Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell was first pitched as a science fiction James Bond-style spy game with inspiration taken from the Metal Gear Solid franchise. This changed, however, with Ubisoft’s acquisition of the Tom Clancy name and what was originally a sci-fi stealth game called Drift became Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell - a more grounded stealth game set in the real world.
The series was a huge success with six mainline titles and a PSP spin-off. Unfortunately, the last entry Splinter Cell: Blacklist underperformed in terms of sales on the Xbox 360 and the series was shelved without any sign of a new entry since 2013. It is possible that Ubisoft is waiting to tie-in a new entry with the planned movie adaption but there has been no confirmation from the studio.
However, with Sam Fisher’s reappearance in Ghost Recon: Wildlands there has been renewed interest in the series and with that in mind, The Gamer has put together a list of the Splinter Cell games from the worst to the best.
7 Splinter Cell: Essentials
Splinter Cell: Essentials was released on the PSP in 2006. Chronologically, the game takes place after Splinter Cell: Double Agent but the missions are flashbacks providing some back story for Sam Fisher.
The flashback missions were interesting and Splinter Cell: Essentials would have benefited from a remaster on a more capable console. Unfortunately, there’s no getting away from the fact that the PSP was too underpowered and the lack of a second analog stick ruined Fisher’s trademark flexibility and freedom of movement.
6 Splinter Cell: Conviction
Splinter Cell: Conviction was released in 2010 after a troubled development cycle. It was a total departure from the series hardcore approach to stealth by opting for more action shooter mechanics. The game took some inspiration from the Bourne Identity movie series by having Sam operate as a lone-wolf on a revenge mission investigating the suspicious circumstances surrounding his daughter's death.
The game did, however, introduce the mark and execute mechanic which would later find its way on to Splinter Cell: Blacklist’s easier difficulty levels. In addition, the Bourne Identity-Esque environmental attacks were fun to pull off. Despite being a solid action title the stripped-down stealth mechanics divided long-time fans.
5 Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow
Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow was released in 2004 and was the first sequel in the series. There were a few minor improvements to the game’s mechanics such as laser sights and quality-of-life inventory changes. The voice acting was incredible and fans of the series 24 - an obvious influence on the series - will recognize Dennis Haysbert as Irving Lambert.
In addition, the already impressive graphical effects like shadows and lighting effects also received an upgrade. It did, however, feel more linear than its predecessor and many of the missions lacked diversity in their approach.
4 Splinter Cell
The first entry in the Splinter Cell series was released in 2002. The developers cited Metal Gear Solid and Thief as major influences in the game’s development. The game was a more grounded and pure stealth experience than the Metal Gear Solid franchise it also boasted some of the best visuals on the original Xbox.
Fisher’s movement and the ability to use the environment to his advantage by hanging from pipes for stealth takedowns. Additionally, Sam Fisher's displays of athleticism like the Jean-Claude Van Damme-style splits jump between two walls gave the player a sense of empowerment not seen in the Metal Gear series.
3 Splinter Cell: Double Agent
Splinter Cell: Double Agent was released in 2006. It featured multiple endings depending on Sam Fisher’s success rate and standing with the NSA while he’s undercover. The branching objectives have an impact on the story and the player is faced with several moral dilemmas in Fisher’s shoes.
There are actually two versions of Double Agent. The Xbox 360 version was developed by Ubisoft Shanghai and the original Xbox version was developed by Ubisoft Montreal. Fans are divided on which version is the best but both are worth playing for their differences in the story.
2 Splinter Cell: Blacklist
Splinter Cell: Blacklist was released in 2013 on the Xbox 360. The game divided fans because Ubisoft replaced the voice of Sam Fisher's Michael Ironside with a younger actor Eric Johnson. Despite this, Johnson did an admirable job with both the voice and the motion capture and mechanically, Blacklist is the most polished game in the series.
Fans of the series could choose to play the game in its highest difficulty for a more pure Splinter Cell experience and the open-ended levels allowed freedom of choice when approaching missions. Furthermore, the game still holds up visually thanks to Xbox One X enhancement.
1 Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory
In terms of mechanics, visuals and the open-ended nature of the games levels Blacklist takes the lead but when it comes down to its narrative, Chaos Theory takes the lead. The plot was full of twists and surprises and blended elements of 24 when it was at its peak and James Bond.
The game introduced many of its iconic gameplay mechanics like the ability to choke or break the necks of his enemies when hanging upside down. Additionally, Sam can pull enemies over ledges, use a knife in close-quarters combat and damage generators in stealth.