Splinter Cell was a very good game. It provided solid and oftentimes revolutionary gameplay, all wrapped in high-gloss presentation. This overall quality led to it being something of a hit, and it was followed by two sequels in three years, an exceptionally quick turnaround for such high-profile games. Still, with the average disc taking somewhere around ten hours to complete (and not everyone being satisfied by the multiplayer minigame) there's a market out there of people looking to play new Splinter Cell levels while waiting for the next official game to come out.
Cold War is Dreamcatcher Games' attempt to cash in on that market.
Anyone who's tried a Splinter Cell game will instantly recognize the militaristic action and stealth that Cold War offers. Sneaking around in a crouch, knocking people out with rubber bullets, carting corpses into dark corners where the patrols won't notice them. It's all Splinter Cell to a tee, although clearly not up to Chaos Theory snuff. Technologically and design-wise it falls somewhere between the original Splinter Cell and Pandora Tomorrow—better looking than the first, without the second's gameplay advancements.
From a complexity and difficulty standpoint, it's actually more of a Splinter Cell-lite. There aren't any alarms to end missions or ramp up the difficulty level, and no matter how many times they're alerted, guards never fail to go back to their standard patrol pattern once the hero has been out of sight for a few seconds. Worse still, the stealth mechanic can be a little shaky at times—guards can hear as well as see the player, and I often found it hard to tell how noisy or quiet I was being. It's not a particularly long game either, offering only three locations, with just one of them being on the extremely large side.
It's not all bad, though—Cold War does have a couple of innovations on display to keep the player interested. The first of these is an item construction mechanic that allows the player to use miscellaneous collectables to build weapons and items to use against the onslaught of Russian guards. These items range from a slingshot and projectiles to a wide variety of explosive and luring devices, the majority of which are useful and entertaining enough to warrant the time it takes to track down the blueprints and secret papers it takes to unlock their designs.
The game's other point of interest is also its most interesting feature—the X-Ray camera. The main character, a photojournalist, finds his ordinary camera replaced with a high-tech and surprisingly deadly model. With the tap of a button the player can go from normal third-person mode to looking though the camera's viewfinder, which allows him to see through walls and flesh. This camera is a simple, easy to use alternative to Splinter Cell's various viewing modes and surveillance devices; in Cold War, knowing what's on the other side of a door is only ever a single tap of a button away. The camera is also an effective weapon, capable of temporarily knocking out foes by sending concentrated radiation into their brains, or detonating distant flammable objects. This mode is brought to life by impressive visual effect which, while scientifically preposterous, taught me that Total Recall was one hundred percent accurate about what X-Ray vision looks like.
If video games were running shoes, Cold War would be the designer lookalike sold on the streets of Chinatown for next to nothing. Sure, it's not be made of the highest quality materials, and it won't last as long as the original, but if price is an issue, or the real deal's soles have worn all the way through, the budget alternative will provide an acceptable substitute.
Disclaimer: This review is based on the Xbox version of the game.