Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow for PC Review

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In my opinion, the first Splinter Cell is a great stealth game only held back by its linearity. Personally, I don’t think it has a lot of replay value but it is a game that shows potential. It was followed up by a sequel, Pandora Tomorrow, which was developed by a different team. The PlayStation 2 version is the first Splinter Cell game I ever played. I received it as a gift I think around the time it came out and I played it for maybe twenty minutes before stopping because I just couldn’t get into it at the time. But times have changed and I’ve come to really enjoy the stealth genre as I’ve gotten older. Developed by Ubisoft Milan and Ubisoft Shanghai and published by Ubisoft, Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow was released for Xbox, PlayStation 2, GameCube, PC, and Game Boy Advance in 2004. A remastered version along with remasters of the first game and Chaos Theory was released for PlayStation 3 in 2011. For this review, I played the PC version. If you’re wondering why I didn’t play the remaster, it’s because I’ve heard it comes with performance issues just like the remaster of the first game.

As of this review, the PC version is not available on digital storefronts and I believe it’s due to graphical problems when running on modern systems. Nevertheless, I checked the game’s PCGamingWiki page and found that there are ways to get retail copies running properly. I downloaded and installed ThirteenAG’s Widescreen Fix and ThirteenAG’s site does include the HD textures from the PS3 version. I also downloaded and configured dgVoodoo 2 to fix some rendering issues. I do want to mention that you may need to find and use a cracked EXE to get the game to actually launch. If all else fails, you can find copies of only the single player portion of the game with the mods and fixes applied but we will not provide any links to it because of the questionable legality associated with it so please don’t ask. Just know Pandora Tomorrow can be a bitch to get running on modern systems but it is possible.

Set in 2006, the story follows returning protagonist Sam Fisher, an operative for the NSA initiative called Third Echelon. The story centers on Sam conducting operations to prevent an Indonesian terrorist organization known as Darah Dan Doa from unleashing smallpox in the United States. It’s another tale of espionage and action and if I was to describe it in movie terms, I would say it lands somewhere in the spy thriller territory. I do enjoy the plot a little more than that of the previous game and thought the main villain, Sadono, was more interesting than Nikoladze. The game features solid voice performances and the cast is comprised of some Hollywood talent including Michael Ironside who returns to voice Sam and does a great job and Dennis Haysbert replaces Don Jordan as Irving Lambert.

Pandora Tomorrow kind of feels like it could have been an expansion for the first game. It even comes with the same major problem, it’s way too linear. Veterans of the first game will feel right at home and should be able to grasp everything very quickly. But there are some new additions and welcome changes. Pandora Tomorrow is the first game in the series to feature a multiplayer component which I did not get to try. The servers were shut down some time ago.

Pandora Tomorrow is a stealth game and staying quiet and out of sight is the key to success. Almost all of the mechanics from the previous game return and Pandora Tomorrow introduces whistling and the SWAT turn. Sam can whistle to lure enemies and the SWAT turn essentially means you can move from cover to cover. The wall jump was replaced with a half-split jump and my favorite new additions include the ability to open doors while carrying bodies and you no longer need to select items like lock picks or the optic cable in your inventory to use them. They are automatically offered as an option when interacting with doors. As expected, it’s typically better to evade and/or silently incapacitate foes rather than engage them with firearms, even if they are suppressed, but I do think the shooting feels a little better here. The SC-20K and pistol return along with much of the same equipment, gadgets and fire modules and now you can toggle on a laser sight when using the pistol to see where your shots will land.

I feel a lot of the refinements and changes help make everything feel more smooth, there’s a better flow to the gameplay so to speak. But other than that, everything else feels familiar. Medical Kits can no longer be stored as inventory items but what I’m calling medical stations can be found in the environments to replenish health. Getting spotted will often result in alarms going off and enemies shooting at you so you do need to be mindful of your surroundings. Hiding bodies in dark areas is still important because detection can increase the alarm level and enemy alertness. Higher alarm levels will result in enemies with better protection like they’ll be equipped with flak jackets and helmets which I feel is a nice touch. If you remain undetected for a while, the alarm level will decrease.

