Meanwhile, the series that dazzled us with its visual prowess on the Xbox is doing it again on the 360. In most respects, it looks exactly like you’d expect a High Definition Splinter Cell to look, and those who played Chaos Theory last year on a PC might not be so dazzled on first impressions, particularly after the early renders we first saw at X05 – all dirt, hairy arms and dynamic muscles. But there is some great stuff here when you look; the amount of detail on Fisher’s battle-scarred cranium, the subtle focus shift and blur effects, the superb weather and HDR lighting effects that appear in the arctic and cruise-ship levels. It all comes together to give the game a gritty feeling that it’s never quite achieved before, while the animation is just as strong as ever. Meanwhile, while I think the music in Chaos Theory was slightly stronger, the audio is equally as good; a real lesson in subtlety and dynamics when played on a your 5.1 system, and almost too knot-in-your-stomach atmospheric when experienced through headphones.
In fact, Double Agent is pretty hard to fault. The PDA interface and inventory system has been streamlined to something near perfection, objectives are clear and logically accomplished, and the combat system is as flexible and refined as it was in Chaos Theory, meaning if you want to knife and shoot your way out of trouble the game doesn’t make it difficult, though it will make missions hard to complete on anything above easy mode. My one gripe is probably the 3D map, which is slightly hard to figure out, though even here I love the way it allows you to track the movement of the other characters and avoid any chance of being discovered. Even if the main storyline is over in ten to twelve hours, you’ll be sorely tempted to return and finish missed objectives or just play nastier or nicer this time around, and that still leaves you one of the best multiplayer modes around, with Mercs vs Spies action and special cooperative missions.
All in all, this isn’t just the best Splinter Cell in the franchise, it’s probably the most consistently great spy game since Metal Gear Solid 1 (I know, I know, MGS2 is a staggering work of genius, but one compromised by its lunatic conceptual elements, which is even more the case with MGS3). Double Agent is also one of the very finest action titles of the year, and one I’d strongly advise any 360 owner to sample. So, if you’ve been a hater of the series since Splinter Cell first arrived, it’s not too late to change your mind – Double Agent might not be double the fun of Chaos Theory, but it’s a game you’d have to be a half-wit to ignore.
The game in which Splinter Cell puts itself up there with the greats. Sneak-em-ups don’t get any better than this.