Sam Fisher has been skulking in the shadows for the last few years, but he seems to have spent the time honing his stealth skills before sneaking back with this sequel.
This is Splinter Cell almost exactly as you remember it, but Sam is in a multitude of new places facing different dangers. Infiltrating jungles and a train, it looks as though the tight reins that restricted his spying to indoor locations have been well and truly slashed.
We weren't convinced that Pandora Tomorrow needed to be set outdoors - the claustrophobic corridors and bite-sized puzzle sections worked superbly the first time. But we were happy to hear that the existing alarm system had been overhauled with new 'security stages'. If you blatantly shoot someone, or fail to hide a body, then your enemies don flak jackets and headgear and change their patrols, making it increasingly difficult to complete the mission.
Unfortunately, these security stages have been included in addition to the alarms, not instead of. They are fairer than before, but we're still reduced to banging our heads against the nearest wall at the sound of Lambert's voice saying: "Fisher, you're paid to be invisible," swiftly followed by the 'mission failed' screen.
It's frustrating - just as frustrating as the moments when you see that some enemies are programmed to react differently than others. Just when you've got the creeping-up-and-grabbing down to a fine art, you suddenly meet an enemy who turns and sees you.
In levels without alarms where you're free to kill your foes, the temptation is to snipe everyone off. You can just turn on your thermal vision, shoot them all in the head and dump their bodies in a dark corner. Job done. There is one deterrent against this sort of behaviour though - ammo is limited, and you could end up without a single bullet left. But it's still possible to get through on cunning alone. You can throw bottles, even whistle to attract enemies' attention, lure them into a dark space and then clock them unconscious.
It also hits a pretty good learning curve. Anyone who's played the first game will whiz through the first three levels, but in the final three, the game becomes far more challenging.
Online is where this game gets even more exciting. In the new online mode you play either as a spy or as a mercenary and there are just four players on a map, which keeps things cosy. The spies play much like Sam Fisher and the mercenaries have to stop them - with guns, and also with a first-person viewpoint. At this stage, we don't think that even an unexpectedly premature Halo 2 could force it out of our disc tray.
If you're like us and loved the first game, hearing Sam's night vision whirr into action once again feels as familiar as slipping into your own bed after two weeks camping on concrete.
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