The game is a 2002 French-Canadian game endorsed by Tom Clancy.
The primary focus and hallmark of Splinter Cell gameplay is stealth, with heavy emphasis on light and darkness. The player is encouraged to move through the shadows for concealment whenever possible. The game displays a "light meter" that reflects how visible the player character is to enemies, and night vision and thermal vision goggles to help the player navigate in darkness.
Splinter Cell heavily encourages the use of stealth over brute force. Although Fisher is usually equipped with firearms, he carries limited ammunition and is not frequently provided with access to additional ammo. The player begins most missions with a limited supply ofless-than-lethal weapons in addition to Fisher's firearms, a suppressed FN Five-Sevensidearm, as well as a suppressed FN F2000 assault rifle mid-way through the game, which includes a telescopic sight and a launcher for some of the less-lethal devices such as ring airfoil projectiles, "sticky shockers", and CS gas grenades.
Flexibility of movement is a focuspoint of Splinter Cell. Fisher can sneak up on enemies from behind to grab them; allowing interrogation, quiet incapacitation, or use as a human shield. Fisher is acrobatic and physically adept, and has a variety of maneuvers including the ability to mantle onto and climb along ledges, hang from pipes, and perform a "split jump" in narrow spaces to mantle up a steep wall.
- Samuel "Sam" Fisher - The game's protagonist. He is a seasoned veteran of Covert Ops and Black Ops who is the first person recruited as a secret field operative known as a "Splinter Cell" for the NSA's super-secret sub-agency, Third Echelon.
- Irving Lambert - A former U.S. Army Colonel, Lambert is the operations coordinator at Third Echelon, and is the link between agents, like Fisher, and a remote team of specialists monitoring them. As Fisher's boss, Lambert contacts the player with new information, objectives, and instructions periodically throughout a mission.
- Vernon "Junior" Wilkes, Jr. - Coordinates the transportation and equipment for field agents. He drops the player off at the start of a mission and picks him up at the end. He is shot and killed by a Russian mafioso in the "Kalinatek" level in the Microsoft Windows and Xbox version of the game, however, in the PlayStation 2 version, Wilkes is killed in the Russian Nuclear Power Plant level.
- Anna "Grim" Grímsdóttir - The computer and security expert at Third Echelon. She, like Lambert, will contact the player throughout a mission - usually in accordance with Lambert.
- Kombayn Nikoladze - The main antagonist of the story. He is the President of Georgia who wants to bring down America with his power and resources. He launches a technological war on the U.S. before going underground for fear of capture. A terrorist leader. He is killed by Fisher in the "Presidential Palace" level.
- Vyacheslav Grinko - A former Soviet Spetsnaz soldier, he is Nikoladze's terrorist military commander - usually working with mercenaries. He is killed by Fisher in the "Abattoir" level.
- Phillip Masse - A Canadian hacker, he is the technology behind Nikoladze's terrorism. He is killed by Fisher in the "Kola Peninsula" level.
- Kong Feirong - A rogue Chinese general, Feirong is an ambitious Chinese PLA officer whose alliance with Nikoladze nearly ignites World War III. He commits suicide in the second "Chinese Embassy" level after Nikoladze deserts him.
vIn April 2004, the President of Georgia is assassinated in a suicide car bomb attack in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi, thus allowing Georgian multi-billionaire Kombayn Nikoladze to seize power over the country in a bloodlessthe following month. While in power, Nikoladze promotes technological advances in information industries with the support of some countries in Europe, such as the Netherlands, as well as the United States, improving diplomatic relations.[N 1]
Several months later, in August 2004, Sam Fisher, a former U.S. Navy SEAL officer and Persian Gulf War veteran, is called back to duty by theNational Security Agency (NSA) to work within one of its newly formed divisions, the highly-secretive "Third Echelon". Fisher heads to "The Farm" in Camp Peary, Virginia, to undergo orientation and training. There, Fisher meets Irving Lambert, his friend and the head of Third Echelon, Anna "Grim" Grimsdóttír, Third Echelon's lead technical expert, and Vernon "Junior" Wilkes, who will be assisting Fisher in his duties out in the field, and is looking forward to working with him.</p>
Two months later, in October 2004, Fisher is dispatched to Tbilisi for his first assignment as a Splinter Cell. His mission is to investigate the mysterious disappearance of two CIA intelligence officers: Alice Madison, who secured a role in Nikoladze's political cabinet, and Robert Blaustein, who went to find out what happened to Madison. Fisher goes to meet with NSA informant Thomas Gurgenidze, who he finds in a warehouse engulfed in flames. Before dying, the mortally-wounded Gurgenidze states that according to Madison's last transmission, the duo had discovered "something big", and she had said that gaining proof could lead to a war. Finding the bodies of Madison and Blaustein in a morgue at a local police station, Fisher then learns that both Madison and Blaustein have been dead for more than a day and that Vyacheslav Grinko, a former Spetsnaz soldier-turned mercenary, removed their subdermal tracking implants. Using his license plate number, which was obtained from the police station's CCTV footage, Third Echelon tracks him to the Georgian Ministry of Defense headquarters.</p>
Fisher arrives at the Defense Ministry to find that Grinko is there to meet a Canadian computer hacker named Phillip Masse. Listening in with a laser mic, Fisher learns that Nikoladze is conducting a large-scale, top-secret operation in neighboring Azerbaijan. To obtain more information, Fisher infiltrates Nikoladze's personal office and has Grimsdóttír hack into the computer via satellite, only to have the Ministry's security detect the hack and cut Grimsdóttír's access, sending the building into high alert. She manages, however, to retrieve the rest of the data, revealing to the NSA that Nikoladze has secretly been waging an ethnic cleansing campaign of genocide across Azerbaijan, using cells of Georgian commandos, hidden from Azerbaijani and international authorities. Fisher is extracted by Wilkes, via van.
