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14 Apr, 2006

Tom Clancy's: Splinter Cell Essentials Review

PSP Review | Not as essential as you'd think.
Sam Fisher has stealthily found his way onto just about every handheld platform known to man in the past few years, including the N-Gage, Nintendo DS and even mobile phones. It was somewhat inevitable then that Fisher would make his debut on the PSP eventually, and so here we are, with Splinter Cell: Essentials. So now Sam has made his debut (surprisingly stealthily as well), does the game live up to its namesake or is it far from essential?

Splinter Cell: Essentials is best described as a “greatest hits” of Sam Fisher moments. The story tries to excuse the varied missions by presenting them as flashbacks, but really this is just a clumsy method of justifying a whole bunch of different missions. It’s actually bizarre that Essentials is out so early though, because the game takes place after Double Agent. Sam has ditched himself of the third echelon and gone missing since his daughter died. Homeland Security were worried so they went looking for Sam. They find Sam, arrest him and start to interrogate him for answers about the past. And then you play a mission.

In total, there are nine missions, as well as three unlockable bonus missions. The levels are actually quite linear, so if you’ve played them before you won’t have too much of a problem completing them again. There haven’t been many modifications to the original levels except some enemies are in different locations at times. The game includes light and sound gauges so you can keep track of whether or not you’re in danger, even if you can’t see Fisher. Moves-wise, Sam Fisher hasn’t really had any of his skills removed for this game. Most of the weapons have also made it into the game, so the developers have done a good job of including everything, from the split jump through to crouching.

Despite the general dip in quality from the home console versions, the entire move set has been retained.

Despite the general dip in quality from the home console versions, the entire move set has been retained.
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The multiplayer in past Splinter Cell games has been up there with the best multiplayer titles since Pandora Tomorrow, but unfortunately the one in Essentials just isn’t up to scratch. Firstly, the game only supports local multiplayer, so there's no infrastructure support. Secondly, there's only one game mode, Spy vs Spy (no prizes for guessing what you have to do). It really would have been a little more encouraging if there was at least another game mode to choose from. We also encountered frame rate issues in the multiplayer, which basically makes the entire exercise a little redundant.

But there are two problems with the game that completely destroy any enjoyability the title could hope to offer. The camera is absolutely terrible, and one of the most annoying we've ever come across in a game. To manually move the camera you need to hold the circle button and then move it, unfortunately the camera doesn’t auto adjust so everytime you want to move the camera you need to actually stop playing and rotate the camera. It's actually possible to change the settings so you use the PSP face buttons to move the camera, and this is a better alternative, if only the lesser of two evils. Half of the challenge of the game at times is just making sure you’re getting a decent view of things.

Ubisoft also felt the need to cloak the game in darkness for a lot of the time as well. We know it’s a stealth game, but there are times when you just can't see because the game is so incredibly dark. This can be rectified by turning on your night vision, but night vision isn’t available in all levels. These two problems are a lot more detrimental to the game’s quality than you would think, and playing through some of the first few levels is a chore, at least until you get a grip on the camera control and the extreme darkness.

Regrettably, the visuals come nowhere near the standards set in other versions.

Regrettably, the visuals come nowhere near the standards set in other versions.
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Visually, the graphics aren’t really up to par. The Splinter Cell titles have been pushing the boundaries of what a platform can do for a long time, but Essentials is perfectly happy with just looking average. The levels aren’t particularly large, so there's no good reason why the game couldn’t look better. The character animation and move set are impressive, but the textures look average at best. But thankfully the sound - which has always been a highlight in the Splinter Cell titles - is up to scratch here. If you have a decent set of earphones then you can hear an enemy from a distance away which improves your awareness of enemies. The actual soundtrack is okay but not entirely memorable.

There are a few bonuses included, but none of them are compelling enough to keep you coming back to the title. If you’ve never played a Splinter Cell title before, then the game will take a little while to complete, but if you’ve already played these levels, you'll likely breeze through the single player adventure with ease. The multiplayer could have extended the lifespan but it's so boring, limited and slow that it’s unlikely you’ll play a Spy vs Spy match after your first try.

Splinter Cell Essentials is without a doubt the most disappointing Splinter Cell title yet. Here we have a game that has an excellent premise, the best Splinter Cell levels coupled with a sneak preview of Double Agent and support for wireless multiplayer. Unfortunately, the execution is just dreadful. The game feels like it was rushed and probably should have been delayed to coincide with the release of Double Agent. The game has a bad camera and is far too dark, and consequently is hard to recommend to anyone but the most hardcore (and jaded) Sam Fisher fans. Ubisoft hasn’t had that much luck with their existing IPs on the PSP, and this game does nothing to buck that trend.
The Score
Splinter Cell Essentials just doesn't live up to its namesake. The idea is sound, but the execution most definitely isn't. 4
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

Related Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell Essentials Content

Splinter Cell: Essentials images
21 Jan, 2006 Is that a spy in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?
Splinter Cell: Essentials images
13 Jan, 2006 First images of the game, and it looks very impressive.
New Splinter Cell 4 details emerge
18 Dec, 2005 It now has a name. New screens inside.
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  Pre-order or buy:
    PALGN recommends: www.Play-Asia.com

Publisher:
  Ubisoft
Developer:
  Ubisoft Montreal

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