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Wednesday, 4 December, 2002, 14:18 GMT
Xbox wheels out big guns
Splinter Cell
Splinter Cell boasts photo-realistic graphics

Video games Splinter Cell and Unreal Championship will lead the charge for Microsoft's Xbox this Christmas as the heavily-backed machine hopes to catch up with rivals Sony and Nintendo.

Splinter Cell

After months of hype the reality of one of the most anticipated games of 2002 hits home.

You play Sam Fisher, a field agent who is sent to far-flung corners of the world to gather intelligence and keep the US one step ahead of international terrorists.

The most impressive, and talked about, aspect of the game is the visuals - it boasts the most spectacular lighting and shadow effects on any game and at times the beauty of the setting is photo-realistic.

Such graphical treats are fundamental to the game - Sam Fisher has to remain unseen by enemies throughout most of the game and has to make judicious use of the darker elements of locations.

Switching on your night vision goggles and thermal cameras bring a tremendous amount of realism and hence immersion to the title.

There is a great array of gadgets to be used - from sticky cameras to optical cables - and you also have great control over the main character.

The downside to the game is that it is frustratingly linear and the high level of difficulty means you will find yourself repeating some sections time and time again.

It is not quite the revolutionary stealth title people had been hoping for but it remains a high quality title and one of the few outstanding games the Xbox can boast it has and rivals Sony and Nintendo currently do not.

Unreal Championship

Unhook your intellect, and plug your controller into that socket in the back of your head because this game requires little thought but demands frenetic action using heightened senses.

Billed as a futuristic sport the game is really no more complicated than picking up powerful weapons and shooting opponents.

To some it's mindless, and they would have a point, but enacted violence has always played a part in entertainment, whether in film or games.

Based on the PC classic Unreal Tournament 2003 the Xbox version boasts similarly high levels of graphic detail, action and virtual violence.

As a single player game it is an empty experience - but the game opens up when you play against others.

The game offers up to 16-player bouts when hooking up four Xboxes together and a similar number if you player via Microsoft's online Xbox Live service, currently trialling in Europe.

There are reports of slowdown problems with online play in games with large numbers of players, however.

But the service doesn't launch officially in Europe until March next year so there is plenty of time to fix slowdown.

Until then, find as many like-minded friends as you can, hook up and fire away.

Both games are out now for Xbox.

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