Die Hard. Splinter Cell. Completely different things, yet if they were merged together we’d be in gaming heaven. The Vita would be there, too, but only to be mocked. Poor bloody thing.
There’s a new Splinter Cell game coming. We know it. You know. Everyone knows it. Ubisoft definitely knows it but doesn’t want to tell us. Not yet. Not properly. We’ve had a big hint this week with Sam Fisher popping up in Ghost Recon Wildlands. C’mon, there’s only one reason to do such a cross-over, and that’s for cross-promotion. It’s coming. Don’t worry. Just believe.
With that said, I’m equal parts thrilled and nervous. This is Ubisoft, after all, and we all know that Ubisoft loves its big open worlds. Most of the big stuff being pumped out from Ubisoft is open-world these days, and that’s easy enough to explain: if it’s open world, there’s a lot more value to the gamer. Yes, I know that’s not entirely true for everyone, but maybe there’s a better phrasing: if it’s an open world, there’s the potential for more value. Open world games are ideal for lengthy solo-player expansions just by their very nature. Ubisoft knows this. Ubisoft has cracked that code. I’m not putting the publisher down, not at all, it’s actually a compliment. Ubisoft has quickly risen to be one of the most focused publishers when it comes to post-release support. Rainbow Six Siege is a prime example, but you can also look towards recent games such as Origins and Far Cry 5 to see that Ubisoft is all about playing the long game.
But what does all of this have to do with Splinter Cell? Or Die Hard? Hear me out. Die Hard is one of the greatest movies ever made. I’m talking about the OG Die Hard, the one that made Bruce Willis a very famous man, and taught me as a child that all problems can be resolved with violent gun fights and awesome “yippy kay yay” quips. Good thing I grew up in Wales…
I’ve always looked at Die Hard as being a video-game movie that wasn’t based off of a video game. I know, that sounds mad, doesn’t it? But think about it: Die Hard takes place in a huge building that has many levels. Literal levels. Like in a video game. And then there’s the hero, John McClane, an everyday cop who just happens to be in the right place at the right time. He’s not some beefed up war hero, he’s just a regular man. He bleeds. He cries. He’s a character that we can all relate to. What does that sound like? The perfect video game protagonist. Heck, it worked well enough for Uncharted…
Then there’s the bad guys, the grunts. Most are unimportant and don’t get given much attention, though a few are obviously higher up in the bad-guy hierarchy. You’ve got Karl and his bruder, Tony, who are shown to be prominent baddies early on. Oh, erm, if you’ve somehow gone the last 30 years without ever having watched Die Hard, there are spoilers ahead. And go and watch the movie for crying out loud!
You’ve got your obvious henchmen, one of which (Tony, the brother of Karl) is killed by our hero, solidifying Karl as a nemesis. Then we’ve got the big bad boss, Hans. He’s your Pagan Min in Die Hard land. He’s classy, well spoken, obviously very clever, and he’s got the undivided attention of everyone in the room. He’s a perfect villain, then.
I could go on and on and on an – you know what I mean. My point is that Die Hard is structured in such a way that story and action flow seamlessly without there being any massive jarring takeaways. The same can’t be said for Die Hard 4 or its piss-poor follow-up, 5. Sure, they get the action sequences nailed down, but story-wise we’re looking at an old man running around being angry.
Now let’s look at the Splinter Cell games. The first one was mesmerising back when it released on the OG Xbox. The second one was alright, and then Chaos Theory topped the lot. After that, the series soon went downhill. We got the piss-poor PSP game that was just awkward to play. Then we got Double Agent which, while not being a critical hit, I actually found to be pretty decent in terms of story. Then we had Conviction and Blacklist. I’ve bundled them together as they’re the most recent games and share a lot of common ground. They’re both featuring an older Sam Fisher in a new world. Sam, much like John McClane, has seemingly gotten more sprightly in his later years. No, really, think about it: In the original movie, McClane was a lucky sonovabitch who survived against the odds. There was nothing special about him. Skip to Die Hard 4 and he’s taking out helicopter by launching a car into the air. We all remember that scene, right? He’s got more tricks up his sleeves and he’s apparently been getting lessons from Jason Bourne in hand-to-hand combat.
Now look at Fisher in the video above. In the first game Sam is already an old man. He’s got the greying hair and grizzly voice that lets us know he’s been sneaking around for a long time. He’s not the most agile of men that we played as in that generation, and that’s the point. He didn’t need to be able to sprint around. He didn’t need to know parkour. He got along just fine by being a sneaky old bastard.
Then in Blacklist, the most recent game, we’ve got Sam Fisher running around like a man 30 years his junior. Blacklist was something of a weird one. It didn’t have Ironside doing Sam’s voice, and the character model was… just wrong. He was made to look younger but he ended up looking like he’d been smacked in the face with the flattest shovel on Earth. And he acted younger, too, and he was doing things you wouldn’t have imagined in the OG Splinter Cell. While it was great for gameplay, it didn’t really aid in keeping the game’s story from being forgettable and, ultimately, it changed Sam as character. See where I’m going with this?
Now, here’s where Splinter Cell can take a few leaves out of the Die Hard book, and maybe re-print a few from the original Splinter Cell. Yes, I know that these ramblings are just ramblings and that they’re very unlikley to happen, but it’s a nice little topic for discussion anyway. I highly doubt someone at Ubisoft is reading this and saying “hmm, Boss? You there? Chris from Pure PlayStation has a few ideas. Might be worth taking a few notes.”
Not happening, but here’s what I’d do.
Take Sam Fisher’s magic powers away and make him human again.
