Review: Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell Classic Trilogy HD

SplinterCellTrilogy.jpg

At the end of 2009, Sony released the HD God of War Collection, a high-definition remastering of the first two PS2 titles.  Upgrading textures for higher fidelity image quality while displayed on an HD TV was one benefit to the collection.  Another reason for the re-release was the simple fact that backward compatibility has long been removed from the PS3’s feature set.  Only the first few models in the life of Sony’s current console were able to play PS2 titles.  By remastering PS2 games, Sony opened the door for classic games to be updated and sold a second time around, scratching a nostalgic itch for some, but also introducing titles to a new and younger generation of gamers.

Since the God Of War Collection was released, Sony and other publishers have dipped into the well of their vast libraries of games to upgrade visuals and rework gameplay to allow the games to be played on the current gen hardware.  From The Sly Cooper Collection to Ico and Shadow of the Colossus to The Tomb Raider Trilogy to downloadable one-offs like Beyond Good & Evil, remastering has become one of the go-to ways for publishers to provide content that can be a challenge to find and play on modern hardware.

The question that comes up now as more and more titles are re-released is whether or not a franchise should be remastered. Which brings us to Ubisoft’s recent release of the Splinter Cell Trilogy on Blu-ray disc as well as for download via PSN.  The Splinter Cell series has been described as one of the foundations for stealth action games since Sam Fisher was first introduced back in 2002, but does it hold up in 2011 and deserve a dedicated HD compilation?

The Splinter Cell Trilogy includes the original Splinter Cell as well as Pandora Tomorrow and Chaos Theory.  Each title was remastered from the original PC version due to the quality of the textures and models being the best to work with as far as “up-resing” for HD standards.  Unfortunately, portions of each game did not make the cut when being remastered.  In particular, the original multiplayer components are missing from Pandora Tomorrow and Chaos Theory.

Confession time.  When the games were originally released, I avoided them.  Back in the day, I was an avid PC gamer and even though the games were released on PC, there was a common perception that console games ported to PC were never that good.  Controls never translated well from game pad to mouse and keyboard.  Camera controls never worked the way a PC gamer would want them to.  Flash forward to now and I looked forward to playing these visually updated games.  I had always heard positive things about the series.  Stealth (or at least sneaking around levels) is how I typically approach any game that will allow it, and Thief: The Dark Project was one of my favorite titles back in the late 90s. Sound and light were key to success.

So it goes with the Splinter Cell Trilogy.  Hiding in shadows and waiting for the best moment to strike is how the game is played.  Walk slowly to avoid making noise, and you can feel like a complete bad ass as you strike out quietly and quickly, picking off unsuspecting guards.  While the visuals have been updated, the gameplay mechanics have not.  Or at least not to the level that is almost expected in games released for current gen titles.

Groundhog Day is one of my favorite movies.  The dry wit of Bill Murray forced to repeat the same day over and over again, trying new ways to live the same day is pure genius.  Seeing someone go through the same daily grind over and over is hilarious.  Each repeat adds subtle nuance to facial expressions, changes in vocal patterns, all for the sake of hoping to find the key to breaking through and waking up the next morning no longer the same day as yesterday.  Playing the Splinter Cell Trilogy is like living in the worst version of a Groundhog Day video game.

This is how gameplay routinely unfolds: Watch the pattern a guard takes walking through a corridor, plan to attack, accidentally make a noise and alert him, causing instant death.  Reload. Watch the guard, move slower, sneak up to take him down but miss, alert him, instant death.  Reload.  Oh did I mention that there is a Quick Save and Quick Load feature in all three titles?  Yup.  There is.  This is a great feature.  Sadly it is also a crutch.  The really odd thing (and this goes to show that the games were basically just given a visual overhaul) is that the Quick Load doesn’t function quite the same between any of the three titles.

For a trilogy that has had features removed from two of the titles, obviously the menu system had to be adjusted for each game.  Why not create one menu scheme and apply it to all three titles?  Sure the functionality is similar, but the approach to the end mechanic varies in each title.  That is just poor planning and shows that the remastering was positioned more as a cash grab than a true update to “classic” games.

One new feature that was added to this trilogy was 3D output.  I don’t have a 3D TV to test the visuals on, so I can’t comment whether that would be an enhancement to the games or not.  However, the level design doesn’t strike me as benefiting from having the world viewed in a 3D perspective.

As with the God of War Collection, CG cut-scenes were not re-rendered for the HD remaster.  The cut-scenes in the original Splinter Cell are horribly grainy and show their age poorly.  Obviously, as the series progressed through the years the CG cut-scenes were produced with a higher resolution, as those in Pandora Tomorrow and Chaos Theory are not as grainy when pushed to full screen viewing.

Even if you’ve never tried any of these Splinter Cell titles, I can’t really recommend playing them.  The controls work but feel very dated when compared to modern stealth action games.  Visually, the three titles are decent, but it is obvious that all are just upgraded skins to older games. The core game mechanics still work just fine, but trial and error rules the day for all three titles and more time is likely to be spent on the save and load screens as the finicky AI and deadly accurate enemies regularly have you dying and retrying.

SkipIt.jpg

Pros:
+ Three titles for less than the price of one current game
+ Trophy support includes platinum trophies for all 3 titles

Cons:
– Constant use Quick Save/Quick Load is a crutch
– Menus are inconsistent from title to title
– Multiplayer removed from Pandora Tomorrow and Chaos Theory

Game Info:
Platform: PS3 (Retail and PSN)
Publisher: Ubisoft
Developer: Ubisoft
Release Date: 9/27/2011
Genre: Stealth Action
ESRB Rating: Teen to Mature
Players: 1
Source: Review code provided by publisher

[nggallery id=1578]

About the Author

Tim has been playing video games for more than 20 years. He manages to find time to game in between raising three kids and working as a network administrator. Follow Tim on Twitter @freemantim.