Two Decades Later, the Original Splinter Cell is Still a Masterpiece

They don't make games like this anymore.

Posted By | On 14th, May. 2024

Two Decades Later, the Original Splinter Cell is Still a Masterpiece

The Metal Gear franchise is considered the big daddy of the stealth genre by the vast majority of people, but though its legacy is obviously unshakable, it’s not the only big-name IP that has shaped the genre over the years. Splinter Cell has obviously been dormant for over a decade at this point, but even now, the series holds a special place in the hearts of millions who consider a number of its instalments to be some of the best stealth games ever made, if not even some of the best games of all time, period. Obviously, there’s a healthy debate to be had about which of Splinter Cell’s many high points was the highest of them all, but it’s hard to argue with anyone who gives that crown to the game that started it all. More than two decades on from its release, the original Splinter Cell is still an unabashed masterpiece.

Having come out nearly 22 years ago, there are obviously aspects of the experience that don’t hold up great to modern standards, whether that its aged visuals or its lack of certain quality of life features and gameplay improvements to subsequent instalments would go on to introduce. And yet, even so, Splinter Cell remains a remarkably fun game to go back to. Ubisoft’s stealth classic captured the essence of the genre perfectly, and delivered the kind of timeliness design in a tightly crafted experience that still hasn’t gone out of style.

Splinter Cell’s core stealth mechanics were, of course, at the heart of everything the game did. Sam Fisher instantly cemented himself as a gaming icon upon his debut all those years ago, and though his characterization and the excellent voice acting by Michael Ironside were hugely responsible for that, just as important was how fun he was to play as, and all of the tools that he had at his disposal. On a fundamental level, the simple act of moving Sam around was an absolute joy. He was a quick and nimble protagonist, making navigation through environments a blast, whether you were sneaking up on enemies while their backs were turned to you, sliding along ledges as you attempted to sneak into heavily fortified and defended buildings, or doing any number of the other things that Sam’s moveset enabled.

Finding your way through environments, figuring out the best path forward as you snuck around enemies, and slowly and quietly dispatching enemies one by one never really got boring thanks to those fundamental mechanics, but of course, Splinter Cell had plenty more meat on its bones. Chief among the game’s most recognizable mechanics was its reliance on light and shadow, an ingenious concept that blended with the game’s stealth trapping spectacularly, and drew the praise from players and critics to match.

Not only did Splinter Cell’s duality of light and darkness afford it an instantly striking visual aesthetic and identity (which, incidentally, gave it a much more timeless look than pure technical polish could have), it also served as the core of the entire game’s stealth experience. Not only was it crucial to keep an eye on the light meter and ensure that you were never plainly visible to enemies, the mechanic also throw in yet more strategic nuance into the moment to moment proceedings by allowing players to manipulate it to their advantage. Want to move through a particularly well lit area where you’ll be easily spotted by enemies? Well, your next step would be to figure out how to significantly reduce visibility in the area.

What elevated Splinter Cell’s stealth action was the fact that not only did the game boast an incredibly stop mechanical foundation, it also bolstered it by often providing players with plenty of options in how they wished to progress, letting them be the authors of their own journeys (within its scripted confines, of course). A lot of that was enabled by the different tools that Sam had access to, from his iconic night vision goggles and thermal goggles to his moveset of physical maneuvers, a weapon that could stick cameras on walls, non-lethal weapons like shockers and smoke grenades, suppressed pistols, lethal weapons with limited quantities of ammo, and more. Prior to the game’s release, its developers at Ubisoft made it abundantly clear that in addition to Metal Gear Solid, Splinter Cell was also taking plenty of inspiration from immersive sim stealth games like Thief, Deus Ex, and System Shock, and that was plainly visible in the way the game frequently allowed players to move through its levels and missions as they saw fit.

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It all came together spectacularly. From its strong core of stealth mechanics to how it allowed players to tactically move through its challenges as they wished to, to how effectively it used light and shadow, Splinter Cell instantly crafted a remarkably strong identity for itself. Not only did it spawn a major, beloved, and successful franchise with multiple sequels (many of which were also spectacular games in their own right), it also uplifted the stealth genre as a whole. In the 22 years since it came out, Splinter Cell’s legend has grown by the day, with many considering it to be not only one of the most influential games of its time, but also one of the best games ever made- and it’s easy to see why. Even though many would argue that Chaos Theory was the franchise’s peak (while some may even bat for Blacklist), there’s no doubting that the original game established a surprisingly strong foundation for the franchise, allowing it to start off in the best possible shape.

Of course, things haven’t gone quite as well for Ubisoft’s once-thriving stealth franchise over the last decade or so. Even though 2013’s Splinter Cell Blacklist was a well received game, it wasn’t the kind of commercial success that Ubisoft had hoped it would be. Consequently, the series was put on ice, where it has remained, frigid and unmoving, ever since. That said, it’s not like Splinter Cell fans have nothing to look forward to. Ubisoft announced in 2021 that it was developing a full-fledged, ground-up remake of the original game using Massive Entertainment’s Snowdrop Engine, with the intention being to fully revamp and modernize the game, and presumably inject some much needed life back into the property.

Whether the remake will be able to do that remains to be seen. For now, we don’t even know when it’s going to come out, with updates on it from Ubisoft’s end having been next to non-existent ever since it was confirmed to be in development nearly three years ago. Either way, whenever it is that the Splinter Cell remake comes out, there’s little doubt that Ubisoft is going to have a hell of a task on its hands. Not only will the remake serve as the first Splinter Cell game in a very, very long time, it will also be recreating what many consider to be an all-time classic. Expectations are going to be sky high, but if it can truly capture the magic of the original game, the Splinter Cell remake is going to be another impressive notch on the belt for the beloved stealth series.

Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, GamingBolt as an organization.


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