Review: Splinter Cell 3D (Nintendo 3DS)

Splinter Cell 3D
Genre: Stealth Action
Developer: Ubisoft
Publisher: Ubisoft
Release Date: 04/10/11

After the evolution of the Splinter Cell franchise from a mostly pure stealth experience into a more action oriented series with stealth elements, it feels kind of weird to step backwards into the earlier days of the series, but this is exactly what Splinter Cell 3D does. The game itself is essentially a handheld port of Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory, which is generally regarded as one of the best games in the series, so it stands to reason that Ubisoft would want to port the best if they were going to port over anything, at least. As handheld ports of the series go, Splinter Cell 3D is a fine enough port of its source game, though how much you believe so will likely depend on how much of a fan you were of that game or even if you’ve played it all. The good news is that the game more or less faithfully recreates the experience of Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory, so those who never got the chance to play it or those who loved the game and want to take it on another go with 3D effects added will likely enjoy the game. The bad news, however, is that this isn’t a straight port of that game, meaning that while it essentially follows along with the storyline and events of the game, it doesn’t offer all of the options of its console brethren, and as a consequence, is going to be a harder sell to those looking for something more involved, or those who have already beaten the original game into the ground.

The story in Splinter Cell 3D is pretty much standard for the franchise: you play as special agent Sam Fischer, who is presently still active in his position at Third Echelon, as he sneaks around the world, trying his damndest to stop the villains of the piece from exploiting and/or ending it. The game begins with two unrelated plot points popping up as things progress. On one side, Japan has formed a governmental defense group called the Information Self Defense Force (ISDF) for defense against information attacks, which in turn causes China and North Korea to protest in a military capacity due to them perceiving this as a violation of Japan’s restriction against being able to field a military force. On the other, Sam is looking for a programmer, Bruce Morgenholt, who has been abducted by a group called “The People’s Voice”, as Bruce was involved in creating computer application weaponry in the prior game and the group wants what he knows. As one might expect, these plots don’t remain uninvolved for very long, and the plot quickly transitions from two smaller subplots into one huge plot that tasks Sam with essentially trying his damndest to prevent a war (or the threat of one), as fans of the series will likely expect. The plot is essentially carried over in its entirety from Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory, and as such, will be wholly without surprise to those who have played that game, but even so, the writing is generally very solid all around. The game assembles a fairly large amount of plot twists that it ties together fairly neatly, and while you’ll either have to be well versed in world politics or Google usage to get how some of the more involved political concepts work, for the most part, the story works on a level where you likely can appreciate it no matter how knowledgeable of the real life events you are.

Splinter Cell 3D does a pretty good job of downscaling the visuals from Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory to the 3DS, and while the visuals aren’t without their flaws, they’re not bad all in all. Sam looks good in the various different stealth outfits he dons, and animations in the game are generally fluid and solid looking all in all. The environments are generally varied in appearance and offer up plenty of space to maneuver, and the lighting effects are solid enough to give you an idea of how secure you might be relative to the environment. The game also uses the floating mission objective descriptions used in Splinter Cell: Conviction that were really neat, and they’re neat here, too. The enemies you face are fairly generic, however, and it can be hard distinguishing the more important secondary objective items in the environment at times. The game boasts some solid audio, on the other hand, and the aural presentation is on par with the console game. The voice acting in particular is very nice and makes good use of the franchise case, and the music pieces that play throughout the game fit the mood well and change to accommodate the tone of the scene rather nicely. The sound effects are also rather good, and while gunfire and explosions don’t pop as well from the 3DS speakers as they do a regular sound system, that’s not really the game’s fault, as the effects in general are pretty solid all around.

The 3D effects in Splinter Cell 3D are generally pretty good, all in all, and the game makes good use of the technology to give a good sense of depth and perspective. You can use the 3D to get a fair approximation of something’s distance from Sam, as it’s fairly well implemented all in all, and the effect makes for some additional fun in many cases. It can be a little difficult to adjust to at first when attempting to aim and shoot at targets, but for the most part it works well enough that you can learn how to work with the effect without too much trouble. The hacking mini-games can be a bit disruptive to the effect when you have to look back and forth between screens, however, as can the switching between views from first to third-person and such, but, again, this can be adjusted to with a little time and effort. The nicest thing that can be said about the 3D in Splinter Cell 3D is that it doesn’t feel as much like a gimmick as it does a worthwhile addition to the game, and while not using it isn’t going to hurt the game any, it’s honestly the biggest addition to the game and makes a solid argument for its use, all things considered.

