Saturday, 13 August 2016

Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell (GBA)

Splinter Cell title screen game boy advance
Developer:Gameloft Srl|Release Date:2003|Systems:Game Boy Advance, N-Gage

This week on Super Adventures I'm finally taking a look at a Splinter Cell game! Just not the one you want.

GBA Splinter Cell came out around five months after the Xbox original and I don't see a subtitle on it so I'm presuming it follows the same plot. But have they turned it into an isometric action game or a platformer? It's a mystery.

I don't dislike sneaking around in games but I do hate it when failing stealth leads to absolute disaster, so even though I've played a lot of the Splinter Cells I didn't play them very long. All I remember about them now is nice looking shadows and a man on the radio yelling at me for ruining everything. But I played them long enough to know that the generic funky spy music coming out of this GBA game right now isn't normal. Tom Clancy games are supposed to be about serious people on serious business! Not that I'm complaining, it's nice that it's cheered up a bit since its console days.

Alright I'll give it a couple of levels, sharing my thoughts as I go, and once I've played enough to satisfy my curiosity I'll finish off with a block of words that looks very similar to a review.


The game begins with three save slots and a level select screen. There's no difficulty select, but I can pick between 'Training' and 'T'Bilisi', which I'm hoping is a place and not a sign that I've accidentally set the language to 'Vulcan'.

I think I'll go with the tutorial first. I might not read manuals, but if a game offers to show me the ropes I'm not so arrogant to turn it down. Unless it pulls a Final Fantasy Tactics and throws an epic infodump at me, them I'm skipping that shit so fast.

Level picture is for illustrative purposes only. Actual graphics may differ.

Hey it's my buddy Lambert on the brain phone... I think. Sam needs to upgrade his codec as that image is terrible.

I'm playing as Sam Fisher by the way, the gruffest ninja stealth operative since Solid Snake. Unfortunately he's not equipped with Michael Ironside's voice on his latest mission, which seems to be using platforming skills to get from one side of a warehouse to the other.

Well I guess a regular leap isn't the way I'm supposed to get across this gap, so I'm going to have to walk back to the boxes and jump back up. You'd think this tutorial would be teaching me how to navigate the obstacles it's putting in my way, but nope! The game assumes I can figure out the basics on my own.

That's fine with me though; I'm a veteran of literally almost half a dozen crappy GBA tie-ins, and there's only so many buttons here to press.

Ah, there you go, I can double tap a direction to run and a running jump gets me enough distance to reach the other side.

Splinter Cell (PC)
I know you're dying to see how it compares to the 3D game, so here's a shot of the 3D game. It's looking a bit dated these days, but then it's from 2002 so that's not a huge shock. I'm not sure why his shadow's gone AWOL though, maybe it's because I'm too far away from a light.

Two things I've noticed about this version:

1. Lambert explains every single step of every part of the assault course.
2. That flag is blowing in the wind... indoors.

Sam's lost a dimension in the GBA game (and his outfit's changed colour) but he still has a lot of the agility of his 3D incarnation. He can get around this course and pull himself up onto ledges like the Prince of Persia, except with better controls. He can't do a split jump though

Fortunately the graphics are a little tidier than the GBA Prince of Persia: Sands of Time game. I mean it's still got the GBA's trademark 'pixel art takes ages, so just throw whatever together, it's fine' look, but it's not as bad as this guy:

I know game development is incredibly hard and you have to cut some corners, but if your art looks like this it simply isn't finished yet. The difference between a game like Earthworm Jim and a scruffy GBA game is that the artists at Shiny took their scanned and rendered art, and they cleaned it up! Every bloody frame of it.

And that's why their games look awesome.

Sorry for that tangent, it's just that GBA ports wind me up sometimes. I know the system has plenty of good looking games too. Like Metroid: Zero Mission and those Final Fantasy ports.

I entered the door at the far side of the warehouse and now I'm in a different part of the building doing weapons training. Well, more like weapons evaluation as Lambert's still not giving me many hints. Fortunately it wasn't hard to figure out how to draw my gun and crouch to hit these two targets with... spit.

The graphics might not be that artful but the shadows are a nice touch. Splinter Cell has always about the shadows. Shame Sam doesn't get one, so he looks like he's pasted on top of the level.

The world's greatest operative right here. Lambert must be watching this on the monitors, laughing his ass off. In fact he was probably the one who replaced Sam's arsenal with fart grenades and a spit gun.

I like the power meter though, even if doesn't even hint at where the grenade's going to end up.

