Splinter Cell goes free until the end of the month as devs reveal 'early concept art' from the remake

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The original Splinter Cell launched on November 17, 2002—20 years ago today. To mark the big birthday, Ubisoft is giving away the groundbreaking stealth action game for free right here on the Ubisoft Store (opens in new tab), and also shared an update on the state of the remake, which—sorry to say—is still very early in development.

Ubisoft announced the Splinter Cell in December 2021, and then clarified in September of this year that it won't be a straight do-over, but will instead blend "the spirit of the old and the comfort of the new," a process that will include "rewriting and updating the story for a modern-day audience (opens in new tab)."

That's the sort of statement that can set old-time fans on edge, but today's presentation strongly suggests that the development team "gets" what made Splinter Cell work, across level design, characterization, and even the irresistible urge some players feel to get every mission perfect.

"If we're talking about perfectionism in the game, it's something that's really important," creative director Chris Auty said. "We even would like for the remake to take that a step further. We would like to make sure that the entire game is playable from beginning to end without a single kill, if at all possible. So that's something that's important for us as well."

It sounds like Ubisoft is going to make the non-lethal path a little easier to follow in the remake than it was in the original, too. Senior game designer Andy Schmoll described the alarm state system in the 2002 Splinter Cell as "a bit harsh," and said the team wants to ease up on that a little bit in the remake.

"We want to give the player a few more opportunities to de-escalate some of those situations, right?" Schmoll said. "Obviously stealth is an extremely important pillar for us, and we aim to incorporate modern design philosophies, improving the minute-to-minute stealth gameplay that was so special in the original."

Unfortunately, while the panel also takes some time to talk about Sam Fisher, noting that the character is a consummate professional with a sharp sense of humor and respect for his adversaries, there's no word about whether Michael Ironside will return to voice the character. It's obviously vital that he does, but for now, Ubisoft isn't saying one way or the other. (And yes, I asked. A rep politely but firmly declined to comment.)

It'll likely be a while yet before we find out about Ironside's return, or anything else, for that matter. Auty said the team will be "going dark" so it can focus on developing the game. 

"We're very early in production," Auty said. "We're still prototyping. We don't want to rush anything. We want to make sure that we absolutely nail the game, we actually do everything in the right way, and produce an absolutely stellar quality experience."

So Splinter Cell is turning out to be more complicated than perhaps some fans expected. There's still plenty of time ahead for things to be made clear, though, and in the meantime you can get yourself in the Sam Fisher state of mind for free on the Ubisoft Store, where the original Splinter Cell is free for keeps (opens in new tab) until November 30. The game runs perfectly well out of the metaphorical box, but its age shows: The maximum supported resolution is 1600x1200, which was pretty hot bananas at the turn of the millennium but kind of a headache now. Fortunately, there are ways to improve that situation. ThirteenAG's widescreen fix mod (opens in new tab) reportedly works quite well, and if you want to go deeper there's a good thread on ModDB (opens in new tab) explaining other ways to give Splinter Cell a much-needed visual refresh.

Oh, and you were promised some early concept art—you can get a look at that down below.

(Image credit: Ubisoft)

(Image credit: Ubisoft)

(Image credit: Ubisoft)

(Image credit: Ubisoft)

(Image credit: Ubisoft)

Andy has been gaming on PCs from the very beginning, starting as a youngster with text adventures and primitive action games on a cassette-based TRS80. From there he graduated to the glory days of Sierra Online adventures and Microprose sims, ran a local BBS, learned how to build PCs, and developed a longstanding love of RPGs, immersive sims, and shooters. He began writing videogame news in 2007 for The Escapist and somehow managed to avoid getting fired until 2014, when he joined the storied ranks of PC Gamer. He covers all aspects of the industry, from new game announcements and patch notes to legal disputes, Twitch beefs, esports, and Henry Cavill. Lots of Henry Cavill.