So here's the million-dollar question: How do you cram one of the deepest, most graphics-intensive stealth series of all time onto the PSP? If you're Ubisoft, you learn from your mistakes, take a deep breath and push the handheld's limits as hard as you can.
Unlike the franchise's abortive N-Gage and Nintendo DS attempts, Splinter Cell Essentials loses little in translation, enabling players to do everything they can do in the console versions. NSA spook Sam Fisher is as agile as ever, able to effortlessly climb pipes, hang upside-down and pull off the mid-air splits that let him hang between narrow walls. Players will also eventually get access to Fisher's full spectrum of gadgets and weaponry, right up to the remote cameras and night-vision/infra-red goggles. Better still, they'll also get a preview of the upcoming Splinter Cell: Double Agent.
Playing out like a clip show, Essentials begins shortly after the events of Double Agent and takes players through nine key events in Fisher's past. "Key events" here mostly means "recycled missions from other Splinter Cell games," although there are a few new challenges that shed some light on Fisher's history; the first mission, for instance, has a young(ish), underpowered Fisher creeping through Colombian jungles to rescue his commanding officer in 1992. Later, players will get to try out missions from Double Agent, such as the now-infamous baldheaded prison break, executed sans gadgetry.
While the action is mostly intact, a few sacrifices have been made in the transition to the PSP. Unsurprisingly, the graphics aren't nearly as lavish as in the console versions, but Essentials looks great by PSP standards. The environments are simple but detailed, and light and shadow are still an integral part of both the game's look and its gameplay (although in the version we played, shooting out lights for unfettered sneaking was impossible).