Multiplayer: Playing The Wrong 'Splinter Cell'

Our gaming expert decides to come to his own conclusions.

Apparently I was playing the wrong "Splinter Cell" over the last couple of weeks. I learned this after listening to the 1UP Yours podcast on Friday (1UP.com). The hosts explained that the odd-numbered "Splinter Cell" games are the best. They said the evens are inferior.

But last week I finished the fourth game of the series, "Splinter Cell: Double Agent," and I had fun. What did I do wrong?

I hadn't played much of the "Splinter Cell" series since it was introduced in 2002. I played a few missions of the first game, less of the second and none of the third, which I think reviewers said was the best one. Then I got the fourth, "Double Agent," from Ubisoft in the fall and decided I needed to get with it. Sooner or later, I would conquer a "Splinter Cell."

Now, it's a life lesson that you learn when you're about 10, but it bears repeating anyway: The things "everybody else" says aren't always going to mirror how you feel. (A friend of mine just told me Thursday that she's trying to play the much-acclaimed "Shadow of the Colossus" and is finding it difficult and tedious. Well, there you go.) So bow to peer pressure, I did not. I didn't dismiss the fourth "Splinter Cell." I played through it.

"Splinter Cell" games are stealth games. They start Sam Fisher as a spy for the U.S. government. What I remembered from the first is that I'm not much of a ninja. I frequently tripped alarms in that one, and the unforgiving game would force me to restart missions ad nauseam. Ubisoft's designers have eased up. They now let you save at any time, allowing you to compulsively preserve every safely snuck step. They also have proven great at going big. Missions are now Hollywood-blockbuster set pieces. You emerge from under ice floes to take hold of an oil tanker. You raid a Shanghai skyscraper at the stroke of Chinese New Year, rappelling down the side as fireworks blast the night sky. You assist a prison break.

One of the reasons judging a game is such a subjective process is because any game packed with enough variables can give one player a significantly more or less interesting experience than another. I don't know how any "Double Agent" naysayers played, but I got myself into one situation that was so interesting that I'll be speaking highly of it for a long time coming. It happened when I had my character kill a man.

The game has a morality system, one that isn't much more complex than the Dark Side/ Light Side dichotomy of the "Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic" games. In this game, you don't get certain Jedi powers depending on how you behave, but you do gain or lose credibility with two opposing factions. The U.S. government wants you to carry out your missions one way; the terrorist group called the John Brown Army that you infiltrate as a double agent wants you to do things their way. The JBA doesn't care if you kill a civilian. The government does. The government wants you to find the frequency of the bomb the JBA assigns you to plant — so it can be turned off. The JBA wants to know why you're snooping around for that kind of info. If either side gets too ticked with you, then you fail the mission. For most of the game, this system had no impact on how I played. I never strayed too far from my directed paths and did just fine.

In one of the game's late missions, you're put in the middle of an urban war zone. There are quite a few civilians to save and numerous other things to do that might aggravate the JBA. As I played through that mission I did some of those things, paying little mind to how that gradually eroded the JBA's trust in my actions. Near the mission's end, I had a high level of trust with Uncle Sam and about 50 percent trust with the terrorists. Those proportions had served me well earlier. At the end of this mission, however, I had to take a sniper rifle, squint into the scope and watch a man from the CIA raise a fuss. In my ear I heard two conflicting whispers: "Kill him" and "Don't kill him."

I decided I wouldn't kill the CIA man. I'd been playing on the good side for most of the game and didn't think this CIA guy deserved to go. I didn't shoot — and got yelled at for it. My JBA trust meter emptied. My mission failed. What I realized is that I had done just enough nice things at that point that the one thing I couldn't afford to do was the one really big good thing: save the CIA guy. To proceed in the game, I would have to kill him. I felt wretched about this. I tried to make something of my character. Circumstances forced him to be someone else. I wanted him to be a class act. He had to be the killer of an innocent man (well, as innocent as the average video game CIA character is, anyway).

Maybe I did play the wrong "Splinter Cell." Perhaps I could have played better and would have enjoyed one of the odd-number games more. This fourth one did all right by me, even if I finished it feeling bad — just not for the reasons for which I'd been warned.

— Stephen Totilo

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