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Critical Reception: Ubisoft's Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Double Agent

This week's edition of Critical Reception examines online reaction to Ubisoft's multiplatform title Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Double Agent, the latest entry in the continuing and popular Splinter Cell stealth-action series.
This week's edition of the regular Critical Reception column examines online reaction to Ubisoft's multiplatform title Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Double Agent, the latest entry in the wildly popular Splinter Cell stealth-action series. Though the original Splinter Cell proved to be one of 2002's biggest hits, the series' sequels have been the focus of criticism from fans and reviewers alike. Despite offering solid gameplay and robust multiplayer options, critics have noted that neither Pandora Tomorrow nor Chaos Theory offered a significantly different experience from the original Splinter Cell. Double Agent, on the other hand, has been touted as a new beginning for the franchise. Featuring a storyline that has protagonist Sam Fisher balancing allegiances between terrorist and counter-terrorism organizations, Double Agent addresses prior criticism leveled at the series by offering a number of twists in both plot and gameplay. Double Agent has earned above-average scores at many review outlets thus far, with ratings averaging out to an impressive 85% at Gamerankings.com. IGN's Douglass C. Perry offers one of the more positive and enthusiastic Double Agent reviews, awarding the title a score of 9 out of 10. "The game design is still familiar on the surface," admits Perry. "But by giving gamers choices eventually leading to multiple outcomes in a branching story, not only does Ubisoft solve the biggest problem embedded in all previous Splinter Cell games -- which was its empty, worthless stories -- it went one better." The storyline's newfound duality works to its advantage, resulting in a product that Perry describes as "subtle and complex, engaging and even a little thought provoking." This comes at the cost of a lengthy single-player campaign, which Perry says is "relatively short at nine to 12 hours." Regardless, Perry assures that Double Agent contains a large quantity of replay value, thanks to its branching paths and multiple difficulty levels. Greg Kasavin, in an 8.5-out-of-10 review at GameSpot, disagrees with Perry's assertion that Double Agent's storyline is its greatest asset. Kasavin claims that any single-player plot shortcomings can be ignored, however, thanks to a "refreshingly original multiplayer component." "[Double Agent's] multiplayer portion," says Kasavin, "introduces some inventive changes that seem to be for the better and that help make this unique mode easier to get into and often more exciting to play than before." Still, Kasavin expresses confusion as to why Double Agent's one-player mode isn't as strong as its multiplayer offerings. "Sam Fisher is the star of the Splinter Cell series," Kasavin posits, "so it's odd that the multiplayer portions of these games, which he's in no way a part of, seem to be evolving much more rapidly than the solo campaigns." Yahoo Games' Tom Chick expresses similar criticism in his review. Rating the title at 4 out of 5 stars, Chick likens the familiar experience to "slipping on a comfortable pair of shoes," and describes Double Agent's tried-and-true gameplay as "a classic case of Ubisoft knowing just what the fans want." Like Kasavin, Chick also gives special mention to Double Agent's multiplayer aspects. In comparison to previous Splinter Cell titles, he notes: "It plays faster and looser, so there's less of a sense that the winner will always be the guy who's meticulously studied the map and learned how to master every gadget." Reviewers may disagree as to whether Double Agent's branching storyline is as significant an addition to the series as it was purported to be, but few claim that its gameplay fails to live up to expectations. All said, Double Agent appears to offer exactly what fans have come to expect from the series -- for better or for worse.

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