Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell

"Listen up, all you motherf--"

Look at that. Back in 2002, that screen represented the height of console technology. The powerhouse that was the Xbox burst onto the scene to try and steal...

That's all I've been able to recover of version 1.0 of this post for Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell. I was in the process of adding a few new paragraphs based on some developments I had replaying the game, but then something happened, and that something ultimately resulted in a blank blog post, and I don't have backups of whatever I write. I assumed Google did. It does not. 
So all I've got are my screenshots and my memories. I only wrote it a matter of days ago, and last played the game just over an hour ago, so I should be able to cobble something together. Where were we?

... the spotlight from Sony and Nintendo, and several titles sure did turn some heads for one reason or another.

If you weren't after the multiplayer mayhem of Halo, maybe you would welcome the lighting engine and cloth physics in espionage thriller Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell. I say that like it's all the game offers, but that's not the case at all.

Fun Times

Splinter Cell is introduced to you in an action-packed video that displays so many unusual hues of green in one place that you'll wonder what it is you're even looking at. Maybe that's one of protagonist Sam Fisher's techniques for dealing with you while out on his top-secret infiltration missions.

The mission involves heading into Georgia, where the President has been assassinated, and a billionaire has taken his place. This is the country Georgia, by the way, in the near future of 2004.

If you like your thrillers full of military jargon and political shenanigans, Splinter Cell might just be something of interest, especially with Sam's iconic voice, provided by Michael Ironside, filling you in on the details - just not all of the details. We don't know all of the information here because nobody knows all of the information, ensuring that people actually talk to each other and work together for the sake of national security. Sure thing, boss...

First things first, however. We've been brought back for this job and haven't worked in the field for some time. We're rusty, and I don't know the controls.

I'm playing the PC port, and once I got used to your run/walk controls defaulting to the mouse scroll wheel (and that actually making sense, somehow), I watched as Sam hopped his way through all kinds of obstacles and situations unseen in video gaming.

Snake can crouch and crawl, but Fisher can leap up the walls into the splits, dangle from pipes, clamber up fences and more. There were always comparisons between the two titles, Splinter Cell and Metal Gear, but when it comes to the range of movement, there is a clear frontrunner here.


That's providing you know what you're doing. The final obstacle of this training room was to grab a high ledge. It would require jumping into a wall, first, so that you'd kick off it and up to higher ground. It's just a couple of presses of the Shift key. Let's see how many times I failed it.

When I finally did end up dangling from the ledge, I was a fair distance away from where that guideline probably expected me to end up. I sure hope precision isn't going to be terribly demanding going forward.

Further Fun Times

More tutorial rooms would introduce me to lockpicking my way through doors, but when a keypad is blocking your progress, you might have to get up close and personal to interrogate someone into telling you the code.

When a camera blocks your way, though, you'll be able to use more technical toys. How's this for an in-world explanation of the fact that your HUD displays light levels of your surroundings?

When you eventually shoot out the lights - bullets seem to be random as to whether they hit where you aim or not - you are plunged into darkness, which is precisely where you want to be. The use of lighting and shadows is key to the Splinter Cell experience. The game is practically defined by that sound of Sam's night vision goggles activating, allowing you to see what nobody else can.

In a game that I always thought was strikingly green, I'm a little surprised to see how muted the tones actually are. The HUD is based on the technology of the time, even to the point of your OPSAT, a fancy PDA, coming from Palm, Inc., and the night vision filter isn't anywhere near as green as other games were telling you they look like. Perhaps owing to how often you'll be using it...

Darkness, and its cousin silence, is where you'll want to spend a lot of your time, and any advantage you have over the enemy is welcome. If you're the only person who can see in the dark, you'll be able to see guards walk just feet in front of you, blissfully unaware of your presence. They can press the light switch, but you can shoot out the lights.

After eventually working my way through the final obstacle of my training - being vewwy vewwy qwuiet - I was ready for what Tom Clancy had to offer me.

What? He didn't have anything to do with these games? Oh. Well, no matter. I was ready.

There are some missing operatives in Tbilisi, and we're sent in to find them with the help of an NSA informant, yuh huh, while not killing any civilians, obviously, and... not touching the street. Is it lava or something? Why no streetwalking? It's the easiest way to move, even for Sam Fisher...

If you thought your stealthy sneaking game would be slow and steady, think again. It's not long before we're ziplining into a burning building and being told to run through it, and actually get things done. It's a refreshing change of pace and adds a touch more realism to the proceedings. Not everything is going to go according to plan, and adapting to a burning building is an exciting challenge.

One that I fail, obviously. Fire doesn't make itself very clear in night vision...

Skillfully avoiding the fire on the second attempt, we meet up with our contact, trapped under some debris, and, rather coldly but entirely logically, let him die and get on our way. We're looking for a black box, or something, which will lead us to the location of our missing operatives.

Further Frustrations

This is where things took a little dive, and I'm not necessarily talking about me missing a jump and falling into the lava-filled streets below.

After skulking around the area, I was able to quickly silence one guard outside my destination, but despite all my manoeuvrability and extensive skill set, I was having difficulty with his buddy. If you got caught, from making a sound or being spotted sat in the middle of an open door, bathed in light, you needed to act quickly to deal with your problems.

