Splinter Cell: Double Agent (Version 1) for Xbox 360 Review

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Splinter Cell is a fun series of stealth games and I think it’s safe to say that the third game, Chaos Theory, is one of the best, if not the best. The first two games are fun but Chaos Theory blows them away thanks to refined mechanics, non-linear level design, and giving players more options than ever before. It was followed up by Splinter Cell: Essentials for the PlayStation Portable and the next big title would be Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Double Agent. For some reason, there are multiple versions of Double Agent. What the internet tells me is version 1 was developed by Ubisoft Milan and Ubisoft Shanghai and released for PC and Xbox 360 in 2006 and PlayStation 3 in 2007. Version 2 was developed by Ubisoft Montreal and released for the Xbox, PlayStation 2, GameCube, and Wii in 2006. Another version was developed by Gameloft and released for mobile phones. We will only be focusing on versions 1 and 2. This review is going to cover version 1 for Xbox 360 and I did play it on a Series X. We will be covering version 2 separately.

Both versions share the same overall plot but feature different storylines and levels and run on different engines. If you’re wondering why I didn’t play the PC version of Double Agent, it’s because I checked the game’s PCGamingWiki page and discovered it’s very broken. It comes with a lot of unresolved issues including crashing, general bugs and game breaking bugs. And quite frankly, I didn’t feel like dealing with that so I settled for the Xbox 360 version. Double Agent does come with a multiplayer mode but I didn’t get to try it so this review will focus only on the single player.

The story follows returning protagonist Sam Fisher, the highly trained operative of the NSA initiative called Third Echelon. After Sam’s daughter is killed, he’s overcome with grief and to help him re-focus, his primary handler, Irving Lambert, offers him another job as a nonofficial cover operative. Sam is sent undercover to infiltrate a terrorist organization known as John Brown’s Army (JBA). Their goal; to destroy or change the United States government by striking at the nation with bombs. Double Agent tells another tale of espionage and action but with a twist. Sam will be forced to make decisions that not only affect his trust with both the NSA and JBA but also determine the ending. This is a story with multiple endings. Double Agent does not convey as much humor as Chaos Theory, at least I don’t think so, which is slightly unfortunate but on a positive note, the voice work is decent overall and Michael Ironside reprises his role as Sam and delivers another great performance.

Double Agent feels like more of the same in many respects with some refinements here and there and it introduces a gimmick so to speak, the whole undercover thing. You will be given multiple objectives to complete in each mission, some for the NSA and others for the JBA and sometimes they do conflict so you’ll have to make decisions. This along with the multiple endings does offer an incentive to replay through the campaign. If you’ve played the previous games, the gameplay will feel very familiar but I would say Double Agent feels like somewhat of a regression mainly because of the level design. As far as I’m concerned, Chaos Theory perfected the Splinter Cell formula and should have set a precedent. In my opinion, a big part of what makes that game successful is the non-linear level design. Unfortunately, Double Agent brings back the linearity.

I have a theory regarding Double Agent. I’m guessing the developers wanted to try something new so they focused on making the player more involved in the storyline (decision maker and whatnot) and implemented the Trust system. And some of the changes to the gameplay were made to make the game appeal to a wider audience. To be clear, I don’t know any of this for sure but what I can tell you is this game definitely feels like the start of the franchise shifting in a different direction. However, I can’t say I’m super impressed with Double Agent. I honestly would have preferred something more in line with Chaos Theory. At least in terms of the gameplay.

I don’t want to make it sound like I don’t like Double Agent or that it isn’t fun because I did enjoy it and I feel it is a fun stealth game. But everything that makes it fun is nothing new for the series. Staying quiet and out of sight and using firearms and a variety of gadgets to evade and engage foes is still a great time. One interesting new thing here is the unlock system. Completing certain objectives will reward you with new equipment or gadgets and upgrades. It seems like this system was designed to keep the player coming back but I didn’t find it all that hard to unlock everything and some of the equipment you unlock is nothing new. If anything, this system can actually make for more trial and error gameplay. Not alerting enemies always seems to be one of the objectives required to unlock something so it can result in a lot of quick saving and quick loading. You can also just replay the mission later and try again. It all depends on how you prefer to play.

My biggest problem with this game is the more linear level design compared to Chaos Theory. I can’t say the environments are as aggressively linear as those in the first Splinter Cell or Pandora Tomorrow but they’re also not as open or feature a lot of interconnected areas like many levels in Chaos Theory. There are some alternate paths to take but for the most part, I felt like I was being guided through the levels, just moving from one area to another with few incentives to explore. One of the worst offenders is the mission set in Kinshasa. Sam navigates through the streets and buildings, evading the fighting between two factions and if you don’t take very specific routes, you can easily die. It feels more like a long set piece with all the fighting and explosions surrounding Sam as he navigates around.

