Since the release of “Metal Gear Solid” in 1998, the stealth genre, which requires the player to resist gunfights in favor of sneaking and snooping, has become a trend – a way to breathe new life into the dying third-person shooter. However, the addition of stealth elements in most games (besides the stunning “Metal Gear Solid” and sequels) can be nettlesome, only detracting from the action.

Fortunately, “Splinter Cell” has arrived, and not just for X-Box. The award-winning game, which claims to “redefine” the stealth genre has finally been ported to Playstation 2 and Gamecube. In this Tom Clancy sponsored thriller, the stealth is the action, and never before has it been more engrossing.

What the Gamecube can’t provide in terms of graphics, it attempts to make up for with an extra thirty minutes of cinematics as well as new features thanks to the (what else) Gameboy Advance Link. Some lighting and area details have been omitted from the game, but the graphics are still impressive by any standard, and there are plenty eye-catching effects like shadows rising from the flames (which I jumped at on multiple occasions) and the impressive night-vision and heat seeking goggles.

The lighting and use of shadow is not only pretty to look at, but also comes to define the action. In the bottom-right hand corner of the screen is a meter that tells you how well lit you are. When the meter is far left even someone standing right over you will not see you. If the meter is far right, don’t be surprised if you are spotted from across the hall. This, combined with the absence of a map places more emphasis on scouting the territory and remaining hidden than avoiding your enemies’ line of sight. Imagine slowly creeping in the shadows toward an unsuspecting opponent, waiting until he turns around so you can grab and interrogate him, or trying to pick a lock while some alerted guards make their way toward you. “Splinter Cell” really makes you feel like a spy, and has too many cool nuances to mention that you must see to believe.

Not all is perfect with this game, though. With the Tom Clancy logo proudly displayed on the cover art, one would expect a lot more from the storyline, which involves an ex-Soviet nation planning a war on the United States. It’s not bad, but it’s not particularly gripping either. The Clancy label (his name doesn’t appear anywhere in the credits) seems to be more of a marketing ploy than anything else, which is unnecessary for a game of this caliber. The soundtrack is equally disappointing, if not totally lacking. True, there are situations where no music is the best music, but there are just as many situations where a good tune could round out the experience. Whatever music is there is hardly noticeable, which is a problem for this game of movie-like proportions.

At least the sound is good, though. Gunshots and footsteps are clean and clear, and the voice acting is equally well done. Michael Ironside comes to define the hero Sam Fisher as an all-business agent with a dark sense of humor and pulls you in with his low-pitched monotone.

The lack of glitches in “Splinter Cell” also deserves praise. Aside from the occasional gun that pokes through a closed door, the game is free of small annoyances: Doors remain open until you are clearly out of the way, the camera never clips anything (although the camera control takes a lot of getting used to) and an inquiry box comes up if you are standing over multiple items, so you never pick up a soda can instead of a dead body.

Indeed, “Splinter Cell” is here with a bang, or perhaps a silenced gunshot. Stealth fans can finally enjoy a game that is not “Metal Gear Solid”, and Gamecube owners can finally enjoy a game that is not Mario, Metroid or Zelda.

4 Stars

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