After literally years of patiently waiting, punctuated by the occasional elaborate troll, Splinter Cell fans have finally got the news they were waiting for—sort of. Ubisoft announced today that a new Splinter Cell in development, but it's actually a remake of the original.
The new game will be a full remake rather than a simple remastering in order to accommodate the “refined palate” of modern gamers. “What we're trying to do is make sure the spirit of the early games remains intact, in all of the ways that gave early Splinter Cell its identity,” producer Matt West said. “So, as we're building it from the ground up, we're going to update it visually, as well as some of the design elements to match player comfort and expectations, and we are going to keep it linear like the original games, not make it open world.”
Ubisoft also aims to “preserve the sense of mastery” players feel as they observe, plan, execute, and react when things go sideways—without making a big mess along the way. “Ideally, they end up coming out on the other side with no one having realized you were even there,” creative director Chris Auty said. “That’s the essence of Splinter Cell.”
That's encouraging. The original Splinter Cell is demanding and occasionally punishing, but that's a big part of what makes it such a fantastically good game: Sam Fisher is incredibly lethal, but what makes him (and the game) truly great is being a ghost, and that takes a little more effort than just popping everyone in the back of the head. But this doesn't mean Ubisoft won't make changes to the formula, possibly big ones.
“You’ve got to have a tagline, and one of the things that we're using currently as the tagline, from the very beginning, is the phrase 'respect the goggles. I love the goggles as a symbol for Sam. We are making a game that is going to be modern, but built on the foundation of the brand’s rich history. The game earned its stripes the right way, by being innovative and challenging, and a really different experience than what was in the marketplace at the time. 'Respect the goggles' helps to remind us of the fact that we have to do it justice,” West said.
“There's stuff that simply needs to be redone from scratch to be up to snuff for a modern gameplay experience. With that, though, what do we need to do to absolutely preserve the feeling of early Splinter Cell? We’re going to be straddling the line between the spirit of the old and the comfort of the new, so that we can excite and surprise new players but also make sure that when our returning players pick up the controller, they have that sigh of relief, saying, 'Ahhh, they got it.'”
“Respect the goggles” is not a sentiment that I've ever felt—in fact, I've always felt that those bright neon spectacles are awfully counter-productive for a guy who's trying to stay invisible. (I know, I know, they look cool.) I do get the point, though: Some elements of the original Splinter Cell certainly don't hold up well today, and Ubisoft must address that if this is going to be anything more than nostalgic indulgence.
Also good news for Splinter Cell fans, and those destined to join the club, is that this will not be a one-and-done: “With this remake, we are building a solid base for the future of Splinter Cell,” Auty said.
There's currently not even a hint of a launch target—in fact, the game has only just been greenlit, and Ubisoft Toronto is now hiring to help make it happen—but 2022 will mark the 20th anniversary of the original, which debuted on Xbox on November 17, 2002. (It took a few months longer to arrive on PC.) It's an oddly low-key way to announce this long-awaited new(ish) Splinter Cell, and as someone who fell away from the series after Chaos Theory I can't help feeling a certain gut-level nervousness that Ubisoft is going to get it wrong somehow. It's obviously way too early to make a judgment in that regard, and instinctive fear of change aside, I'm tremendously happy that it's finally happening. I will say this, though: Michael Ironside better be there.