We could listen to actor Michael Ironside brilliantly deliver lines as the sardonic super-spy Sam Fisher all day long. He gives that good of a performance. What we can’t take, however, is not having a second analog stick to work the camera the way we can on the home consoles. Because of qualities like these, the net result of Fisher’s PSP debut in Splinter Cell Essentials is a game that series veterans might tolerate in order to see the story through, but new players likely won’t pay Fisher’s price to endure.
Cleverly set after the next Splinter Cell game, the in-development Double Agent, Essentials flashes back to missions throughout Sam’s career. Over the course of the nine-mission campaign, you’ll revisit a couple of classic Splinter Cell missions, including the oil rig job from the original game. While these don’t provide much fun for series fans who've been there and done that - since they’re simply watered-down iterations of their original versions - the all-new scenarios ramp up from a rather boring cargo ship crawl to a few excellent missions from Double Agent.
Unfortunately, the entire experience is crippled by the PSP’s hardware - more specifically, the lack of a second analog stick. Camera movement - a key element in this series, as it lets you peek around corners and scan the area for enemies - is done with the circle button. Tapping it re-centers the camera behind Sam, and the only way to freely move it is to hold the button down, thus immobilizing Sam.
This makes combat virtually impossible, seeing as how you can’t turn to see where your enemy is if he steps out of your view. Furthermore, while we applaud the ability to save anytime, the fact that saving and loading easily takes upwards of 30 seconds every time means you’ll be hesitant to do so. That, coupled with the tricky camera, will make you reluctant to try and sneak through a level non-lethally, and instead be tempted to just off everyone you find. This goes a bit against Sam’s established personality, and it’s also a turn-off for stealth purists who like to play ninja-style.
A two-player spy-versus-spy deathmatch rounds out the UMD, but you’ll still fight the camera there, too. So despite high production values, highlighted by another stellar turn by Ironside, there are too many frustrations for anyone but the most staunch Splinter Cell fanatic to try and stomach.