With the information gathered from the Georgian Defense Ministry, NATO forces enter Azerbaijan, prompting Nikoladze to go underground. The NSA notices that a group of Georgian soldiers that have been stationed on an oil rig in the Caspian Sea have been exchanging data with the Georgian Presidential Palace, suggesting it to be of some importance. Thus, Fisher is sent to retrieve the data.</p>
Fisher infiltrates the oil rig, only to find that NATO is sending in American F-15 fighter jets to bomb the facility. The team then learns that a computer technician, Piotr Lejava, is trying to prevent data in the rig's computers from falling into NATO hands, which can only be accessed via the technician's encryption key. Fisher then trails Lejava around the oil rig until he finally catches him and obtains his laptop along with his encryption key. An interrogation of Lejava reveals that the data concerns something called "The Ark", but he does not know exactly what it is.
Once extracted from the oil rig, Grimsdóttír examines Lejava's laptop. She is shocked to discover that the level of information stored on the laptop could have only been gained by a mole working inside the CIA. At that moment, the transport plane they are in suddenly performs evasive maneuvers. The pilot apologizes for the faulty collision warning, but an incoming call from Lambert reveals that North America has just been hit by a massive cyber warfare attack, directed primarily against military targets. In a broadcast, Nikoladze claims responsibility for the attack and officially declares war on the United States and its allies.
As the United States struggles to cope with the aftermath of the attack, Fisher infiltrates the CIA headquarters, and accesses the CIA computer mainframe, allowing Grimsdóttír to trace the location of the data leak to the personal computer of a man named Mitchell Dougherty, and Fisher is ordered to bring him in for interrogation. Dougherty claims to have no knowledge of a data leak, but the NSA learns that his obsessive–compulsive disorder caused him to haul all his data onto an insecure laptop, which was taken advantage of by the nearby network housed in the corporate offices of Kalinatek, Inc. Knowing that their operation has been compromised by Grimsdóttír's trace, hired Russian mafiosos head to the Kalinatek offices in Langley, Virginia, and attempt to destroy any evidence that could lead to Nikoladze, including killing the computer technicians there. The NSA intercepts a 911 call made from a technician named Ivan who states that his life is in danger, and he will help the U.S. government in exchange for his being rescued. Lambert then tells Fisher that the FBI will rescue Ivan and that all he needs is Ivan's encryption key. Fisher locates Ivan, hiding in a bathroom stall, and he hands over his encryption key. Fisher escapes from the Kalinatek building, but in the process Wilkes is mortally wounded and later dies. FBI agents eventually arrive in force to take over the scene and rescue Ivan. Using the encryption key, the NSA discovers that Nikoladze has been using a network of unconventional relays to communicate with Georgian military cells. The NSA traces the full relay network to the Chinese Embassy in Yangon, Myanmar, raising questions over possible Chinese support for the Georgians, which could potentially lead to World War III. Fisher sneaks onto the embassy grounds, and is able to eavesdrop on a conversation between Nikoladze and General Kong Feirong, a prominent member of the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA). The conversation reveals that the two are working together. The NSA learns that the two have brought captured U.S. Army soldiers, as well as several high-ranking Chinese officials, to a local slaughterhouse for execution, planning to broadcast the execution to the world via webcast. Fisher delays his objective of interrogating Feirong so that he can save the hostages, which he successfully accomplishes. At the slaughterhouse, Fisher meets with a Chinese informant who is among the hostages and quickly learns that Feirong is in command of a renegade faction of the PLA and does not represent the Chinese government in his actions, stabilizing American and Chinese relations and avoiding war for the time being. Fisher's presence is detected, and in a firefight, Fisher kills Grinko. Returning to the embassy, Fisher manages to grab a drunken Feirong before he can commit suicide, and forces him to share the information stored on his computer, which reveals that Nikoladze has fled back to Georgia, where he is trying to activate a WMD known as "The Ark". Fisher is flown to Georgia and heads to the Georgian Presidential Palace, to prevent Nikoladze and the new temporary defacto CIA-installed Georgian president, Varlam Cristavi, from accessing the key to the Ark which is revealed to be a nuclear bomb hidden somewhere in the United States. However, Cristavi's men arrive and hold both Nikoladze and Fisher at gunpoint. Nikoladze reveals that the Ark is already armed and located at its intended target. He bargains to give the Ark key to Cristavi in exchange for safe passage out of Georgia. They take Nikoladze and the Ark key elsewhere, and Fisher is left to be executed. However, Lambert organizes for a brief blackout just in the nick of time, allowing Fisher to escape and locate Nikoladze, who is still trying to negotiate with Cristavi over the Ark, in exchange for his freedom. In order to prevent this from happening, Fisher assassinates Nikoladze, the only person capable of activating the Ark. Back in the United States, scores of U.S. Army soldiers evacuate an apartment complex in Hope Gate, Maryland, less than half an hour away from downtown Washington, D.C., and secretly recover the Ark; the public is told that the soldiers were there due to a gas leak. With the threat of World War III averted, the United States begins to recover from the information warfare crisis, with U.S. President David Bowers declaring that a new age of peace has emerged. Nikoladze's corpse is recovered and sparks international backlash over the assassination, due to the fact that the public was unaware over the true circumstances of his death. Nonetheless, President Bowers thanks everyone who did their part in ending the crisis and that the country "will not forget their resolve". Fisher laughs at the display of gratitude, watching it from home with his daughter Sarah, who does not understand why he is laughing. Fisher then receives a secure phone call from Lambert, to be called away for another assignment, obviously disappointing Sarah, who wanted to spend more time with him.