splintercelldoubleagent.jpgDouble Agent is the fourth entry in the Splinter Cell series and the first to hit the new generation consoles. Ubisoft Shanghai has taken some bold new steps with the formula, not the least of which is having series protagonist Sam Fisher juggle his loyalties to both Third Echelon and the terrorist organization which he is tasked to infiltrate. While there are some missteps in this new direction, Double Agent still manages to bring the series into the next generation with style.

Sam Fisher begins the game working in Iceland with a rookie operative. However, things go wrong and his partner is killed. After Fisher narrowly averts a nuclear missile strike, he is hit with even more bad news: his daughter Sarah was killed by a drunk driver. Overcome with grief, he is pulled from active duty, until several months later, he receives an assignment: infiltrate the terrorist organization known as John Brown’s Army, gather Intel on its leaders, and stop their plot. You’re going undercover, and not only do you complete missions for the National Security Agency, but you’ll also have to preform jobs for the JBA, and many of these jobs can get pretty unpleasant. For instance, after you gain the organization’s trust by breaking one of its members out of prison, you are ordered to execute a civilian helicopter pilot to prove your loyalty. Another mission has you planting a bomb on a cruise ship. The most intense missions of all perhaps involve you at the JBA compound. While you’ll have a set number of objectives to complete for the JBA (such as making bombs, decrypting an email, or deposing of bodies), there are also several missions you’ll have to do for the NSA (such as hacking the boss’s computer or finding bomb schematics), and you’ll only have a set amount of time to do it in. You’ll have to maintain the trust levels of both the NSA and JBA, or else your cover is blown. However, completing certain objectives will earn new weapons and gadgets depending on your trust levels with each side. There are also three different endings to see depending on how you approach certain events in the game.

The gameplay has been simplified from Chaos Theory. Instead of the light and sound meters, you have a three-state status indicator. Green means hidden, yellow means exposed, and red means spotted. There are a few new minigames, such as email hacking, bomb making, and bomb defusing. Sam can auto-regenerate his health a’la Halo. The multiplayer and co-op modes return from Chaos Theory. New to this game are daylight missions, where you are without goggles. These make it harder for you to find regular cover due to the natural sunlight. You’ll explore new locations such as a war-torn African city, a cruise ship, and a federal prison.

If there is one minor gripe I have with the game, is that you never really experience Sam’s emotions. It feels like, yeah his daughter is dead, but so what? Instead Sarah’s death happens in a split-second cutscreen and Sam’s reaction is only a bit longer. I guess it’s to be expected, as the storylines in Splinter Cell games have never been known for any strong emotional components.

In a throw back to when the differences between multi-platform releases across multiple generations were more than mere graphical and sound upgrades, the last-generation and Wii versions of the game, which were developed by Ubisoft Montreal, are vastly different from the current-gen and PC versions of the game. They feature a different plot, different missions, different playing mechanics, and different multiplayer modes. Even the levels they share with the current-gen versions of the game have different layouts. The PS2 version of the game has exclusive flashback missions, and the Wii has the obligatory motion-sensing controls.

Double Agent takes some serious risks with the Splinter Cell formula, and for the most part, the game delivers a big payoff. Fans of the series will enjoy this game as well as the others. With Splinter Cell Conviction arriving later this year, fans will want to make their way through this game as soon as possible.