E3 06: Splinter Cell: Double Agent updated impressions

When the first images of Splinter Cell: Double Agent surfaced, showing series hero and superspy Sam Fisher shaved bald and rocking a fashionable prison-orange jumpsuit, fans' brains reeled. Could Sam, the ultimate patriot, have snapped and become a bad guy?

Well, sort of, yeah. But only for a really good cause. Sam has gone deeply undercover, infiltrating an organization so secretive that in order to gain their trust, he has to do the same evil deeds as the enemy. This is the kind of undercover that can literally turn a man into the same villains he sought to destroy. And you, the player, get to determine just how far gone Sam is.

It's done with moral decisions. You're often placed into a situation where you can do something horribly wrong that will gain you the trust of the terrorists with whom you cavort, or refuse, thus doing the right thing but losing their trust. Their opinion of you will then influence what missions you are offered, as well as which ending you earn.

The first of these moments happens very early in our demo of the 360 version of the game. We witnessed Sam broken out of jail and taken to a terrorist leader. Chained to a radiator is a TV reporter, his mouth covered with duct tape and his eyes wide with fear. Handed a pistol, Sam is told to execute the man...

Chilling stuff, isn't it? Every mission promises from one to three of these decisions, and it won't help that you'll often have conflicting mission goals thanks to your two masters - the terrorists, and our true employer, the NSA.

Another, later mission saw Sam skydiving into a snowstorm and using a new swimming motion through frigid waters to get to a tanker. The surface is frozen over, but you can reach up and pull enemies down into the freezing brine through holes in the ice.

The third mission on display took place under conditions unusual for this series - broad, blazing daylight. Sam was outfitted in more standard commando fatigues, and faced the moral choice of watching corrupt soldiers slaughter civilians, or intervening. Interestingly, Sam's sunglasses in this level weren't just for show - they actually will affect his eyesight. A nearby artillery blast sent the carcass of a bus flying, and Sam grabbed the undercarriage of a truck to pass, unseen, through enemy territory. Later, sweat showing on his skin, he shot a land mine laid in the street, causing a nearby guard to catch fire. Grisly.

Speaking of grisly, we later saw this level reloaded, but Sam took a different route through town, passing by, among other things, a blood-soaked GI whose legs had been blown completely off, and who held a live grenade in his hand ... at least, until shortly after we walked past.

We'll have as much more on Splinter Cell:Double Agent as we can as soon as humanly possible. This is a game world we need to experience.

May 08, 2006