The linearity is by far the game’s biggest problem resulting in bouts of trial and error gameplay but nothing worse than what was experienced in the previous game. There’s typically one solution to a problem and a single path forward. Once again, you may find yourself frequently quick saving and quick loading. How it works is, you enter a new area and there’s typically one way to progress to the next area. Whether it’s through a door or climbing something or crawling through a vent. If enemies are around, you may have to use specific equipment to remain undetected. You’re not given a lot of freedom or options when it comes to progression. That’s the problem. One wrong move and you’re being shot at and it could result in death or mission failure. Some missions will require you not to kill anyone or get detected.

Enemies behave much like they did previously. They patrol, stand around, set off alarms and shoot at Sam if they spot him. In several areas, I noticed them obviously spawn in after completing a task or moving to a specific location. Dogs also return and can track Sam’s scent. Pandora Tomorrow includes many of the same hazards, traps and obstacles as the previous game – cameras, land mines, wall mines, turrets, spotlights, retinal scanners – it’s all here. You’ll also have to be on the lookout for trip wires which can be disabled. Once again, you can interrogate specific NPCs and interact with computers and acquire data sticks to retrieve information you’ll need to progress like keypad codes for example.

Pandora Tomorrow will take you to a variety of locations around the globe. You’ll assassinate targets at the Los Angeles International Airport, infiltrate a cryogenics lab in Paris, sneak around a moving train, and capture an NPC at a television station in Jakarta. The only mission I could not complete is the one set in Jerusalem because the game kept crashing to the desktop. I spent close to an hour troubleshooting the issue but could not find a solution so I resorted to downloading a completed save file just to continue the game. Despite the linearity, the environments are well designed for the most part. I really enjoyed the jungle areas. It was just cool sneaking through tall grass and lush foliage, evading and dropping guerilla soldiers along the way.

As far as the single player goes, much like the previous game, it doesn’t offer a lot of reasons to return. You’re not rated or rewarded based on how well you do in missions, there’s nothing to collect, nothing to unlock, and the linearity ensures that subsequent playthroughs will be mostly the same. The game does come with two difficulty levels so that’s some incentive to revisit. Based on what I’ve researched, the multiplayer was quite good for its time and that’s what kept many players occupied back in the day.

From what I understand, the developers focused on improving graphical and lighting effects. That said, playing it now, the game does look dated but I do think the lighting and shadows hold up really well. I also think the character models look a little better than those in the first game when viewed up close. Once again, the music is implemented in a way to convey information and it works really well. More intense tunes kick in when you’re spotted and music playing is often an indication enemies are alerted and hunting for you. In general, I feel the audio work is on par with the previous game. On the technical side, as mentioned before, I could not complete a level because the game kept crashing to the desktop. And it should be noted that, if running on modern systems, the game can randomly crash at any point during cut scenes which happened to me a couple of times.

Honestly, I’m a little disappointed with Pandora Tomorrow. I had fun with it but I feel the same way about it as I do the previous game. It’s basically more of the same. I certainly welcome the refinements and new mechanics but there’s not enough new stuff to make the game feel like a step forward. It comes with the same pros and cons. It’s fun playing as a covert operative, infiltrating areas and sneaking around using cool equipment and gadgets. It’s also a game held back by its linearity and the single player lacks replay value. Pandora Tomorrow basically offers the same gameplay experience as the first game which is why it feels more like an expansion than a sequel. I think the multiplayer is what really stood out here back in the day. In the end, I think the story is a little better than the previous one, I really enjoy the atmosphere and tone, there are some awesome albeit way too linear environments to navigate, and the single player is fun. Familiar but fun. In fact, the gameplay is so similar that I feel Pandora should come bundled with the first game in any future releases of these titles. Splinter Cell and Pandora Tomorrow should come in the same package.

I would recommend Pandora Tomorrow if you’re a fan of the first game. However, I don’t know if I would recommend the PC version, that is if you want to play it on a modern system. As of this review, it’s a bitch to get running and even with all the mods and fixes, it’s still prone to issues like crashing. If you don’t have the patience for that, you might be better off with one of the other versions. But just know there are some differences between them. Ultimately, the refinements and additions in Pandora Tomorrow are not enough to save it from feeling too familiar but it’s still a good time, overall. Definitely check it out.

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