Splinter Cell: Double Agent (Version 2) for Xbox Review

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In my opinion, the third Splinter Cell game, Chaos Theory, perfected the Splinter Cell formula. It rectified my biggest issues with the first two titles, introduced some cool new stuff and refined a lot of the mechanics making it one of the best stealth games I’ve ever played. The next big Splinter Cell release was Double Agent and for some reason, there are multiple versions which are essentially different games. Versions 1 and 2 share the same overall plot but feature different storylines and levels and run on different engines.

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. In my opinion, it’s a fun stealth game but an average Splinter Cell title, primarily because the developers decided to revert back to linear level design. Version 2 was developed by Ubisoft Montreal and released for the Xbox, PlayStation 2, GameCube, and Wii in 2006 and this is the version I played for this review. The Xbox version, specifically, and I did play it on a Series X. Another version was developed by Gameloft and released for mobile phones. We did cover version 1 separately so if you’re curious about that version, be sure to check out our review.

The plot here is very similar to that of version 1 and it’s conveyed as a flashback. It features many of the same major plot points but things do play out differently. The player is put in the shoes of returning Third Echelon operative, Sam Fisher. After Sam learns his daughter died, he’s overcome with grief. 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). Sam will have to make decisions throughout the story which effect his trust with the NSA and JBA and some do effect the ending. I feel the same way about the plot here as I do the plot in version 1. It’s not a bad tale but the humor isn’t on the same level as that of Chaos Theory which is a little disappointing. I do think the story is presented a little better in version 1 but the voice performances here are on par.

The gameplay in Double Agent version 2 does feel very similar to that of Chaos Theory. The mechanics, sound monitor, and many of the gadgets return. Unfortunately, the level design is more linear which is my biggest problem with the game. The levels are not as aggressively linear as those in the first Splinter Cell or Pandora Tomorrow, but they’re not as open with many interconnected areas like those in Chaos Theory, either. As soon as I started playing, I was happy that the mechanics basically felt like a copy and paste of those from Chaos Theory but I did notice the linear level design. I let it go because I figured it’s the first mission and it was designed that way to show me the ropes. But I quickly learned the whole game is like this.

Much like version 1, you will visit the JBA Headquarters multiple times which is located in New Orleans in version 2 and unlike version 1, these missions play out more like standard levels, linear level design and all. Some missions in the game will have you do some backtracking and there are sometimes multiple ways to reach certain areas but the game primarily funnels you where you need to go. I really don’t understand why the developers did this and in my opinion, the linearity does hold the single player back.

Version 2 does come with a multiplayer mode and a cooperative mode, both of which could be played online back in the day and they can also be played via system link. Furthermore, the cooperative mode can be played locally in split-screen. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to try either mode so I was restricted to playing through the story mode only. One new feature, at least in terms of single player gameplay, is the teammate mechanics. Every now and then you’ll be accompanied by an NPC and you can order them to wait or follow you and at certain points you’ll have to complete team actions to progress. These are simply actions that get both characters past specific obstacles. The team stuff is cool and all but I can’t say it really adds anything to the gameplay. If it was fleshed out more and the NPCs served more of a purpose, I could see it being a really cool addition but that’s not the case here.

The missions in version 2 do feature primary, opposing and opportunity objectives which affect your Trust. Opposing objectives mean you’ll have to choose between the NSA and JBA tasks because they do conflict with each other and since many objectives are basically optional, I suppose this does add some replay value to the campaign. Unfortunately, there’s nothing to unlock which is a little disappointing. Version 1 introduced an unlock system to the single player. To unlock things, you needed to complete specific objectives, many of which required you to not be detected. That’s not the case here so that means you can approach situations however you see fit and any penalties (if you want to call it that) will only affect Trust.

Double Agent is a stealth game and veterans of the series should feel right at home with version 2. Everything you learned in the previous games and even version 1 does apply here. You want to remain quiet and out of sight. You want to stick to the shadows and are often given the option to evade or engage foes. You’ll get your hands on the same weapons and many of the gadgets that have been present in the series for a while now. Wall mines, sticky cameras, gas grenades, sticky shockers, and airfoil rounds all return among others. You can use night, thermal, and EMF vision as needed and even the EEV makes a return. In certain missions, Sam will be equipped with the SC-303 Compact Launcher which is a non-lethal weapon that can fire rubber and tranquilizer ammunition but in general, there’s not much about the gameplay we haven’t seen before.

Version 2 does take you to many of the same locations as version 1 but the actual levels, their layouts and areas are different. There are some shared elements between the two versions like the prison escape for example but for the most part, the missions are different and I do think several here are pretty cool. You’ll rob a train in New York, infiltrate a factory in Iceland, recover a bomb on a cruise ship in Mexico, and seize a tanker in Russia. Despite the different types of objectives you’re given, they don’t really encourage exploration like those in Chaos Theory and this is primarily because of the linear level design. Most objectives can be found along the linear path you must travel. Some may be located in areas off the beaten path but I can’t say there are any that require a lot of work to find and complete.

As far as I’m concerned, Chaos Theory showed that non-linear environments are the best choice for the type of gameplay on offer in this series. The non-linear environments combined with all the gadgets and equipment gives you a lot of freedom in terms of how you approach situations and get around. Why the developers decided to abandon this design choice in favor of linearity in both versions of Double Agent is beyond me. That said, as far as linear levels go, I can’t say the levels in version 2 are poorly designed. It’s fun sneaking and climbing around while evading foes. It’s also fun dropping foes silently and cleanly. I always had the appropriate equipment and gadgets to solve problems and get past foes and hazards like cameras, turrets, and lasers among other things. Once again, you can hack things, interrogate people and interact with computers to retrieve information you may need to progress.

Visually, I think Double Agent version 2 looks pretty good for the hardware it’s running on. Obviously, it doesn’t look quite as good as version 1 but I can’t say the presentation looks bad by any means. The lighting and shadows look great and the environments are detailed. As for the audio, the sound work is great. Enemy weapons, which are typically unsuppressed, sound loud and powerful and the music often helps elevate tension and does a good job conveying information in typical Splinter Cell fashion, like if you’re safe or spotted and being hunted. On the technical side, I did not encounter any issues.

The best way to describe Double Agent version 2 is like Chaos Theory but not as good. It really is a shame because it’s so close. If it wasn’t for the linear level design, Double Agent version 2 would probably feel like an extension to Chaos Theory. It would still feel like more of the same but if you’re going to copy something, copy from the best in the bunch. Now that I’ve played both versions, I’m honestly struggling to decide which one I like better. They both have their strengths and share the same problem. Linearity. A problem that I feel shouldn’t even be a thing. In fact, it was already rectified. Chaos Theory was it. The Splinter Cell formula works best when it gives the player freedom. So seeing the developers limit that freedom is strange and disappointing. I really harp on the linearity because I just don’t get it. The Trust system and decision making in both versions certainly don’t make up for it. I just don’t understand the thinking behind it. Other than the linearity, Double Agent version 2 is a fine game and I had fun with it. That’s really all I can say about it because it feels very familiar. Much like version 1, it feels like a regression in some respects, a step backward, but does manage to deliver fun stealth gameplay.

I would recommend Splinter Cell: Double Agent version 2 because despite its primary flaw (which has already been rectified in a previous game I might add), it’s still a fun time. This is not a bad game. But like version 1, I do feel it is an average Splinter Cell title and that’s only because this feels like an unnecessary regression. Ultimately, Double Agent version 2 is a good game but doesn’t reach the same level as Chaos Theory which I think is still the best game in the series up to this point.

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