We all know the PS2 has a huge library of excellent games, but if you rely on it entirely for gaming then you’re likely to miss out on some equally excellent games. Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow, the sequel to the hugely popular stealth game from 2002 is one of those. But like with the original game the sequel is also out for just about every modern system known to man. There’s no denying that the PS2 just isn’t as fast as the XBOX or a modern PC, so I’m sure some of you are wonder what you’re missing out on by playing the game on a PS2 as opposed to the other alternatives. In terms of gameplay; very little, but in terms of graphics and audio; a bit.
The story takes place in 2006 when a gang of bandits have taken over a US embassy. At this point you’re completely unaware of what’s really going on, but you begin by collecting bits and pieces until you realize what’s actually on the verge of happening. It would be very easy to spoil some of the storyline that the player should definitely witness for him- or herself, so instead let’s discuss the gameplay.
Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow is, at heart, a tactical action game. You play as Sam Fisher, the stealthy operative with a sense for danger and telling the occasional sarcasm. As Sam you play in a series of entirely linear levels where you’re given a number of objectives to complete. These typically change during the course of the mission, because unsuspected things are likely to happen in the world of espionage. Some of these objectives are given to you by the people at your headquarters, but their vague nature usually leaves you with room for improvisation. Since most of the game revolves around stealth you won’t be playing as some one-man army like in the myriad of other third-person action games. In some missions you’re not allowed to use lethal force, and alarms may also not be raised. In this sequel the alarms work somewhat differently than they used to. This time it’s divided into several stages, so if they spot you once they’ll put on some armor and if they spot you several times they’ll put on more. If it’s raised too much you’re also likely to fail the mission, so it’s best to remain in the shadows. The missions will take you through jungles, on a train, in an office complex, and more.
As always Sam has a good assortment of moves at his disposal. Pandora Tomorrow only introduces a couple of new ones, such as a SWAT turn that lets you cross open doors with less chance of being spotted. You can climb poles, rappel down walls, perform rolls, shimmy across ledges, and a lot more. Everything is gracefully animated, and the transitions between for instance climbing and standing work well too.
Sam has a decent selection of weaponry at his disposal, but you’ll learn that bullets can be used in more ways than just to put holes in people. You should preferably sneak up behind people and leave them unconscious, but if you do have to go lethal your most basic tool is a pistol. This time the pistol can also use a red laser dot, which makes shooting lights considerably easier. If a pistol isn’t sufficient you can use a multi-function rifle that not only fires highly lethal, and silenced rounds of lead, but has a handful of alternative ammunitions as well. Some of these give you tactical advantages, such as shooting tiny cameras, or you may use ring foil or a tazar to incapacitate bandits.
Those of you who have played, or even just seen Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow on a high-end PC knows well that it’s a pretty game – a game that makes good use of shaders, dynamic shadows, and such. It’s a bit of a shame, but you won’t get all that on the PS2 version. Various things have been done to improve the performance, so even though the framerate is usually decent the overall image quality is inferior. The overall polygon count seems lower, textures seem a bit less sharp, and most importantly the lighting and shadows are radically different. On the PC you can get truly dynamic shadows, volumetric light and more. On the PS2 you do get quasi-dynamic lighting and shadows, but it just doesn’t look as real – unfortunately. Dynamic shadows are used on a few characters, but only when there’s a strong light source close by. Additionally, not all lights can be destroyed, but those that are important to the gameplay can. At first it’s a bit annoying to waste ammunition on lights that you think might be important to destroy, only to see it still burning brightly, but eventually you learn to distinguish the difference.
The shadow meter bar at the bottom is still there too, which is technically supposed to show you how well you’re hidden. It does work most of the time, but perhaps due to the new lighting model it’s sometimes just not accurate. All within one very dark shadow you may go from being perfectly hidden to being fairly visible. This makes a difference when you’re trying to hide from guards.
But even with these problems it’s still a very nice looking game. The environments are nice and varied, but because a lot of it takes place in the darkness the overall atmosphere is just about exactly how a Tom Clancy game should be.
Audio plays an important role when building a believable atmosphere. The Thief games are perfect examples, with Splinter Cell reasonably close. In this PS2 version there’s one thing that bothers me, because it’s just so noticeable. You see, almost all the audio in the game is crystal clear, except most of the sound effects related to shooting, explosions, and so on. These sound as if they’re very poorly encoded, so since the rest is perfectly fine it’s something you notice every time. But fortunately, the overall quality of the audio is very good – if you disregard the encoding. The voice talents did a great job, and Michael Ironside’s effort is just as good as it was the first time around.
The multiplayer part of Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow is very interesting. It has gained quite a lot of popularity on the PC and XBOX platform, and on the PS2 you can play it online if you have the broadband adapter. It still has some of the inherent problems, but it feels less buggy than on the PC, even if the controls are slightly different than in the single player part. I could go on for quite a long time about this mode’s intricacies, but in short it’s about two teams; the spies and the mercenaries. These have very different abilities and have objectives that force them to fight each other. One team may for instance have to infiltrate a building and defuse bombs, while the other team tries to stop the attackers.
If you can live with the less gorgeous image quality then the PS2 version of this excellent game should suit you just fine. Quite a few things have been done to make the framerate consistently good, but if you want to be picky there are a few things that you could complain about.
Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow’s single player portion will keep you busy for a decent amount of hours, but I believe this title will be more interesting if you have a broadband adapter and like playing online.
In the review of the PC version I wrote that it feels a bit like a very good expansion instead of a sequel. I still stand by that claim, but if you do like the Splinter Cell games and can’t play it on an XBOX or on a PC then the PS2 version is a perfectly okay alternative.