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Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Double Agent Review

Image for Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Double Agent

The spy series is back and even better than before

★★★★★

By the time you’ve cracked this latest
testosterone-fuelled Tom Clancy mission, you’ll have crept through a sniper-happy Mexican township, wrestled with a defective parachute while plummeting towards the Arctic tundra, and learned how to haul guards into a watery grave as you swim into a frozen enemy base under the ice. But while these delirious spy capers will be familiar to fans of the Splinter Cell series, a host of refinements and a commitment to evolving the franchise make Double Agent the most gripping instalment to date.

This time the adventure takes the gruff hero deeper undercover than ever before, working as a double agent for a shadowy government organisation while infiltrating a terrorist group. The game’s new ‘trust’ dynamic — where you must fight to keep both sides happy so your cover isn’t blown — forces players to make some tough choices, whether it be hatching a bomb plot without risking civilian casualties, or executing an innocent man just to prove your unflagging loyalty to a terrorist kingpin.

As well as creating moments of intense drama, your choices also affect how the tale unfolds; Double Agent’s plot branches in various directions based on your decisions, forcing players to consider the consequences of every move. And while a bad decision can radically alter the course of individual missions, the path you take also affects how subsequent levels pan out, taking the story off on unexpected tangents and making this a game you can play again and again without reaching the same denouement.

Splinter Cell’s consistently stellar production values have also been polished for this latest release, making Double Agent one of the best-looking games on the shelves today. As well as bringing greater variety to the murky environments and introducing a handful of daylight missions that radically change how you play the game, the sprawling levels are more vibrant than ever, with electrifying set-pieces — such as a burning bus careering down a city street and crushing everyone in its path — making its world feel like a living, breathing place, rather than the comparatively spiritless levels of earlier episodes. The impact of the game’s naturalistic shadows and sublime lighting has also been enhanced by the removal of most of the on-screen gauges, including health and ammunition bars, making it easier to become immersed in the experience without being distracted by ugly chunks of text.

To cap it all, Splinter Cell’s online multiplayer mode has also been tweaked. The structure of the multiplayer games remains largely the same — where six players split into teams of spies trying to steal data from a bank of computers, and a group of heavily armed mercenaries try to stop them — but the developers have brought a greater sense of balance to the proceedings, making it possible for new players to hurl themselves into the fray without becoming cannon fodder for mean-spirited experts.

While most console sequels amount to little more than the same game tarted up and shoved in a new box, it’s refreshing to see Ubisoft taking so much care with its distinguished franchise. And in polishing every aspect of Splinter Cell’s classic structure, Double Agent is among the most riveting and masterful adventures money can buy.

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