Getting smoke grenades onto these two targets wasn't hard, but there's a third just off screen to the right and even a full power throw can't reach the thing. C'mon Lambert give me a clue already, I'm here to learn you bastard. Can you at least tell Sam how to just step around objects?

There's two doors here, so I tried leaving through the door I didn't come in through, and Lambert came on the radio to tell me "It's not time for this now." Well I hope there's time for it soon or else I'll starve to death in this room trying to get out.

I gave in and checked a walkthrough in the end. Turns out I just had to bounce the grenade off the boxes. Alright, what's next?

A lock picking minigame in a platformer? Get it out, get it out, get it out, get it out!

This is similar, but entirely different to the lock picking in proper Splinter Cell. Basically all I do is move the badly drawn rod left and right inside the lock, tapping each of the blue pins in order before the timer runs out. I've played worse I suppose, but in most other games it's been optional.

Next I get to switch to thermal imaging mode to light up an array of lasers and then carefully slip by them.

Oh we're doing it like this are we? One mistake and the mission's off?

It's not actually that bad though, as it put me back to the start of the same room and I didn't even lose a life. At least I don't think I have lives in this.

This was pretty much the end of my training, so once I got past the lasers I was finally ready to take on T'Bilisi.


LEVEL 1: T'BILISI.


Uh, could you send me a bigger map Lambert? The GBA's a handy gadget to have in the field but it hasn't got a massive screen.

This seems to basically have the same plot as the console game, but there's much less of a story going on. In the original there's a cutscene on a plane where Fisher chats about the mission, followed by a screenful of text explaining that "Agent Alison Madison worked covertly in the Georgian political arena for two years, securing a role in President Nikoladze's cabinet after his coup d'├ętat," etc. In this on the other hand all I get is 'search for two missing CIA agents'.

Splinter Cell (PC)
The first proper level in proper Splinter Cell is about making your way through a burning building, with very little stealth but a lot of opportunities to burn to death.

Meanwhile, on the GBA...

This is actually a lot like the original game, with the building exploding around me. It's not all that tricky to get around though, as long as I remember that fire is bad.

Wait, is that a skull shape in that explosion? Do we have an actual skullplosion here?

It's subtle but it's definitely there! It's a rare pleasure to be able to put the 'skullplosion' label on a post.

Crap, I got a little close to the flames that time and lost some health. I least now I know that I have a health bar (it's the one in the top right).

Fortunately the building is full of these huge pipes and they're made out of a rare metal that doesn't conduct heat, so I can leap between them to get around the fire.


A FEW FLOORS LATER.


The health doesn't come back on its own, though that's fine as I've found a Half-Life style health station. I don't think console Splinter Cell had any of these, but like I said I don't remember it much.

I've also found a safe, which means I get another minigame!

This time I have to rotate each cog in turn to line up the grooves, simple as that. I just have to do it really fast, as if I don't open it in time the lock will explode or something.

And that's an objective complete! Now I suppose I have to get back out the way I came in.

I climbed back up this elevator shaft and backtracked through the building, jumping between the same pipes and leaping across the same gaps, until I got a few floors up and found that the floorboards had collapsed. There's only one way to go in this place and I still hit a dead end!

So I took a chance and did a running jump... right into an instant death pit of fire. Fortunately there was a checkpoint at the safe, so I restarted there and gave it another try. Ended up dropping Sam into a different fire pit.

Turns out I just had to drop down at the elevator shaft. It looks like another deadly pit but it's actually fine. And now I'm outside!

Oh damn, now I'm sneaking past guards!

Actually it seems that the only way past this guy is through, so I waited for him to pace rightwards, walked up to him, and knocked him out with a single chop to the back.

Getting seen probably isn't a good idea, but I can pull up and duck into the background when enemies are close to let them walk right past me. I suppose I could carry on and leave him conscious, but Lambert hasn't shouted at me for knocking people out yet so I'm going keep doing it.

I like how Sam's so at home in the shadows that he's darker than a pitch black room. I also like how the music gets quieter when he's hidden. Unfortunately he can't hide just anywhere in the background, it has to be a place marked by an arrow. He can't slip in between the plant and the wall for instance.

I found the thing I was after hidden inside an inconspicuous bookcase and that's mission complete. I would've gotten it done in 5 minutes if I hadn't gone the wrong way at the elevator shaft a couple of times and sent Fisher to his fiery death.

