Gorgeous graphics, unique and addictive multiplayer
Single-player game hasn't changed much
Listening in on the other team's Xbox Live chat
By Dan Hsu
Score:10 (out of 10)
A game company once asked me why I "only" scored their game a 9 out of 10. Them: "You liked our game, didn't you?" Me: "Yup." Them: "Was anything wrong with it?" Me: "Nope." Them: "So why didn't it score a 10?" Me: "Cause it didn't wow me."
Pandora Tomorrow is that wow game and thus deserving of a 10and I'm not just talking about a "damn, these graphics look fine" kind of wow (and damn, they do look fine). From the opening cinema to the last stage, from single- to multiplayer, Pandora Tomorrow is the most incredible "stealthy soldier" game around. Sure, you may argue that, barring the Metal Gear Solid games, the genre isn't that huge to begin with, but we're talking setting-a-new-standard-while-smashing-the-old-one stuff here.
Of course, as a professional reviewer, I can always find something to bitch about, like how this piece of #$@*?! can be too frustrating (being a "wow" game does not preclude it from being cursed at). Some save points are way too far apart, and the A.I. is overly (and inconsistently) perceptive at times. Combine that with the slow, methodical pacing, and we're talking dangerously high blood pressure when you're reloading your last save for the 50th time. Weekend warriors need not enlist.
But wow is the single-player game regardless, even though gameplay hasn't changed any from the original Splinter Cell. As a lone secret agent, you will see incredibly tense scenarios and a wide variety of realistically rendered environments to covertly operate in. From a passenger train speeding through the French countryside to the lush jungles of Indonesia to a superdetailed LAX airport, each stage is amazing to see and explore. The game's pace takes a dramatic turn for the worse halfway through when you reach Jerusalem, where the action slows down while the difficulty picks up and the checkpoints seem to disappear better than our protagonist. Try to stick with it, thoughthe final few stages are the best.
Even more wow is the multiplayer game. Folks, this is the reason to get on Xbox Live. I don't care about the money for the subscription, for broadband, and for the cable dude to come out to your padyou gotta play four-player Pandora. Here, two spies (who play in the traditional Splinter Cell third-person style) try to complete certain stealthy operations while two mercenaries (who are in first-person view) try to stop them. The two sides play completely different from each other, balanced with a variety of complementary weapons and gadgets. This innovative hunter/hunted gameplay is intense. Once you try a bit of this hot spy-on-mercenary action, you'll never want to go back to boring ol' deathmatching again. On top of that, the multiplayer maps are some of the most cleverly designed in any videogame ever, offering spies multiple ways to hide and many paths from point A to B that their enemies can't access, while giving the mercs lots of toolscameras, motion detectors, etc.to catch them. Incredible stuff.
Get Pandora Tomorrow. After all, it will be the game all your Xbox Live'n friends will be talking about and playing until Halo 2 comes out. You don't want to be left behind in the dark, do you?
By Mark MacDonald
Score:9.5 (out of 10)
Just as Tetris stuck in my noggin at the height of its popularity, Pandora's incredible online multiplayer mode has invaded my reality.
I spot security cameras I never noticed before on my way to work. I instinctively note the placement of windows and air vents each time I enter a room. While everyone else is watching the movie, I'm spotting the best places to mine the theater.
Sure, I'm obsessed. But who can blame me? Pandora nails every important aspect of multiplayerintricate level design, cool gadgets and weapons, and most of all, a fantastic balance between the two very different types of gameplay. Games this innovative and polished at the same time are rare indeed. Setting traps, causing diversions, spying in on the other team's conversations, letting them spy in on yours to feed them false informationthe possibilities for co-operation and strategy in multiplayer Pandora are so endless, it makes even a deep shooter like Rainbow Six 3 seem like a simple Doom clone. All of this greatness does come with a price: a supersteep learning curve. You'll need to spend hours learning every nook of the huge levels and mastering the complicated controls before you can enjoy multiplayer. But once you do, there is literally nothing like it.
Which I guess is why I can forgive Ubisoft for playing it safe with the single-player game. I have the same compliments (gorgeous graphics, cool gadgets, great controls) and complaints (guards who "cheat" to know where you are, confusing storyline) as I did with the original Cell, because this is basically the same game. Once again the missions where you can't kill or get spotted even once often devolve into frustrating trail-and-error gameplay. The stealth formula works best when it's the player who decides between going in quiet or guns-a-blazin', not the game. Luckily the overall experience is saved by the second half of Pandora, where you're granted more freedom in how you tackle the breathtakingly beautiful indoor/outdoor levels. Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got to get back online.
By Crispin Boyer
Score:9.5 (out of 10)
Listen to Shoe and Mark; don't listen to Sam Fisher. Pandora Tomorrow's crotchety superspy may gripe about his salt-and-pepper scruff and achy knees (we knew we smelled Ben Gay through that stealth suit), but this guy is definitely not getting too old for this...er, stuff. His outstanding sophomore missionwhich improves on the breakout first game's specs in all the departments you'd expectproves that Uncle Sam is just getting started. He gets slick new moves (although you barely use 'em), players get the requisite convoluted spy-game plot, and the whole package is bathed in the wowie-zowie light-and-shadow effects that made the original famous. And if the single-player game still feels a little too similar to the original's, Pandora Tomorrow goes beyond the call of duty with the most novel multiplayer mode I've ever played.
But this black op isn't for everybody. Although a few single-player levels (the best ones in the game) offer multiple paths to the objective, you'll still face lots of tedious trial and error. Even so, that palpable sense of tensionthe very real fear of getting spottednever falters. It makes for too many memorable moments: slinking past passenger windows on the wind-whipped side of a bullet train, diving for cover when lightning flashbulbs guard-patrol routes during a thunderstorm, going full-auto when Sam's handlers let him off his leash, and much more.
The revolutionary spooks-versus-guards online game packs an Everest-steep learning curve likely to intimidate casual spies. In fact, I can guarantee that you won't have fun the first time you dive in. You'll stumble around in the dark, wrestle with the controls (which are different from those in single-player), and wonder if you'll ever get the hang of this. But stick with it: Once you master tactics and memorize a level's layout, you won't be able to log offuntil you try a new level and have to figure out its intricacies from scratch.