Ubi Soft warmed fans up for the release of its highly anticipated Splinter Cell sequel by throwing an Xbox Live World Premiere showcase the evening of March 15 at the Universal City Walk Cinemas in Studio City, California.
Technically, gamers who were interested in attending were supposed to RSVP by e-mail to a Ubi Soft representative, but no guest list was enforced at the venue. Anyone could walk right up and take part. No need for Sam Fisher-like stealth tactics to get in!
People began to line up outside the venue more than an hour before the show began.
Doors opened at 6 P.M., and before the Xbox Live exhibition began at 7, guests could try their hand at Pandora Tomorrow's single-player levels at one of four demo stations on the cinemas' second floor. Though the Xboxes were connected to nice widescreen Sony plasma monitors, they didn't seem to be running in progressive scan. The game still looked great and played like a refined version of the first Splinter Cell.
The second floor lobby of the Universal 18 Cinemas was transformed into a Splinter Cell demo lounge.
Also on hand were Sony Ericsson representatives with prototypes of the new T637 model cell phone, coming out in June. Similar to Nokia's N-Gage, the phone will be capable of running game applications on a small video screen, including a pocket-sized version of Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow. And of course it's also the phone that hero Sam Fisher himself can be seen using in the console version of the game. Call it the "Splinter Cell Phone."
The stylish Sony Ericsson T637, shown with optional controller caddy. Look out, N-Gage!
Right before 7 P.M., attendees were lead back downstairs towards Theater 1 for the big show. Along the way, a life-size plastic statue of Sam Fisher was on display in the lobby. Maybe it could be considered the world's largest action figure, as the arms were fully opposable. Even the smallest details were accurate right down to the night-vision goggles, the Palm Pilot strapped to his wrist, and Sam's trademark five o'clock shadow.
You know, Sam Fisher doesn't look so tough in broad daylight.
Inside the theater, there was more than enough space to seat the approximately one-hundred-and-fifty attendees. The MC of the event was Power 106 FM radio personality Joe Grande, while his counterpart in New York was Mr. Cee of East Coast sister station, Hot 97 FM. The two venues were connected by a satellite link-up, and live footage of the crowd in the New York theater soon graced the movie screen (and was promptly greeted by a chorus of boos). Grande got the crowd pumped up for the contest by stoking the fires of the longstanding East Coast-West Coast rivalry ("L.A.'s taking New York DOWN, baby! The West Side is the BEST side!"), not that they really needed much stoking. Almost at once, teenagers in the crowd were shouting expletives at the mere sight of Mr. Cee or the New York audience onscreen.
MC Joe Grande of L.A.'s Power 106 FM got the crowd riled up for some Xbox Live.
The contest was set to be a best-of-five-rounds match-up pitting a team of two L.A. players against two New York players. A new team of two players was subbed in between rounds, and judging by their skill, most must have been Xbox Live beta testers who were flown in specially for the event. Some were introduced as being from as far away as "Northern Canada" or as far down south as Texas. Grande traded barbs with Mr. Cee about who'd win the competition, and if the bragging rights weren't enough, everyone in attendence on the winning side was also promised a nice parting gift as a prize. Nothing like free promotional schwag to get folks involved in the game! L.A. won the all-important pre-match coin toss, and had first choice of playing as either the spies or mercenaries. Spies it was!
The game mode used for the contest was the Neutralization scenario, taking place in the Warehouse map. Playing as a spy entails the familiar stealth style of gameplay found in the original Splinter Cell. Players take control of Sam Fisher clones and skulk their way through the shadows to glowing "ND133" icons (usually computer terminals), which they must trigger to "Decontaminate," thereby gaining access to the next sector of the level. Once they have neutralized all of the targets in the three sectors within a ten-minute time limit, the spies win and the game is over. It might sound simple, but it takes skill to find your way to each target quickly while making sure to stay hidden from view and avoiding enemy fire. This is not a deathmatch; the amount of kills itself is largely irrelevent. If the entire area isn't neutralized within the time limit, the spies lose regardless of how many mercenaries they choke.
A well-timed chokehold is a spy's best friend.
And staying out of sight as much as possible is more important than ever, because mercenaries can take a spy out very fast once they're spotted. All it takes is a brief spray of gunfire and it's respawn time. Spies do have a few tricks up their sleeves to even the odds, however: The flash bang item will temporarily blind your foes, allowing you to slip away into the darkness.
Trusty chaff grenades disrupt their electronic devices, making mercenary motion detector vision unusable. The tazer gun can stun enemies from long range, leaving them crackling with electricity for a few crucial seconds. And sticky cameras can be set in locations to watch for mercenaries and remotely triggered to emit a deadly gas when they get too close. ("Kind of like me after eating a burrito," quipped Grande.)
The spies' superior agility means that they can reach the targets first, and when all else fails they can boldly dart up behind a mercenary to pull a patented Sam Fisher neck snap - and even whisper sweet nothings in his ear over Xbox Live while they're doing it! This is the most risky but most rewarding tactic, as killing a mercenary takes them out of the game for the longest period of time before they respawn.
L.A. coasted to an easy win during the first round as the spies. Though the stealth agents were killed a few times, they made good use of the tazer and their agility to avoid even being seen by the mercenaries much. For a spy, death is only a temporary setback that means losing a little time, and there was still plenty left to neutralize all of the targets within the ten-minute limit. The crowd cheered like their football team had just scored a touchdown. But now the tables were turned, and next round two new players would have to defend the warehouse against New York, this time as mercenaries.
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