Double Agent's opening level reminds you how easy you had it in previous Splinter Cell games. Assigned a routine infiltration task in Iceland alongside a rookie agent (whose brashness is, inevitably, his swift undoing), the ice-coated tundra might be the polar (ho ho) opposite to Chaos Theory's sun-soaked vistas, but it plays incredibly similarly. However, though you're dressed up to the nines, trifocaled up with full NSA assistance, there remain hints that Ubisoft won't be so accommodating this time. For starters, this isn't a title you can play with an iPod plugged into your brain; your HUD has flown the coop, meaning that you're now entirely dependent on your senses to determine how visible (or noisy) you are. Luckily, the opening level takes place in a chugging factory in the kind of perma-darkness you'd expect from an environment so hostile that it's only home to one native mammal, making this an excellent place to learn the ropes.
You know what happens next: return home, daughter dead, depression, accept an undercover mission, go to jail, break out with fugitive. But despite this part of the story playing a crucial part in Ubisoft's promotional campaign, it's what happens after these events that completely turns the series on its head. Once you're initiated into the criminal John Brown's Army, the Trust Level bars come into play. Essentially, you've got to strike a balance between keeping your cover and assuaging the NSA's fears that you're getting a little too 'into' your role. To begin with, the stakes aren't particularly high: you've got to locate and crack a safe to convince JBA that you're on the level, but it's also imperative that you bug a nearby antennae to appease the Third Echelon. It doesn't take long for the stakes to rise dramatically though; by the time you reach the later levels, you'll have to trade off human sacrifices for the greater good; multi-tasking and trying to appease two different factions with contradictory actions adds a welcome layer of stress to a series that was in danger of becoming all a bit ho-hum. It's not really the massive directional shift that Ubisoft have claimed - but stripping Sam of his gadgets and hurling him out into broad daylight has given the series a shot in the arm.
The multi-threaded story, where you control which of the antagonists lives or dies, and carrying your Trust levels over from mission to mission, should reveal how much difference your decisions really make. Our guess? It'll be Splinter Cell More not Splinter Cell Revolution.