Alright I'll try out one more level before I turn this off, hopefully one with more people on it. There's apparently 10 levels in this game (including training) so finishing it will put me a third of the way through. Assuming that I can finish it.


LEVEL 2: POLICE STATION.


Oh good, the game's got security cameras. These things continually turn from left to right and back, so I have to rush through to the blind spot in the middle when I have the opportunity.

The thing is, I only see the beam when I'm using this (easily activated) remote camera mode that lets me pan around the level. It's actually possible to get seen by a camera before I can see it, so I have to listen out for the whirring noise of its motor as I'm walking around.

So I stepped onto this guy's head, evaded the camera and made my way indoors.


A FEW FLOORS LATER.


Hey I ducked into a door in the background and found this room containing a safe full of precious smoke grenades! The game almost has a Metal Gear feel at times. Almost.

Oh balls. I've got a security camera behind me, a guy in the window above me and guy walking onto the screen in front of me. Whatever I do I'm screwed! Which button is it that pulls out my gun again? Fuck it, I'm just going to run over in plain sight and hit him.

I was fast, but he was a split second faster and took off the last drop of Sam's health with his taser. Mission over. Fortunately I restarted inside the building so I don't have much to replay, and it even gave me my full health back.

I got the bastard that time.

Trouble is I set the alarm off in the process, which started a timer. What the timer counts down to I do not know (I'm imagining a nuke planted under the city), but fortunately I figured out how to switch it off in time.

You might have noticed that the timer immediately started back up again and this might have you thinking that I'm an idiot for dropping someone in plain sight of a camera. Well I am, but it turns out that cameras can't actually see bodies in this, which is good because I can't move them. They can see me just fine though and the alarm switch was inside its view cone as it turned around.

Well that worked out, I guess. I was aiming to land on him, but fortunately he was dumb enough to walk back around into my fist when I missed.

Turns out that I'm heading for a dead end though, as the way out's blocked until I turn off the security. I like that the game's getting a bit more complicated now, but I can't help but notice it doesn't have any kind of map to lead me around the identical floors of this police station. I'll just have to remember that the door I need to go back to is somewhere on the right.

Ah, that must be the computer I need to shut down the security cameras.

Hang on, what the hell happened to this room? The walls and objects all seem to exist in a different dimension, like they were experimenting at bending reality itself here. It's messing with my head.

You gotta pick a perspective and stick with it! I also don't like how the shadow under the desk is a: much darker than the shadow under the table, and b: overlapping the table.

Okay, turning off the security cameras also switched off the lights so I finally get an excuse to use my iconic nightvision goggles as I make my way back to that room I couldn't go through earlier. It hasn't changed the lights' graphics though, they're still glowing, it's just made the screen dark.

MISSION COMPLETE!

I was almost expecting a boss fight, but nope, I'm done here. Level 2 complete.


CONCLUSION

It's Splinter Cell, except on the GBA! Well about as close as you could hope for from the system, seeing as 3D visuals with real time shadows aren't its strong point. Does it still have the same feel in its new form of a 2D platformer with scruffy pixel graphics? Well... no, not even slightly, but if you take it as its own thing it's alright.

Visually it's about what I've come to expect from GBA games. It's got that 'eh, it'll be on a tiny screen so it's good enough' look to it and everything's extra bright to make up for the lack of backlighting. The animation on the other hand is a step above your typical SNES or Mega Drive game and those explosions are a work of art. And the music's a little more fun than your typical Tom Clancy special forces thriller soundtrack.

I wasn't drawn in by the gameplay but I can't really complain about it either. It's not as interesting as Flashback or as clever as Gunpoint, but it's been low on frustration so far, the controls are sensible, and it gave me an excuse to mention Flashback and Gunpoint so I honestly kind of like the game. I wouldn't want to keep playing it, but that's more because it's an average handheld game from 2003 than because of anything it did to piss me off. Also it's got a level select and saves and they're always good!


Thanks for reading. If you want to leave your own text in the box below then go right ahead, I won't stop you.

6 comments:

  1. You got me there. I thought this time Article will be PC or Home Console Version
    But no, it's GBA version.
    It looks slick and neat so i'm not complaining or angry

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I figured that you poor folks had suffered enough PC games lately.

      Though I may play actual Splinter Cell at some point, after I've gotten a bit more variety onto my site.

      Delete
  2. Damn bruh, you needed a walkthrough for the tutorial level?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hey I figured out how to pull off running jumps all by myself! I just had a little trouble bouncing grenades is all.

      Delete

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