The idea of completing an action-adventure game using stealth as your primary means of success is hardly something new nowadays. Most games give you several alternate methods to accomplish your desired goals to keep the game fresh regardless of how many times you play it. While I’m particularly partial to grabbing the biggest weapons and armor to deal the most damage as a ferocious beast, I personally know many people who thrive on sneaking around and taking people out as quietly as possible. Regardless of your personal preference, the games are always fun no matter what you do. However, among that immense list of titles that have stealth as “just another feature” like The Elder Scrolls there are certain titles that make stealth the primary element. These games frequently have a focus on counter-terrorism groups or have the player be a spy, thief, or an assassin.
The Metal Gear series is the undeniable frontrunner in this genre for video games, but when it comes to thriving on multiple different mediums, Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell is the reigning king. Seven video games, seven novels, popular fan fiction, and even a film in the making starring modern action star Tom Hardy. I wouldn’t be surprised if a television series is made at some point in the future. The trifocal goggles used by the protagonist Sam Fisher to see in the dark is one of the most iconic pieces of eye year in video game history. This makes sense as all good game series’ need a recognizable signature. The latest edition to this long running franchise is Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Blacklist which came out on August 20th to critical acclaim. In honor of this new release, I’ve decided to take a look back at this series that has a significant place in video game history.
Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell first hit the shelves on November 17th, 2002 for the original Xbox and was later released for every other console currently on the market. The main protagonist throughout the Splinter Cell series has been Lieutenant Commander Samuel Fisher since day one. Fisher is a former member of Third Echelon which is a top-secret branch within the National Security Agency (NSA), and “Splinter Cell” is a separate program that Fisher leads. Fisher uses his mastery of stealth, espionage techniques, and urban warfare tactics to fight a seemingly endless array of international terrorists. Throughout the course of his story, Fisher has prevented global disasters such as World War III, international small pox outbreaks, and major political assassinations. The series obviously takes place on a global scale as well. If you haven’t realized it already, stealth is the absolute primary focus of the entire series. Yes you can grab a gun and kill people like crazy, but that’s completely against the entire idea of the game. Ammo isn’t exactly common after all. Stealth game mainstays like lock picking, computer hacking, and night/heat visions goggles are prevalent in almost the entire series as well. Future titles, including the recently released Blacklist, feature a multiplayer option too and a morality feature was introduced into the series with the 2006 release Splinter Cell: Double Agent.
In order for the Splinter Cell series to actually stand out in the market, it needed to take a different approach in the stealth genre. The Metal Gear Solid series had already supplanted itself as the premiere stealth franchise after all. To make Splinter Cell different, the developers decided to put an immense focus on light-and-dark-based gameplay style. The games have a “light meter” to show the player how visible they are in relation to the enemies around them. This is what led to the trifocal night vision and thermal vision goggles to become such a hit. To put it simply, the game is all about sneaking through the shadows where your enemies can’t find you. This was quite a simple but important change to the genre as most games at the time didn’t even differentiate between light and dark. You could hide in the shadows and get caught just as easy as if you were standing right in the middle of a room. Splinter Cell upended this concept and the series flourished.
Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell is a rare series that has met near universal acclaim with almost every installment on home consoles. The hand held games received less favorable reviews overall which makes sense considering their hardware limitations. This makes the early success of Blacklist hardly a surprise. An interesting point about the series however is that it is widely regarded as an Xbox franchise despite being released on every other system as well. Since the original Splinter Cell came out in 2002, on the Xbox first I might add, the Xbox and Xbox 360 versions have received the highest reviews overall. This is exactly like the Metal Gear Solid series which can be found on many different systems but has really found a home on the PlayStation line of consoles. As for the protagonist, Sam Fisher is one of the most recognizable characters in gaming history. His goggles alone have become iconic. You can even find Fisher in the Guinness Top 50 Video Game Characters of All Time.
Despite the immense praise of the Splinter Cell series, my own experience with it is almost completely non-existent. I only played very little of Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory in 2005 and quickly gave up on it when I couldn’t figure out how the lock picking mechanics worked. I had only rented the game too so once I returned it I never bothered to pick it up again. Keep in mind this is a game that was voted one of the top games of 2005 and received close to perfect scores across the board. So really, my poor experience with the game was entirely on me. For all I know I was simply too young or inexperienced to really grasp a game like this. Considering how successful the franchise is the desire to actually play it exists within me. I have full intention to give the series an honest try again, and when I do I’m sure I’ll love it immensely.
There’s no denying that Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell is one of the most popular franchises of all time. The games have been successful, the books have become best sellers, and the upcoming film is highly anticipated. Splinter Cell has quickly become one of Ubisoft’s flagship franchises along with the other stealth heavy Assassin’s Creed. Simply having the Tom Clancy name behind the franchise almost guaranteed Splinter Cell’s commercial success, but it certainly doesn’t hurt that the titles are considered amazing across the board. Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Blacklist is currently available on PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Wii U.