Sam Fisher has become one of the most well-known names in video games, and due to his debut game appearing first on the Xbox he has a special place in the hearts of Xbox owners. Splinter Cell Double Agent is Sam's latest adventure, and also marks his next-gen debut, again on an Xbox. While Double Agent isn't quite a truly next-gen experience, feeling rather similar to Chaos Theory, fans will appreciate more great stealth action.
Having said that Double Agent plays in largely the same way as Chaos Theory, it would only be right to contradict myself right from the off. You see, there is one major new element to Double Agent that makes you consider each and every action you take in the game. As the game's title suggests, Sam goes undercover, and to remain undercover he needs to be trusted by his employer (the NSA) and by a terrorist group known as the JBA. Each objective in the game has an impact on how each side trusts you, and this forces you to think in a completely new way.
Failure to perform a certain task could end your mission there and then, but your actions have a more far-reaching affect. Say you finish a mission with the NSA on your back, after failing to plant a virus on a computer system or something equally spy-like; this not only hurts your rating for that mission, but carries over to the next. Starting off a level with a low trust level from either party will basically mean that you have to play the mission by the book, with slip ups being very costly indeed. It really is a rather unique gameplay mechanic, and sets Fisher's latest outing apart from the rest.
'The key to success in Double Agent is to remain unseen and to take people out as quietly as possible.'
As ever, gameplay is focussed on stealth and not action. The key to success in Double Agent is to remain unseen and to take people out as quietly as possible. Not only will this keep you alive, but it'll help you complete a number of extra objectives during each mission. The best way to deal with enemies is to sneak up on them, grab them, and then smother them or crack them over the head, but if you need to you can fall back on guns or a rather brutal up close and personal knife to the gut. Killing rather than knocking out enemies will more often than not hurt your trust ratings, but the option is there if you think it's worth the risk or if you're told to kill.
Gadgets once again play a part, and successfully completing certain objectives will unlock new items for use in the game; you'll get hold of the usual bunch, such as sticky cameras and enhanced vision modes. One of the most useful gadgets is worn on Sam's back, and indicates how visible you are to enemies. Green is obviously safe, yellow is getting a little close for comfort, and red means someone's going to be firing at you very soon. The enemies are all excellent shots, so unless you get to cover very quickly, a red light almost always means mission over. Sam also comes equipped with a handy watch (complete with 3D map), and an overhead map of the area, which marks enemy locations when you stand still.
Numerous levels take place at the JBA HQ, and these sections of the game throw numerous sneaky objectives at you, which need completing within a strict time limit. Once again you'll be required to remain trusted by both parties, and in a building full of terrorists, this isn't easy. Simply wandering into a secure area will set alarm bells ringing in the mind of anyone who happens to spot you, and trying to keep out of sight while in a hurry is something that takes more than a little trial and error. These levels certainly have a different feel to the usual Splinter Cell gameplay, and throw up some very interesting challenges and moral decisions.
If there's a weakness to the single-player campaign it's the story. Sam goes to prison and his daughter is killed in a car accident, but this is all covered in a tiny intro after the first level, and there's no real emotional involvement at all. Given that the whole premise of the game is about making hard decisions, the weak storytelling is a real letdown and makes you feel rather disconnected from Sam and the actions he takes. The JBA HQ missions do give you a neat insight into what's happening inside the terrorist organisation, but there's still room for a lot if improvement.