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Four years Sam Fisher has been dragging his gaiters across the pixelated surface of our monitors. Four years and already four adventures under the belt of the NSA’s most effective agent, since Ubisoft has just published its latest adventures. For the occasion and while the previous albums were finally going around in circles, Ubisoft decided to review its copy and to question the unsinkable side of its hero. Sam Fisher is now a shadow of his former self and, in order to restore meaning to his life, must play the role of a double agent… An effective way to renew the aging gameplay of a series?

Always better integrated into the single-player campaign, the game’s introduction offers us the chance to take over the role of Sam Fisher as if nothing had happened. Assisted by a youngster he has to train, Fisher arrives in Iceland on a routine mission which, of course, quickly turns sour. The small, innocuous base is actually home to suspected terrorists, so the mission objectives change completely. Unfortunately, the youngster is not used to this kind of exercise and gets shot in the middle of the action. Hard blow for Fisher, this death is however not the most difficult to bear since in the helicopter which brings him back to the United States, our hero learns the disappearance of his daughter? Already shaken, Fisher sinks completely at the announcement of this sad news and finally owes his salvation only to Lambert’s tenacity.

While on a routine mission, Fisher finds himself in the most awkward of situations

Director of the Splinter Cell program and friend of Fisher, Lambert does not accept to see him give up and offers him a last chance: a real suicide mission for which he has to infiltrate a terrorist organization based in the United States, the JBA. This infiltration first involves incarceration in Ellsworth Federal Prison, which allows him to make friends with a member of the JBA, a certain Jamie Washington. That’s how we begin the second mission of the game, the real beginning of the adventure. Sam Fisher’s in his cell and Washington’s telling him his escape plans. The regular of the series then quickly gets back on track, but the beginner should be reassured: Ubisoft has two levels of training that can be done at any time. Moreover, the first objectives are very progressive so that there is time to assimilate the controls.

On the contrary, it’s the old backpackers who are likely to get a little bored at the beginning of the game: whether it’s the mission in Iceland or the Rublev attack, the objectives are really simple. Let’s just say that it allows us to gently return to the good old habits of Chaos Theory. More embarrassing, we notice from the very first seconds in Ellsworth prison that Ubisoft didn’t see fit to take care of the realism of the situations: so, despite his status as a prisoner like the others, Sam still has some of his electronic equipment as you can see on the captures. Not very important, this is unfortunately not the only small problem in gambling, but let’s get back to our escape. The mission is therefore not very complicated and it is enough to remain as discreet as possible to reach the roof with Wahsington.

From that point on, Fisher’s infiltration can begin, and it is then necessary to juggle his new allegiance to the JBA with his responsibilities to the NSA: even with his morale at zero, Fisher remains a straight guy whose sole objective is the good of humanity. This duality is materialized by a double confidence gauge: a “pro-JBA” action raises the terrorist organization’s gauge, while an NSA action keeps contact with Lambert. Often the objectives imposed by the two organizations can be achieved together, but not always, and in some cases they are even diametrically opposed. Throughout the various missions, the right balance must therefore be found to maintain the NSA’s confidence without blowing its cover… An exercise that obviously becomes more and more delicate as the game progresses.

In Shanghai, Mexico or Siberia, Fisher is a very “airy” type…

Without revealing the scenario of the game, let’s just say that once again Sam has the opportunity to see the country, as he will have to travel to Iceland, Shanghai, Mexico or Kinshasa. Each location is an opportunity for a mission with radically different objectives, and while the JBA is not overly concerned about “civilian” casualties, the NSA is much more principled. As a result, and even when the objectives of the two organizations are relatively close, it is often necessary to marry two rather contradictory approaches: a bit of insider trading for the terrorists, all finesse / infiltration for Lambert and his friends. Much more than in Chaos Theory, the player must therefore be careful what he does: an action carried out a little quickly on behalf of one of the two functions can quickly jeopardize the chances of achieving an objective of the other.

In order to bring a little more diversity to the table, the developers also imagined “missions” within the JBA headquarters. These few missions come in between the trips abroad and give a link to the general scenario of the adventure. The JBA bosses order us, for example, to decrypt an e-mail, pass a few tests or prepare mines, while NSA officials ask us to dig up more and more information on the members and activities of the terrorist organization. As if things weren’t complicated enough as it is, the missions in question are time-limited: there are a lot of primary/secondary objectives available to boost Sam’s confidence levels, but it’s hard to do everything.

Throughout the otherwise interesting and hard-working story, Fisher learns more and more about the JBA, has to be wary of its members while doing his best to keep the NSA from thinking he’s changed sides and, of course, he has to do all of this while staying alive. All in all, Double Agent is probably the most delicate of the Splinter Cells, especially since the more demanding gameplayis not always backed by a flawless execution. Graphically, there is absolutely nothing to complain about and as long as you have powerful hardware and plenty of disk space (10 GB required), Double Agent is a real firework display. There’s also nothing to say about the impeccable sound environment from start to finish. No, the problem lies rather in the very functioning of the game.

Globally splendid, the technical realization of the game suffers nevertheless from some very annoying bugs (image of the center for example)

So, the various characters in the adventure still have some serious sight problems: here, they spot Sam while he’s perfectly out of sight behind a series of closets, and there, while on patrol, they leave our friend a few centimetres away from them without having the slightest reaction. Other even more annoying worries are to be put on the account of bugs that the first update doesn’t correct like scripts that don’t trigger and force to restart a backup or characters (Sam included) that get stuck in doors/traps. Finally, the worst is probably reached with the capricious management of backups: the classification of backups is incomprehensible and sometimes a backup simply does not want to load.

These problems, as real as they are painful, fortunately do not dampen the enthusiasm of the player who is a little bit annoyed, but quickly goes back to work to find out what happens next. We even find ourselves redoing certain sequences to, in the manner of the Hitman, improve our discretion score. Reworking the game is not uninteresting either, and Ubisoft talks about three different ends. This little extension in lifespan isn’t a shame either, because once again, the multiplayer is below the single-player level: it takes up the spy/mercenary opposition in versus or cooperative challenge mode of Chaos Theory, but without being completely convincing. Only eight maps are available for each mode and big problems remain (management of the spy’s movements, blue vision of the mercenary useless or almost useless, problem of connection to the servers) … Hopefully, a future update will bring all this to light.

Based on an interesting storyline and a solid solo campaign, Splinter Cell Double Agent definitely scores points. While Pandora Tomorrow had disappointed many players and Chaos Theory was just going back to the concept of the first opus, Double Agent innovates with a certain brilliance. The duality of the missions is remarkably rendered and gives the player some astonishing adrenaline rushes. Not all missions are of the same level, but the design of some of them really flirts with perfection: very good work from the developers. Alas, this quality of design of the levels is not without counterpart. There are many more or less annoying bugs to deal with and the hardware requirements are high (3.2 GHz processor, 1 GB memory, 256 MB Shader Model 3.0 graphics card, 10 GB hard disk). Despite the presence of three different endings, the solo campaign also proves to be quite short: count a little ten hours to complete it for the first time. Then it’s up to you to see if it’s worth doing again. In any case, there won’t be much left to do because, as was the case with Chaos Theory, multiplayer isn’t yet worked on enough to be really interesting, unless you know a small group of well-rounded players. Probably the best Splinter Cell in solo mode, Double Agent must, at the very least, be tried.

Splinter Cell: Double Agent

+ Scenario well done, remarkable missions

+ Duality of objectives

+ Successful atmosphere and execution

+ Quality location

– Campaign always too short

– Sometimes annoying bugs, material requirements

– Few multiplayer maps

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