Handheld titles always get shortchanged when it comes to producing a version for them. That isn’t so when we talk about Splinter Cell Pandora Tomorrow for the Game Boy Advance; a title that maintains the storytelling of the original. Pandora Tomorrow is a plausible mix of fiction and faction trademark of the Tom Clancy novels (although Tom Clancy is not involved in any of these games besides lending his namesake). The missions take place in the same backdrop – Southeast Asia, Europe and the Middle East. Through these locales you, as NSA agent Sam Fisher, unravel a worldwide bio-terror conspiracy.
This game is without videos so the story is told mostly through text and subtitled dialogue between Fisher and the main characters. This isn’t so much a great loss as I felt the game’s original videos (on console and PC) were hardly lucid pieces of expository. They all looked slick and cool but in the end, they really didn’t tell the story in a convincing manner so their disappearance is no loss to the Game Boy Advance version. With that said, the story just doesn’t sound as convincing when there isn’t voice talent to back them up.
If you boil the Splinter Cell formula down to its very basics, it is really a series of puzzles that challenges you to use lethal force (through weapons), spy gadgets and the natural athletic ability of Fisher either singly or in tandem. The great thing about the console title is how it never seems like the designers are fencing you into a particular strategy. You can combine a bullet to a light bulb and a whistle to club an unsuspecting guard. Of course, certain solutions are more apparent than others but the main goal is to give you the illusion that you are in a freeform environment. You have the freedom to do whatever you want. You can throw things, whistle, shoot out lights, and disable cameras and such to get to your objectives. In the Game Boy Advance version, the variety of choice is fewer and because they are fewer, the illusion is not as deceptive. The game can become repetitious. Wait for a guard to pass. Wait for the camera to look the other way. The spy thriller façade gives way to the puzzle formula underneath; a side-scrolling version of Commandos.
Stealth in Splinter Cell has always been conjured using two components: visual and auditory. The lack of any challenge vis-à-vis sound means this game is more simplified. But it has also meant the game is more boring. When lying in wait for a guard patrol, the fear of a misstep causing a stir creates tension and anxiety. In the Game Boy Advance version, there is no such fear and the tension that marked the sweaty palms of the first game is not to be found here. To make up for this deficiency, the game can be nauseatingly difficult for those who lack patience.
One of the notable additions to the Splinter Cell franchise was a multiplayer component. Handheld Fisher fans will not be able to don the shoes of the spy versus mercenary duel that is making headlines amongst critics and the popular crowd alike. It is a disappointment that Pandora Tomorrow is shortchanged here.
Pandora Tomorrow is a slight improvement over the original Splinter Cell. If it weren’t for the bio-terror storyline, you might mistake this product for an expansion pack to the original Game Boy Advance title. This title is not as groundbreaking as it is to other platforms simply because the audio-visuals haven’t taken a jump on Nintendo’s handheld. One thing that I always appreciate about this Ubi Soft franchise is their functional use of visual improvements. They actually add to the gameplay rather than simply make the game look prettier. More graphical improvements mean more shadows to hide under, more ways to evade detection and distract people. Lacking these qualities, the handheld version of Pandora Tomorrow is less intense and not as spectacular as its brethren.