Blacklist was supposed to be taking Sam back to his roots, but that was kind of optional. To appeal to a wider audience, Ubisoft had to allow players to treat the game like a third-person cover shooter if they wanted to. This was a problem for me because I’m a lazy shit. Rather than try again when my sneak approach failed, I’d just go with the flow and pop in and out of cover while shooting bad guys like in every other third-person shooter. The beauty behind the original Splinter Cell was that it demanded you to think. If you failed, tough shit, run it again and try not to Jeff it up next time. You could be sat in one area for an hour trying to figure out how to remain undetected and undead; Splinter Cell didn’t have any of that magic, regenerating health back in the day, and one freaked out guard would often be the end of your run. Remind you of a certain New York cop?
In Die Hard, McClane had to be sneaky. He had the opportunity to pop the head honcho while he was getting cosy up in the air ducts, but he didn’t. If that was a modern-day video game scene, I guarantee that you’d be blasting holes in everything, not writing down intelligence on your forearm.
Only in the most exceptional circumstances does McClane fire his gun/s. It’s a life-and-death moment that will surely cost him something. In every shootout he’s in, there’s a price to be paid. When he takes out the bruder, he gains a machine gun but he gives away his existence, thereby partly losing his element of surprise advantage (granted, not much shooting happened in this scene, but… shut up). When he then kills Heinrich and Marco who are sent to look for him, he lobs Marco out of the window which prompts the L.A.P.D S.W.A.T team to show up. Not long after that, innocent policemen are being blown to hell with a rocket launcher.
McClane’s next shootout with Gruber, Karl, Fritz, and Franco costs him his mobility; he has to run over broken glass to escape the bad odds he ended up against. He bleeds heavily and seemingly comes to terms with the fact he might die, and in the process he has put his wife’s life in danger (there’s a photo of him in Holly’s office). Actions have consequences in Die Hard land. In Blacklist, you can take a few bullets, hide for a moment, then go back to shooting everyone dead before doing some cool parkour shit and collecting points. A stark contrast between the new-age Sam Fisher and the one that always sounded like he’d been on the piss before missions.
The story needs to stand up in today’s world.
I’ve played Blacklist and Conviction several times, and yet I can’t tell you what the story was behind either of them. I think Conviction had something to do with Sam’s daughter? Blacklist – no idea. Haven’t a clue. It wasn’t very good. Same with Die Hard, but the newer entries. I can remember Die Hard word-for-word at this point, and even Die Hard 2 and Die Hard 3 are memorable enough that I’d be able to tell you the finer points in detail.
Now if you asked me to tell you about Die Hard 4 I’d say something along the lines of computers, car kills helicopter, McClane shoots himself to save the day. Die Hard 5? Russia, something, Russia, something, son with Daddy issues?
Give Splinter Cell a weighty story that players can be invested in. The original games were a tad hard to follow when I played them as a child, but that’s understandable – these were adult themes of a political nature. Playing them today is an entirely new experience. I understand what’s going on and I can imagine our world existing around Sam Fisher’s missions. It’s the same with the original Die Hard plot; If I read that story in the newspaper a decade ago I wouldn’t doubt it for a moment, but if I saw the Car Kills Helicopter OMG! video on Facebook, I’d be crying fake news until Trump shook my hand.
Splinter Cell’s story needs to be grounded in today’s reality, but it needs to hold our attention and make us believe that our actions matter. It’s needs that special kind of structured focus that the early games did so well. Which brings me on to…
Open world is not the way to go
No open world. No way. Notice the decline in quality of the movies when John McClane was taken out of his structured levels and allowed to roam free? (Ha! Yes, I’m somewhat reaching here, but it kind of makes sense. Sort of?) Die Hard 2 did it in a decent fashion where it was more akin to a semi-open world by being set in a large airport. Three, however, let McClane free roam too much and while Die Hard 3 is still a very good movie, it’s so far away from the original that it’s kind of only Die Hard because John McClane is running the show. Die Hard 4 sees McClane go cross-country, and Die Hard 5 sends him to Russia. Their Rotten Tomatoes scores speak for themselves. My point is that the series strayed so far from its grounded roots of Die Hard 1, that at some point it became just another action film. I swear Die Hard 5 could have been called “To Russia, With Guns” and Bruce Willis could have been called Bob Shooter and it would have been fine.
I’m not saying that we need to lock Sam up in a corridor, but I’d certainly not want him running around in a map as big as the one seen in Ghost Recon Wildlands. A happy middle ground would be a large play area like the Nakatomi Plaza. It has levels for Christ sake! I wouldn’t expect a straight rip-off, but think of Hitman as an inspiration for the kind of levels I’d like to see in Splinter Cell. Or just give me a Nakatomi Plaza knock-off. I’d be happy with that, so long as there’s a John McClane outfit that isn’t locked behind some ridiculous Gold Elite Operative Panther Spy edition of the game.
What I really don’t want is for Splinter Cell to follow the Die Hard trend of wandering too far from its origins. If it ends up an open-world game it’s almost certainly going to pull gameplay features and mechanics from Ubisoft’s established open-worlds. We’ll basically end up with Assassin’s Recon Dog Cell.
24 Frames Per Second, Just Like Die Hard
One of the reasons that Die Hard holds up so well today is that it runs at a flawless 24 frames per second. There’s no judder, no screen-tearing, just perfect performance. If Splinter Cell’s developers can be brave enough to aim for 24 rather than the standard 30 (forget 60) then it’ll no doubt hit the sweet spot when it comes to performance and visuals.
I’m kidding. Obviously. I just couldn’t resist to bring up the classic “30fps is more cinematic” argument from Ubisoft.
So, what do you reckon? Is this my one intelligent article for the year, or is that yet to come? Am I barking up the wrong trees, or are you there barking with me? Crash your computer down in the comments section below.