In memory of novelist Tom Clancy passing away, I felt it was the perfect time to look over my favorite game series of his; Splinter Cell. The slow, methodical gameplay may have been a barrier to many, but once you master the skills and learn some patience, the satisfaction of completing a level is hard to top. Due to the subdued nature of the games, it made the more dramatic moments stand out all the more and resonated with the player. While Conviction and Blacklist may be great games in their own right, I don’t consider them Splinter Cell games; for me the series jumped the shark when it decided to make Sam Fisher into a vicious beater, give him an auto kill ability and have a bad guy whose master plan was to invade the White House. Therefore this list will only consist of the best moments of the first 4 games, which were riddled with tension, skill, the occasional bit of humour and of course, plenty of Michael Ironside.

Here are my Top 10 Splinter Cell moments.

10.) Splinter Cell: Sneaking into the CIA

Let’s start at the beginning with the first game in the series, the game that has left its mark on gaming and is still present to this day. Things seem simple enough in Sam Fisher’s first mission with the agency; he goes off to investigate the killing of the Georgian president, when suddenly Fisher’s team find information that could only be accessed by high-ranking members of the CIA. Not able to “simply ask”, Sam must sneak into the agency and find the necessary information with no fatalities what-so-ever.

He is even told by his handler, Lambert, that he’s “lost existence privileges” until the mission is over. So no pressure then.

9.) Pandora Tomorrow: Lightning grab

I’ve been banging the drum of how much I prefer the slower Splinter Cell more than the action packed gun fests that they’ve become, but that doesn’t mean the older Sam Fisher isn’t a bit of a badass, quite the opposite actually.

In Pandora Tomorrow, Fisher is sent to Indonesia to capture Sadono, a known terrorist. There’s one problem though, there’s thunder and lightning. For someone who likes to hide in the dark, that’s an issue. Though why should you pass up the opportunity to look like a total badass? Grabbing enemies just as the lights flash makes you look like some kind of monster from the black lagoon, though everyone who has played this game would be lying if they said they didn’t try it at least once.

I can only apologise for the person playing in the video though, it seems they don’t like being cool. Though at least now you know the level to go to when you need a bit more “cool” in your life.

Skip to 2:27.

8.) Chaos Theory: Shooting Shetland

Despite his gruff appearance and ‘no bullshit’ attitude, Fisher does have some friends, like Shetland from Pandora Tomorrow, whom he saves and goes on to team up with.

However, in Chaos Theory, Shetland goes rouge, forcing Third Echelon to send Fisher after him. Shetland tries to convince Fisher to the dark side, but it’s all for nothing as Fisher finally catches up with him and they have a nice little chat.

Splinter Cell has some fantastic moments in which the player is asked to make some decisions (which we’ll be returning to on this list), and shooting Shetland is no exception. You actually have the choice to holster your weapon, after which this happens.

This is why I love Sam Fisher as a character; he often appears angry but as his voice actor Michael Ironside puts it, he uses anger to hide fear. In this scene he seems like a tragically lonely character, no matter what he does, the job comes first.

7.) Double Agent: Sneaking about JBA HQ

That’s right, I’m including Double Agent on this list. Many consider this game to be a blip in the Splinter Cell series though I completely disagree. Double Agent has some of the most tense moments and memorable characters in the whole series.

The Lion’s share of the tension comes when you are sneaking about the John Brown’s Army Head Quarters, the terrorist sect which you have infiltrated. While asked to do menial tasks, you have the option to sneak about restricted areas and accomplish objectives.

Skip to 1:01 to get past the loading screen.

The tension of having your “colleagues” catch you is palpable. The fact that being caught simply results in being told to leave the area makes this less impactful as you could simply save/load whenever you want. Still sneaking about the JBA is still perhaps the most memorable moment in the whole series.

6.) Chaos Theory: Chatting it up with Sam in Multiplayer

The Multiplayer in Splinter Cell is very unique. Go in with a run and gun mind-set and you’ll get bored quick. Take your time and work together however and it’s greatly rewarding.

The co-op in Chaos Theory felt totally separate to the main storyline. Sure Lambert was there as your handler, which was a nice touch, but these missions simply felt like objective based missions with no overbearing narrative.

What a pleasant surprise it was then when searching for a target, you get a call from someone who could “extract” the information. This moment also shows up in the single-player portion of the game and I simply thought nothing of it, though this pay off was fantastic.

Skip to 2:55.

5.) Chaos Theory: The body in the bathtub

A subtle moment here, but one that shows Fisher to be a human being, not the pistol pumping action hero he goes on to become.

During the first mission in Chaos Theory, you come across a body that’s been tortured in a bath tub. After informing Lambert, you then have the option to provide some mild form of comfort and respect to the corpse.

Skip to 9:30.

