2006: The U.S. installs a temporary military base on East Timor to train the developing defense force of the "world's youngest democracy." Resistance to the U.S. military presence in Southeast Asia is widespread and passionate, but the threat Indonesian militias pose to Timorese democracy is deemed sufficient justification. Anti-U.S. resentment comes to a head under the leadership of guerrilla militia leader Suhadi Sadono, acting with the unofficial support of major corrupt factions of the Indonesian government. Suhadi's men attack and occupy the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta, taking dozens of civilian and military personnel hostage.
Deployed by a top secret wing of the NSA (National Security Agency) known as Third Echelon, Sam Fisher is a lone field operative supported by a remote team. Fisher must defend and assist the U.S. military, both locally and from remote locations, until Suhadi's terror-driven policies can be subverted and the guerrilla faction eradicated. Charged with saving the world, it's a high stakes game. If he fails, the U.S. will deny any knowledge of his existence.
Ubisoft has been on a roll with a great string of games lately, such as "Prince of Persia" and "Rainbow Six Three", and "Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow" continues the chain of greatness. While I'm probably in the minority saying this, I felt that the first Splinter Cell, while revolutionary in it's graphics, was overrated and over-hyped. For instance, the hit boxes while shooting in that game, were god-awful. I remember an instance where I unloaded an entire clip point blank at a guard running straight at me, and none of them seemed to even phase him, and he then proceeded to blowing me to smithereens.
Thankfully, those little glitches seem to be fixed in Pandora Tomorrow. You start off in a training-like level where hints will come up periodically and situations will ensue where you must use the move explained to you in the hint that appears on your screen. When the hint comes up about using your night-vision, you're going to want to, because the majority of this game is extremely dark, just like the first game. I've contemplated just playing throughout the entire game using just night-vision, thanks to the extreme amounts of darkness throughout. There are also a number of new things featured in Pandora Tomorrow that will be covered later in this review.
The graphics seem to be even more revolutionary than before, or perhaps that's just me being used to playing all of these retro games lately (Intellivision Lives!, etc.) I really enjoy the amazing lighting effects and the superb likeness of night-vision and the thermal goggles. Not only that, but the levels are extremely detailed. You'll see lamps burning inside inaccessible buildings, dead-ends, roadblocks to other streets, sprawling rooftops, secret areas, and more. It looks particularly amazing thanks to the Xbox's superior graphics capabilities. Granted, I haven't played "Pandora Tomorrow" on the PS2, but when I compared the original Splinter Cell on both the Xbox and PS2, the Xbox was of course much better looking.
Now, about those new features. You can now aim with your gun when hanging from objects. In the old game, you could hang from objects such as pipes and beams, but now you can hang on with your legs and aim hanging upside down. Also introduced is a motion sensor. Another thing that is different from the original, is the fact that it's more like "Metal Gear Solid" where it relies on guard manipulation a little more than stealth. In the first game, if you got caught, you basically had to start over. In this one, you can whistle and such, to distract and get their attention, then sneak off. If the guards notice something, like a footstep for instance, they'll increase their alertness with flashlights in the dark, and search around, sometimes stepping into your traps a la "Manhunt".
There's also the new ease of switching weapons and choosing things on the menu. I remember how much of a chore it was to simply pick up a weapon rather than open a nearby door, for instance. You now just hold down the A button and move the d-pad to choose which menu option you want to use. Switching weapons is also made easier due to the new d-pad interface, where you just press the corresponding direction to the thing you want. Guns are also equipped with laser sights so you can better aim at those small, pesky lights that you used to have to guess and fire blindly at. Now, taking out lights is a breeze.
And also, there's the Xbox Live support. It's not just like "Ninja Gaiden" where you simply report scores, you actually get to go head-to-head in the bundled online mini-game called "Shadow Strike" where you can go head-to-head in death-matches or team battles. You'd be surprised how good some people are at this game online, so if you think you're good, you should think again. Not only are there death-matches and team battles, but there's also cooperative objective-based levels, extraction, and decontamination.
The sound in this game is superb. You can hear your prey whistling in the dark, unaware of the danger that lurks behind them while they watch TV in their bunk. In order to be undetected in terms of sound, it's recommended that you press B to enter crouch mode, then move the joystick slightly to make less noise, then sneak and hold up your enemies sort of like "Manhunt", but opposite of "Metal Gear Solid" where you could just run up to guards and point at them with a pistol and they'd all be at your mercy. If you move the camera via the right analog joystick, the sound will rotate about you in full 360-degree goodness. It's one of those games where you really wish you had that spiffy new 7.1 system, which this game fully supports.
Also, those pesky hit-boxes I loathed in the original Splinter Cell have been fixed. You can actually hit things. The enemies are no longer the blind retards you saw in the first game, either. They'll actually strategize and search you out, rather than just blindly chase after you, or stand there clueless in the middle of a park. If you leave a body lying around, the guards will wise up after seeing them if you don't hide them. They'll come back with newly donned bullet-proof vests and helmets rather than just forget about what they saw. The enemies won't just take a look at you, realize it's you, then after you run away, forget about you. A classic example of that would be the game "Manhunt". I remember having a guy chase me, then I'd run up a 5-foot ladder on top of a crate in the middle of a sprawled out junkyard, and he would forget about me 5 seconds later.
This game really managed to surprise me. I was iffy on whether or not I wanted to try this after not liking the first all that much, and I didn't want to submit to the hype, but let me tell you, this game absolutely rocks. Pick it up whenever possible.