Splinter Cell 3D makes a good effort towards bringing the console experience to the handheld, mechanically speaking, and while it can take a little getting used to, it works well enough. Sam moves around with the analog stick, and you can turn the camera in all directions using the face buttons as needed. The left and right bumpers are used to attack enemies, and depending on how you’re armed can represent different options, such as primary and alt-fire on a weapon or killing/stunning someone at close range. The D-pad is mapped to various different physical actions, with Up and Down allowing Sam to jump and duck respectively, while the Left direction allows Sam to press up against walls and the Right direction reloads weapons if you have spare ammo. By default, Sam isn’t armed with anything but his knife, but your weapons layout is mapped to the touch screen, allowing you to pull out a weapon at any time. You can pull out the silenced pistol, a heavier machine gun with underbarrel attachments of various sorts, or grenades of different kinds, depending on what you need at the moment, and you can aim and fire with the pads, stick and triggers as needed. Clicking on the red square at the bottom of the weapon display allows you to choose what you want to customize said weapon with, allowing you to change your underbarrel attachment for the machine gun or the type of grenade you’re using, for example, so you can use smoke grenades or flash grenades, shock darts or added stocks for stability, or whatever else you can turn up throughout the game. Adjusting to the controls can take a little time, but they’re not particularly difficult to understand and you’ll likely take to them soon enough if you work with them a bit.

The name of the game in Splinter Cell 3D is stealth, and lots of it, as Sam needs to execute his missions carefully and quietly whenever possible. Each mission will have a consistently revolving main objective of some sort or another, as well as a secondary objective you need not complete but will be rewarded for if you do. The various objectives you’ll have to complete will require you to figure out the best ways to accomplish them without attracting attention, and the game isn’t really negotiable about this; Sam, while a skilled secret agent, is hardly bulletproof, and a few good shots take him down quick. Instead, you’ll want to work quietly from the shadows, and fortunately, you have plenty of options to do so. You start out with a silenced pistol, a machine gun and some flash grenades, and from there pick up various add-ons and bonuses to use for taking down your opponents in stealth, and you can also make use of some more interesting tools, such as Sam’s goggles which can act as binoculars, allow for long distance hacking, can go night vision when needed, and so on. You can also use your map to plot out the best route to your objective, which will helpfully be marked on said map. You’ll want to make good use of these tools, however, as pissing off the guards is, as the game progresses, likely to trigger alarms, and each alarm you trigger buffs the guards up more and more, making them harder to take out and making your job more challenging as a result. You’ll also find that occasionally Sam will have to hack terminals and pick locks to get to where he’s going, with the former minigame requiring you to line up blocks into a larger cube to break the required code, while the latter has you rotate the stick to move pins in the lock to pick it, and while neither is exceptionally detailed, both games are inoffensive and fun enough.

While Sam’s primary objectives are marked somewhere on the map when they’re assigned, the secondary objectives you’ll be assigned in each mission aren’t so easy. You’ll be given a task to find and bug or break or scan or hack various different things in the stage you’re progressing through, for instance, and while not doing so does nothing to hurt you, doing these things allows for added bonuses at the end of a level. Whenever you complete a section of the game, Sam’s general performance is tallied up and you’ll receive various upgrades, such as new grenades or attachments or added ammunition reserves, which will further be improved if you complete the secondary goals. On the other hand, several of the missions will also place added restrictions on you, such as not killing anyone for one reason or another, meaning you’ll have to be more aware of what you’re doing, lest you fail the mission or make your life more complicated by accident. Sam will also routinely come across medical kits and save points as he progresses through each stage, with the former allowing him to patch himself up should he take damage during the mission, and the latter allowing you to save your game so long as there are no nearby guards alerted to your presence, to allow you the option to come back to that point if you fail.

