I admit I don’t know much about the Splinter Cell series of stealth combat games from Ubisoft and Tom Clancy. I know that it stars Sam Fisher as played by Michael Ironside and it’s about a man with 3 glowing eyes somehow being able to hide from people in the darkness and that the plots are the part of the troublingly large subgenre of modernized cold war emphasizing a blending of cold war paranoia and intrigue with the twin modern bogeymen of globalization and privatization. As such I don’t really know when Splinter Cell Echoes is meant to take place or how it ties into the over-all story of Sam, Sarah, and the other members of the Splinter Cell extended universe.
So yeah I’m going into this with no prior knowledge and not really liking the series, but hey this is Dynamite’s chance to get me onboard with Splinter Cell. I never thought much of Transformers but I really liked Age of Extinction (which people have come down a bit unfairly hard on by the way, yeah it’s flawed but the series is still going from D- work to B- quality, that’s impressive) so I’m willing to give Splinter Cell Echoes the benefit of the doubt.
The basic story of Splinter Cell Echoes revolves around the complex relationship between Sam and his daughter Sarah as Sam tries to settle into a state of retirement after the events of [fill in most recent game name here.] After so many secrets, lies, and double crosses Sam and Sarah’s relationship is strained at best. Though love still remains between the two you can tell it’s been severely chipped away and frayed especially on Sam’s side. This only exacerbates Sam’s own issues with trying to acclimate to civilian life, looking for greater control over the tiny day-to-day of his suburban existence. Part of this stems from his need to hold onto the illusion that he still holds agency over every measure of his world now that he’s slipped from holding the fate of the world in his hands to maintaining his lawn. Splinter Cell Echoes does a good job really letting us get into Sam’s state of mind, his insomnia and near omnipresent flashbacks to his time as a killer and spy, constantly leaving his daughter behind with no certainty of coming back, his mind a bubbling tonic of adrenaline fueled anticipation, and his deep seated anxiety over the possibility of leaving his little girl an orphan.
All of this is painted over in a great layer of growing existential terror as Sam can now only watch major world events unfold on the television which leaves him feeling older and more useless than ever before in his life. You really get the sense that Sam doesn’t have anything to live for beyond his daughter and that the same drive to stay alive for her that kept him alive in the battlefield is what’s driving him now, especially considering how empty the rest of his life is to the point where it barely qualifies as living. Oh, and before I forget, there’s also a conspiracy that goes through the American government revolving around blackmailed senators, secretly funded terrorist groups, and Frank’s old paramilitary company – I’m not as much of a fan of those segments.
Call me conflicted on this one but personally I find the character introspection to be the more interesting portion of Splinter Cell Echoes. I freely admit I basically knew Sam was going to get called back into action and caught up into some kind of conspiracy, partly because the book opens with a flash forward but also because semi-older dads fighting conspiracies is big now (hence why someone thought we needed more 24.)
The conspiracy stuff is decent if surprisingly empty. There’s kind of a decent idea here with some Margaret Thatcher/Lena Headey type woman secretly training and bankrolling a bunch of Z-list terrorist groups to turn them into usable global threats which is somehow linked to all this blackmail material for the purposes of controlling various senators and government officials, but it’s all too toothless and empty. Madam Evil has the stink of generic antagonist about her that suggest a plan to either take over America or profit from the war on terrorism which would put her on the same level of guile and depth as Clayton from the animated Tarzan movie. The thing that strikes me is that there could be a decent use for the blackmail and bankrolling if they were more subtle and the focus was on a conspiracy that truly was deeply hidden, a vast intertwining web of intrigue that could shatter countries and economies simply by tugging on the right tiny string.
It’s also worth noting that Sam Fischer’s character and arc basically just dries up as soon as he enters into the conspiracy plot line, which is a shame honestly. If the focus was on Sam still feeling older and useless and eventually forced into a situation that did make him feel alive again but required great sacrifice that’d be kind of interesting, it’d also be the plot of Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan but hey The Lion King is basically Hamlet and no one complained there so I don’t see the problem.
All speculation and more interesting ideas aside is Splinter Cell Echoes good? Short answer: kind of. It’s not terrible, there is the semblance of character arc and story albeit a very diet version of both, the conspiracy is generally workable stuff on the level of other Tom Clancy works, and if you’re just going into this looking for some decent Splinter Cell material to pass the time you won’t be disappointed. But if you’re looking for something with a greater degree of originality or creativity or depth you aren’t going to find it here. I know those things are generally allowed to be sacrificed when it comes to the games because they’re still fun to play and the point is to immerse you in the universe of a trashy paperback spy novel you bought at the airport to read on your long plane ride, but with the actual gameplay element taken out there is a serious missing piece to Splinter Cell Echoes. Pick it up if you’re not looking for much.