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Splinter Cell: Double Agent Review

Ever since the Tomb Raider series began the flop, I looked for other 3rd person single player games. Those I got really into were Max Payne, Grand Theft Auto and Splinter Cell. It was the first game I played that was all about stealth, hiding bodies, using cool gadgets, being a spy. The main character Sam Fisher was an expert covert operative and made jokes about his objectives. The game also had great graphics, interesting locations and a storyline that involved politics. I played all the Splinter Cell games at least twice, and not too long ago I beat them in sequence again. The third one, Chaos Theory, was definitely my favorite.

When Double Agent was announced, Ubisoft made clear that there will be some mayor changes to the gameplay, and in the story Sam Fisher would become a lot more “dark”. This made me think about all the wrong decisions Core Design made with Tomb Raider: Angel of Darkness, and I hoped the Splinter Cell team wouldn’t screw this one up.

So this game was actually the reason I upgraded my PC, because it requires a graphic card that supports Shader Model 3.0. Obviously, the graphics engine was improved once again. I read in some forum that many PC players have trouble getting Double Agent to work, even when their PC meets the system requirements of the game. I also had to play around with the graphic settings in order to get a stable gameplay experience. For the Shanghai level, I needed to turn off the detailed shader effects for it to even load.

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If you have played a Splinter Cell game before, you will notice pretty soon that the HUD has been completely changed and deprived of some cool features. Say goodbye to the visibility/sound meter, the voice log and generally the menu-like appearance of choosing an interaction. This makes Double Agent seem less stealthy, and I don’t think the developers made a good choice here. Now you almost don’t use nightvision anymore, because you have to look for dark spots in your environment using “normal” vision. Otherwise, the first mission feels like a real Splinter Cell mission. Your character now has the ability to swim and dive underwater and there are some other cool new moves. The only obvious change made to the character Sam Fisher is that he is bald throughout most of the game. It makes him look old and a bit like the guy from Hitman, or the JBA characters. Was that really necessary? His haircut made him more agile, fresh looking.

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Starting with the next mission, you become a double agent. The NSA gives you instructions to infiltrate an American terrorist cell by busting one of their members out of prison. Getting the organisation’s trust means doing missions for them as well, and you end up getting objectives from both factions. Here the new trust system comes in: Failing to accomplish an objective results in a loss of trust from the organization who gave you that order. Sometimes you have to choose one objective over another; these choices always involve the death of another person.

Of course, the orders you get from the so-called JBA don’t have to do much with stealth. The interesting ones come from the NSA, where you have to do some real spying, and it really feels like spying for the first time. You visit the JBA headquarters three times and have a limited time frame to find out as much as possible about the terrorist cell. This goes from collecting voice samples or finger prints to hacking a server or bugging an antenna. You do that by using NSA gadgets & entering restricted areas; getting caught results in a loss of trust. Those are actually my favorite missions. It also makes sense you can’t carry stuff like your night/thermal/whatever-vision device around or wear a suit that detects how visible you are. You just have to stay out of sight and avoid any contact with your “friends”. The stuff the JBA instruct you to do involve safe-cracking, mine assembly etc. in the same way Sam previously picked locks or hacked computer systems. I welcome the new on-screen puzzles, but in other reviews I saw editors complaining about these being out of place.

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Another cool aspect of Double Agent is that the choices you make have an effect on how you will be able to complete a future mission. If you allow a key figure to be killed, you also eliminate the possibility to get help from this person later on. If you don’t complete all objectives, you might end up not having as much options as you could have. You can even choose to be completely loyal to the JBA while pretending to still be on the side of the NSA. This way you get to see different outcomes – different (bonus) content – of the story and so the game has a bigger replay value that its predecessors.

So what stays the same? Splinter Cell pushes the bar in terms of graphics again, the missions/locations are varied and the voices from returning characters sound familiar. The cinematics introduce you to the new mission and take you from place to place. Even with recent hardware, the game is a bit more buggy than what we are used to. A burdened Sam Fisher saves the world again: 7/10 points.

Coding madness

So it’s Monday again, huh?