The main game is comprised of about ten missions and you can more than likely get through them in about eight hours or so, depending on how good you are at stealth action games in general. You can always go back and replay missions you’ve already seen before, however, in case you missed the secondary objective or want to try and get through the mission without being spotted or whatever floats your boat. The game also offers multiple difficulty levels to play around with, for those who like a challenge, so you’ll have plenty of reason to jump into the game again if you want to try it out on a harder difficulty level. However, there is no multiplayer available in the game to speak of at all, which, aside from the fact that this was something that was available in Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory, also means that outside of the single player campaign, there’s nothing to really do with the game otherwise. Given that this is a handheld release of the game, this isn’t exceptionally surprising, and the mechanics of the handheld release might make for some awkward multiplayer in any case, but if that’s a dealbreaker, there you go.

Now, personally speaking, I have no major expectations when walking into a handheld port of a console game. I’m aware that things will need to be stripped out of the game, like multiplayer, and some of the more involved mechanics, and so on, and to Ubisoft’s credit, the 3D effects and updated hacking minigame are fine enough. However, nothing has really been added to the game in any significant way, meaning that if you’ve completed the single player campaign in Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory, you have pretty much no reason whatsoever to play this except for the 3D novelty. The game offers nothing for the StreetPass system to work with, either, and it really just feels like a port of a several year old game instead of a great new 3DS title, when a brand new game was really what the system was crying out for in this case. Even assuming you’re okay with all of this, the AI is generally rock stupid across all difficulties, and while the game does become noticeably harder on higher levels, it’s not because the enemies are any brighter or anything. Most of the challenges in dealing with enemies either come down to environmental issues (lasers, lights, and so on) and less to the AI, which is mostly easy to pick off without an issue. The only sort of person who is going to jump in and enjoy this game, as it is, is someone who either loved the single player campaign of the original game and wants to see it in 3D with lower resolution visuals or someone who never played the original game, IE someone who’s not a fan of the series, and they’ll likely have their own problems with the game, to be honest.

It’s not that Splinter Cell 3D is a bad game so much as it’s an unnecessary one, as everything nice that one can say about the game comes down to the 3D novelty and descriptors that can be applied to the original game, and this really just feels hacked down in general, whether you draw that comparison or not. The plot is still rather well written, the game makes use of the visual capabilities of the 3DS, and the audio is generally nice to listen to at all times. The game mechanics can be picked up with a little effort and good efforts are made to make the game accessible within the confines of the console, the 3D effects are fun and functional, and there’s a good amount of variety to your tools and missions, enough so that you can have fun with the single player campaign without too much effort. However, the enemies are rather generic in design and there’s nothing to do with the game at all outside of the single player campaign, and even if you’re okay with this thing, it’s basically a lower power remake of a several year old game that fans have already played to completion. Even assuming you somehow did miss out on playing that game and wanted to give it a go here, the AI isn’t terribly brilliant, the 3D isn’t so fantastic as to justify the purchase single-handedly, and a lot of the platitudes heaped on Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory don’t apply to this game, making it harder to recommend than the game it’s based on. Splinter Cell 3D would have been better served as its own original game with some more substance to the release, and while it’s not bad overall, it’s not really a must have title whether you’re a fan of the series or not.

The Scores:
Story: GREAT
Graphics: ABOVE AVERAGE
Sound: GREAT
Control/Gameplay: GOOD
Replayability: DREADFUL
Balance: ABOVE AVERAGE
Originality: DREADFUL
Addictiveness: MEDIOCRE
Appeal: POOR
Miscellaneous: DREADFUL

FINAL SCORE: MEDIOCRE GAME.

Short Attention Span Summary:
Splinter Cell 3D is a solid, if unremarkable, port of a great game for a console that really would have been better off with a brand new product instead of the limited, and somewhat bland, product it received. The story is still as good as it ever was, the graphics are acceptable and work well enough, the 3D effects are generally a good time all in all, and the audio is quite solid and well executed. The gameplay takes a little time to get used to, but once you have it down you’ll find it to be fun to work with for a while, as a good amount of effort is made to make the game work within the confines of the console, and there’s enough variety to your tools and missions to make the experience engaging for a while. That said, the enemies are generic looking, the game offers nothing but the campaign missions to play with at all, the game does nothing beyond the game it’s remaking and doesn’t really do that game justice in any case, and the AI is poor at the best of times. As a handheld remake of a console classic, Splinter Cell 3D does the best job it can possibly do, but outside of the few novelties added to the experience, it’s nothing special and makes little argument to be played, let alone owned.

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