The switch from ‘jokey’ to ‘concerned’ may be a little jarring, but for a character to whom death is a regular occurrence, I reckon it makes sense. There is another option that would provoke a response from Lambert; if you were to take out your gun and shoot the corpse, Fisher would retort with “Just making sure he’s dead”.

4.) Pandora Tomorrow: Hiding in the light

Fisher may look awesome in the lightning, but he’d much rather stick to the shadows. That preference is thrown to the side however, during the first mission in Pandora Tomorrow. Sam comes across a courtyard with automated spotlights and a cocky guard who looks over the yard with night-vision goggles. No way past right?

Lambert chimes in stating that with his goggles on, the guard can’t see in the light. Therefore Sam has to stay in the spotlight to avoid detection. You can’t outfox Fisher, even with his own tools.

Skip to 8:10

3.) Pandora Tomorrow: Shooting Tal

Speaking of choices, this one really hits you in the gut. Whilst sneaking about Jerusalem, you acquire the aid of a woman named Tal who provides you with information regarding enemy hideouts. Upon reaching your destination however, things take a turn.

Skip to 21:28.

Lambert chimes in, giving you immediate orders to murder Tal; “Don’t think, just do it!”. Killing her results in an angry Fisher demanding answers from Lambert.

Skip to 0:24.

Not killing her however, means that you have a whole host of Snipers waiting for you upon leaving the hideout. The decisions in Splinter Cell may not affect the story, but they do make an impact on the gameplay. You could argue that leaves more of an impression.

2.) Double Agent: Killing Moss and Emile

For the entire run of Double Agent, you’re forced to do some pretty gruesome things so you can impress your new boss, Emile. When the finale comes however, it’s time to stop taking orders and finally kick their asses. Defusing the bombs are important sure, but you have a personal score to settle.

First off, the big cheese himself, Emile. It’s pretty hard to get near him due to all of his guards, but with enough perseverance, it is possible, just be ready for a little shock when you try to grab him.

Skip to 8:55.

It’s all over very quickly, but imagine (or remember) doing this for the first time. This is the main bad guy, when he breaks free from your grasp you don’t know what’s going to happen. You’re hit with shock, not sure what to do, but then Sam takes care of the situation with his mad judo skills.

End of the game right? Not quite. If you’ve been a good boy and kept the goodies happy throughout the game, there is still one more level to complete. You sneak aboard a boat where second in command Moss still has a bomb. You sneak up behind the beast to grab him and…

Skip to 25:48.

Again! Though much more tense. When Moss makes Sam drop his knife, I swore I was doing something wrong. Yet once again, Sam saves the day. A kick to the groin may seem a bit much, but desperate times call for desperate measures. Seeing something other than the same grab animation is reason enough to get worked up, but this was really something special.

One final note. It is actually possible to grab Emile and interrogate him without having him slip from your grasp. Hide around a corner or behind a door and grab him when the indicator comes up. This will make Sam punch him first before grabbing him, allowing FIsher to get a good firm grip on him making it impossible to escape. The more you know.

1.) Splinter Cell: Hands up!

What could possibly top the knee to the groin or the heart wrenching decision to shoot an unarmed woman? For the answer to that question, we have to go back to the beginning, or more precisely the end of the beginning.

Towards the finale of Splinter Cell, you find Kombayn Nikoladze, the former president of Georgia, and force him to use a retinal scanner. Before you can finish, Georgian guards enter the room and hold you both hostage. Nikoladze is able to make a deal, the ‘arc’ for his life, but Sam has no such power to play with. Just as he is being asked questions and things look their grimmest, Lambert chimes in.

Skip to 0:50.

This moment is almost a perfect representation of the whole series (well the first 4 games anyway); subtle, subdued but with badass moments you have to create yourself. The tension is also palpable. First time I played this I honestly didn’t know what to do. I swiveled the camera, desperate for something to work with. Then when Lambert chimes in, it’s hard not to have a knowing smile as you wait for the lights to go off. Awesome stuff!

There are plenty of moments I haven’t mentioned. Like escaping the Presidential Palace, the Airport ending of Pandora Tomorrow and Sam’s daughter dying in Double Agent, but that just shows what a great game series Splinter Cell is. Feel free to mention your favorite moments below.

Just to be clear, I have nothing against the other Tom Clancy franchises, in-fact GRAW 2 is one of my favorite 360 games, I enjoyed Rainbow 6: Vegas more than Gears of War and I think HAWX is one of the most underrated games of this generation. It’s just that I simply haven’t played enough of the other Tom Clancy games to warrant a list, as it would still mostly consist of Splinter Cell moments.

What I’m trying to say is that Tom Clancy games are brilliant. They treated players with respect and told their stories with intelligence. When directors or writers get involved with games, it is usually met with groans or cynicism, but Tom Clancy brought a unique edge to games that is seldom seen. He may not have been a ‘creator’ of games, but he insisted on a degree of realism that lent his games their personality. He will be missed.

Tom Clancy

April 12, 1947– October 1, 2013