I always enjoy the weekends because I can really get things done. On all the other days, I sleep till 10 or 11 am, just having enough time left to surf the internet a little, get on my feet and be ready for work (mostly) on time. In the evening I’m trying to be home as soon as possible, but usually I’m too tired to do anything productive.

pacfriends_small.gifSo this weekend I was busy coding Pacfriends like a madman. I won’t have to manually edit the gallery structure in the database anymore, everything works with forms and buttons now. There are still a few things I want to finish while I’m into this again, for the next public update. This has been getting in the way of more creative stuff I was working on, but it has to be done.

rockbox_small.gifSomething I accidentally found for my MP3 player: Rockbox. This is basically a highly customizable piece of open-source firmware for iPods, iriver and Archos MP3 players. There are a lot of features, even more than the already good iriver firmware, like theme support, gapless playing, support for AAC and other files, video playback, games… You can even download plug-ins for even more stuff you can do! Rockbox even increases battery & disc performance, has a better volume control and allows you to fine-tune every setting you could want to change. I played around with it yesterday for hours, and I’m going to test everything else today.

nfscarbon_small.gifFinally my brother and I got ourselves a new video game to play with: Need For Speed Carbon. I think they should have called it Need For Speed Underground 3, but everything else is fine ūüėČ The cops are still part of the game, but the races are at night again, the drift mode is back in while drag had to go. Drifting is more fun now, because you have more control over your car and you’re able to make really long drifts with a higher speed. Like this guy did. The new type of race, canyon racing, is pretty cool because you first have to chase your opponent down a mountain street – you get most points if you stick close to him – and then you are chased down the same road, losing your points when the opponent gets close to you. You can even fall off cliffs or be passed, both are reasons to lose the race.

purepwnage_small.gifToday the 12th episode of Pure Pwnage has its internet premiere. This will be the season finale, with stuff like the crew’s real names being revealed and the a possible final story-wise showdown. I’ve been following the online series since my brother found it on Xfire a couple of months ago, so I’m excited. There’ll be a DVD available too, so you can be sure I’m going to get one ūüôā

Firefox

I recently began to use Mozilla Firefox 2.0… I was pretty amazed by all its handy functions. Right now I configured it the way I’m used to, smooth-scrolling on, the toolbars are arranged the IE-way, and I also downloaded some add-ons… It just feels very solid and you know whether a page is loading or not. So I’m very happy with this great program.

Since I began using the Internet, the default Windows browser Internet Explorer with its flaws was always my choice. Back then it was still updated regularly, got improved visuals and had a fast loading time because it was the Explorer at the same time. Also, most people were using it and I knew that when I wanted to build websites, I needed to make them work for most people’s configurations.

I didn’t want to switch to Mozilla at first because I was simply used to IE and didn’t have any problems with it (the integrated pop-up blocker, Google toolbar and GetRight worked together well) and features like tabs seemed useless to me. I did install it in order to test new websites… So what made me switch? Well I tried to install IE7, but it requires a genuine version of Windows (o noes the hax!), so I tried version 2.0 of Firefox.

The great thing about it is its flexibility. You can configure everything, and what remains can be achieved by installing add-ons! The extendable search bar is maybe the feature that impressed me most… Because previously, I needed to go to my bookmarks->find Wikipedia->wait for it to load->type my search keywords… That took a long time compared to now! Another handy feature is the way Bloglines can be integrated; now I just have to click on the RSS feed icon next to a website’s URL and can add the feed to my Bloglines easily! I also like the dictionary/spell-checker function, which I’m also using while blogging now. Using the Morning Coffee add-on, I can quickly load all the forums, Bloglines and deviantART… FlashGet allows me to continue using GetRight for the downloads… And even tabs are nice ūüėČ

Blog update – ready to go public

I now¬†installed K2 Beta Two because there were JavaScript errors… Modified the color scheme a¬†bit and added some more random header pictures. They are more like close-ups of my projects¬†now. Added a bit more content on the current projects page. Also, the blog is now open¬†to the public ūüôā

The written exam¬†was a piece of cake… Shouldn’t have studied for it until 2 am… ūüėõ They also told us that the practical starts¬†at the¬†ambulance… Hurray.

How a job affects everyday life

Today was the last day of my 3-week-schooling at the Red Cross. The weeks really went flying by and it now seems pretty normal to spend¬†9 hours in the education center every workday. Tomorrow and the day after there will be exams and¬†thursday will be my day off. On friday the practical starts at the blood donation center, I hope it’s going to be okay.¬†So now that I know all that, it seems as if the week was already over.

Getting things done is a lot more difficult. I tried to get an appointment at my dentist for thursday, but there¬†is no place for me in his calender on that day.¬†That sucks because before today I didn’t knew I even had a day off,¬†so¬†I’ll have to wait until I find out what my working hours will be like next week and call again.¬†I did manage to get a hair cut last week… But things like supporting a small political party by personally handing over a form at the magistrate are almost impossible because their working hours end way too early. I wonder how many people actually bother doing that… it’s probably the reason many of those parties don’t make it into the elections.