I just couldn't get it right, and even trying to be sneaky and climbing through the window lead to failure. I had to resort to capping him in the head and leaving him in the middle of the floor. You ought to be able to get around without killing anyone, and anyone you do deal with - lethally or not - should be hidden out of sight somewhere, so that they aren't found later on. Bodies get discovered all the time in Splinter Cell.

Finding the hidden computer behind a painting (not a touchscreen or anything, an entire computer) lead me to some vital information. My target is showing as dead. My objectives have just gotten a little different.

We now need to head further into the heart of the level to find out more. Finding a code for the backdoor points me in the right direction.

Not seeing where to go from here, I fall off the balcony and touch the street. My mission fails instantly. I am given the option to restart from the last checkpoint. It is some way back. I'd had to go through that jump again, and then the two guards again. I check out. I don't want to play a game where touching the floor results in failure. Not in the first mission, at least.

Final Word

At this point, I'd sum up my time with the game and ponder on where I'd go next, but not only have I already written that, I'd then gone on to discover more about the game that changed my views on it - a little, at least.

Splinter Cell was released in many formats, and I have the Splinter Cell Trilogy for the PlayStation 3. Thinking my troubles with the game may have stemmed from the fact that I wasn't using a more familiar controller (or a controller at all, as the PC port doesn't support controller input), I thought that was the next thing to have a look at.

The PlayStation 2 port was developed by a different studio and was said to be more accessible. Perfect, I thought, until I went on to read that the Trilogy version is actually based on the PC port of the game, and not the PS2 one.

If I didn't have any luck there, I was resigned to watching it on YouTube. This story may have been a little too far into the realms of believability sometimes, but it was one I was actually interested in finding out about. What's so important about Georgia that requires a lone operative to sneak his way through its shadows to uncover?

Determined to not leave the game because of frustration at having touched the floor, I tried one last attempt after I wrote the first post, where something rather magical happened. Instead of hitting 2 to bring up my night vision goggles, I missed and hit F2 instead. It revealed the console input window. "Huh," I thought, "I bet I could cheat with this."

Sure enough, you could, and using various health and ammo commands, I was in. I could even turn invisible, but then couldn't actually see myself, so invincible it was. It's not a terribly enjoyable way to play, being immune to damage and just walking up to everyone to punch them in the face, but it was allowing me to actually see more of this story.

After I discover two dead operatives with implants removed from their skulls, the second level tasks me with tracking down the people who would want to do such a thing. And, amazingly, it doesn't want me to touch the bloody floor either. But I do get to rappel down the side of a building, hop through windows, distract some cooks and all sorts.

However, it wasn't all sunshine and roses. My most used keys, other than W, were 2, F2, and F5.

Splinter Cell is a sight to see, but a lot of the time, it is a sight you can only see in the green and white of your night vision. It's dark. Navigation is a nightmare. The map doesn't help at all, and there are traversal mechanics - like shimmying along ledges - that aren't immediately obvious to you in the ways they might be in today's games. That's the 2.

The F2, the console command window, seems to be required after each cutscene, assuming you want to be invincible every step of the way, at least. Many a time I would find myself dying, only to remember that I hadn't typed in my cheats for that section of the level. Well, at least I pressed F5 a lot... That's the quicksave key. You will need it. Use it often.

I got through a good chunk of the second mission, but haven't completed it, even with cheats. Finding where I'm going and what I'm supposed to be doing is obvious to a point, but not explicitly pointed out to you.

You shouldn't get lost in a level, but you might feel lost, and if you're doing too many gamey things in trying to navigate a level or dealing with the opposition, you forget too much of the plot. A lot of it is revealed in text entries found on computers, but actually reading them requires diving through some menus. It was a few hours before I was even aware you could click on 'Data entry' or whatever it was to reveal an email with a bit of backstory.

But, finally, I had played a bit of Splinter Cell. Enough to know if I'd play the rest of it, at least, right?

Well, with cheats, I'll probably be more likely to do so, yes, but a game shouldn't need cheats to play. If I was more comfortable with the way Sam moves, whether that means more practice or a switch of systems, I might be more likely to get through a level without cheating. As it stands, I'm a bit of a bumbling idiot. I've not got the hang of movement speeds, for example. Guards always seem to hear me, no matter how slow I crouch-walk up to them. Quite annoying to listen to that alerted musical cue with everything that moves in a level...

I must admire what it does, though. The writing is, as I've hinted at I hope, the kind of writing that you associate with films or, more appropriately for Tom Clancy, novels. It's not impenetrable, but it's not dumbed down for everyone to get on the first pass either. You need to pay attention if you want to get the most out of Splinter Cell and if I can manage that in between moving like a newborn giraffe, I think I might have a good time.

There are many ways to play Splinter Cell today, but I don't know all of the differences or the best version to go for or anything like that. If you come across it, though, give it a go. I think it holds up reasonably well for a game this old. Far from perfect, yes, but quite a memorable title nonetheless.

Fun Facts

While it didn't start life as a near-future thriller, Splinter Cell did begin with the intention of being "a Metal Gear Solid 2 killer". If you're going to try and better something, you might as well aim for the top, and arguments can easily be made one way or the other in regards to whether it succeeded.

Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell, developed by Ubisoft Montreal, first released in 2002.
Version played: PC, 2003.