Some of the levels or missions in this game put Sam at the JBA Headquarters in New York City. What makes these missions stand out is that all objectives are optional and you’re given a limited amount of time to complete them. The headquarters is one of the more let’s say open-ended environments in the game. Interconnected areas and what have you. There are often multiple ways to reach certain locations but some ways will require you to obtain the appropriate access like voice recordings and fingerprints of certain members. And these are things you have to acquire silently. The game even tells you to use gadgets in the shadows or you’ll be in trouble if you get spotted. Unfortunately, in the end, I grew to really dislike these missions simply because all the objectives are way too trial and error and for story related reasons, you don’t have access to all your equipment so you don’t have all the typical options.

You’ll have to sneak around restricted areas to complete most headquarter objectives and if you don’t have the means to access certain areas, probably because you weren’t given the objective to acquire it yet, there’s usually a very specific way to get where you need to go. You are timed and if don’t make it back to the spot where you were “set free”, so to speak, before time is up, you will lose trust. So you have to figure out how to get to the different locations, complete the objectives, and get back all within a time limit and without getting spotted in an effort to gain and not lose trust with the NSA and JBA and also to unlock things. Needless to say, it’s a good idea to save often and if you don’t take your time, probably because of the time limit, you may find yourself saving and loading often. Luckily, as mentioned before, all headquarter objectives are optional and you can reference a 3D Map that can help you determine where you need to go and certain headquarter objectives can be completed any time you’re there. You will visit the headquarters multiple times throughout the story so you don’t have to complete everything in one shot.

While the levels may not give you the same type of freedom as Chaos Theory, Double Agent does give you plenty of ways to engage and evade foes and the game comes with some new equipment. You can use a winch at certain points, the sticky camera can be upgraded to explode, and you can use the Ultrasonic Emitter to distract foes. The shooting and combat feel pretty good and knife kills look awesome. Double Agent is a stealth game at its core so running, gunning, stabbing, slashing and blowing up bad guys may not always be the best approach. That is if you want achieve the best mission rating. That will require pure evasion. Despite all the options you’re given in terms of you approach situations, the objectives make it clear the game encourages stealth over aggression so killing people should be looked at as a last resort.

Double Agent is another globetrotting adventure. You’ll get to break out of Ellsworth Penitentiary in Kansas, plant a bomb on a cruise ship in Mexico, rescue an NPC in Africa, and infiltrate a geothermal plant in Iceland. Sam can now hide under desks and in lockers in an effort to avoid detection and he can also perform many of the same maneuvers he could previously as well as get around in the same ways. You’ll get to climb fences and pipes, hang onto and shimmy along ledges, crawl through ventilation shafts, hack things, interact with computers and other things in the environments and you can interrogate people to retrieve information. Double Agent does include some minigames like when you have to assemble mines or decrypt a specific email but there’s not a lot here that we haven’t seen before.

I do think Double Agent version 1 is the best looking game in the series up to this point. It runs on a different engine and takes advantage of the newer technology available at the time. The environments and character models look great but one thing that really hasn’t aged well is some of the character animations which look a little stiff now. Other than that, it’s a fine looking game that doesn’t look too terrible today. The audio work is also pretty good and the music is once again implemented in a way to convey information. In typical Splinter Cell fashion, more intense tunes kick in when Sam is detected and being hunted. I also like how the music gets louder and slightly more intense the closer enemies get to him. On the technical side, I’m happy to say I did not encounter any issues.

Ultimately, I enjoyed Double Agent but it is somewhat disappointing. It’s certainly not a bad game. It’s a solid stealth title. But at this point, it’s been done better. This is one of those games that perplexes me. I can only assume Ubisoft knew they struck gold with Chaos Theory so I really do question some of the decisions made here. Regardless, there’s definitely some cool new ideas here but nothing that really makes the gameplay stand out.

In the end, I can’t say any of the new stuff feels super innovative. I honestly think Chaos Theory should have been the new blueprint for the series. They should have built upon that. In fact, they could have implemented the new ideas and still kept the non-linear level design and freedom. But they didn’t. We’re back to linear levels and as a result, less freedom and less replay value. And one has to wonder why? Why did they do this? I must be missing something because it seems unnecessary. Other than that, everything else is fine. But everything else was always pretty good. Chaos Theory just refined it all and everything but the non-linear level design was carried over into Double Agent. As for the new stuff, the different decisions and multiple endings are some incentive to return and once you unlock all the gadgets and upgrades, it can be fun replaying missions with new toys.

I would recommend Splinter Cell: Double Agent version 1 because it’s a fun stealth game. I don’t think it comes close to the greatness that is Chaos Theory but it’s not really a bad game, either. It’s a fun stealth game and an average Splinter Cell title. There’s some cool new ideas here but nothing that really elevates above the best of what the series already has to offer.

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