam Fisher, a field operative of a secretive "black-ops" NSA sub-agency called Third Echelon. Sam Fisher is geared up to infiltrate high-security strongholds, seize critical intelligence, destroy threatening data and neutralize the enemy - all without leaving a trace. Can the GBA version live up to the success of the other platforms? Read more and find out!

Genre: Stealth/Action
Publisher: Ubi Soft
Developer: Ubi Soft
Release Date: April 27, 2003

Buy 'SPLINTER CELL': Game Boy Advance

Splinter Cell on the GBA is a surprisingly entertaining 2D sidescrolling/stealth platformer that fans of the 3D games will undoubtedly enjoy. While Ubi Soft was obviously unable to deliver the same technically impressive experience on Nintendo’s handheld, they still managed to capture a few trademark gameplay elements that made its console counterparts so popular. The fact that this game can be linked up with the GameCube version to unlock new levels, and the fact that the GBA can be used as a Metal Gear Solid-style radar in the 128-bit title makes the GBA and the cartridge-based Splinter Cell a perfect match for Sam Fisher’s 3D adventure. Though taken on its own merits, the GBA game doesn’t shine quite as bright. Those who could care less about things like split-jumps, zip-lines, and Black Ops probably won’t derive as much value from this game as someone who is simply looking to expand their Splinter Cell experience on the go.

You are Sam Fisher, a Splinter Cell as it were, and it’s up to you to take care of ultra top-secret government business, and by any means necessary, too. You’ll be deployed into hazardous enemy territory and be required to complete various mission objectives. But really that is just a fancy way of saying you need to make your way through sidescrolling levels while staying out of view and avoiding obstacles such as roving guards and security cameras. One element that Splinter Cell for the GBA could have made good use of is the original game’s tense and exciting storyline. As it stands, the player is quickly briefed with a few lines of text before each of the game’s nine missions. No interspersed cut-scenes or between-area explanations for why you are doing what you’re doing – there is just very little to make the experience feel cohesive from a storytelling aspect. This is unfortunate. Nevertheless, the brief overviews that preface each stage do give you a good sense of what’s generally going on, and the fact that the GBA game is essentially a 2D recreation of the console version, makes any elaborate plot detailing almost unnecessary if you are already familiar with the story in the original game.

Since Sam isn’t able to navigate his surroundings in 3D and instead is forced to deal with opposition head-on, this game tends to feel more like a puzzle game with occasional platforming elements thrown in. The way you deal with guards if you can’t move past them undetected, is to wait until their back is turned, walk up behind them and crack’em over the head, rendering them unconscious. Or you can tranq them if they are within view. By holding the R trigger button and pressing different directions on the d-pad you’ll be able to scope out your immediate surroundings, making it much easier to devise a gameplan before you are forced to make decisions. Security cameras make the transition nicely into the game’s 2D world; you have to wait until the panning camera’s sight radius is facing in the opposite direction of where you are standing, at which point you’ll need to quickly scurry underneath it and wait until it pans in the other direction before you progress. Lock picking is still very much a vital trick of the trade in Splinter Cell and is presented in the form of a simplistic mini-game that is similar to the console’s method of lock picking. Which is to say that once you initiate lock picking procedure a diagram of the lock’s internal workings will be displayed on-screen, requiring that you unlatch each pin separately and in the correct order before you are able to open the door, crack the safe, or interact with automated gun sentries.

The rest of the experience can be summed up in various styles of platforming in the name of remaining undetected. For example, a few levels into the game you’ll need to run from concrete pillar to pillar while making sure the numerous guards on the other side of the fence aren’t looking in your direction while you are moving. Another area will have you rappelling down the side of a building, steering clear of windows when a guard is nearby. These sequences are rarely alike in execution, giving the player something new to do quite consistently – but the core mechanics of stealth remain the same throughout, so even though you are technically doing something different from level to level, the repetitive game play mechanics are always present. There is only so much that can be done in a 2D sidescroller, and intricate stealth game play isn’t one of them.

Sam just isn’t the one-man SWAT team that he was in the original game, and not only because he is restricted to 2D movement. He is inexplicably missing nearly every move or gadget that was featured in the console version; sticky cameras, the SC-20K, Sam’s trademark split-jump – none of these things made the cut. The game’s coolest aspects are just too compromised or flat-out missing, and for no particular reason. But, as we’ve come to expect with 3D games turned 2D; handheld users can’t be choosers.

The visuals in the GBA version of Splinter Cell are among the best on the platform. Sam Fisher moves realistically and smoothly, and there are plenty of unique animations that depict Sam doing things like scaling, running, climbing, hiding, etc. The backgrounds have received plenty of attention to detail, though environments tend to repeat a little too often within particular levels. Sam’s head-mounted OPSAT device is featured in fine form here, allowing you to view the action from both night-vision and thermal goggles. The sound is definitely up to par, featuring a wide assortment of sound clips taken directly out of the console versions. The electronic low-frequency buzzing sound that accompanies the transition to night or heat vision sounds as genuinely authentic as it did on the original Xbox version. The tense musical additions that complement the on-screen action and even features some dynamic change-ups depending on circumstance are also flawlessly executed. Overall, Splinter Cell on the GBA boasts an entirely impressive presentation both visually and aurally.

Splinter Cell on the GBA can be looked at in one of two ways; either in comparison to the game on which it is based, or in contrast to other sidescrolling 16-bit games. When judged using the former type of comparison it is a respectable game that does justice to its 128-bit counterparts, but in regards to other 2D sidescrollers on the system it’s merely average. A lot of whether you’ll ultimately enjoy the game or not is dependant on your level of affinity for the original Splinter Cell, and since nearly everybody who has played that game loved it, Splinter Cell GBA should meet expectations. Just don’t expect to be blown away.

Score: 7.6/10

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