Which isn't to say that the game doesn't have its problems - as it does. In a bid to freshen things up, Fisher has been lumbered with some unwanted gameplay elements.
The range of actions Sam can now perform with the action key mean that actually doing the time-sensitive moves can be tricky. Previously, grabbing a guy from behind to knock out or interrogate was a simple case of quietly shifting up and hitting the appropriate button. Now that there are so many actions assigned to that button, you have to get in exactly the right place at exactly the right time, and artificially so - if you're so much as a centimetre off the trigger area for that context-sensitive action, you can forget about grabbing the goon. I walked up behind a man sat at the computer, went to grab him, and instead found Sam attempting to operate the computer my victim was sat at - not a good idea - the henchman didn't fancy sharing.
The game still suffers from being too 'on rails'. There are numerous examples of times where Sam can't go somewhere or do something for no particular reason. One stand-out example is on the side of a building Sam is climbing down. Having to make a quick getaway, Sam jumps from ledge to ledge in a bid to make it to an open window. However, try and jump to a ledge that isn't on the 'path' you're supposed to take - even though it looks exactly the same as any other ledge on the side of the building - and you'll miss the jump and die. This lack of consistency is annoying - if Sam can climb pipes, I want him to be able to climb all pipes, not just the ones that adhere to the level design. To have any other situation just detracts from the immersiveness of the world. There's also the small matter of Sam's gadgets in prison.
The levels that take place out in the world still have the same problems every other version of the game has had - it's usually easier to go around shooting people that get in your way than avoiding them. Granted, this game attempts to counter that by making you lose NSA trust every time you kill someone who isn't directly aligned with the JBA, but you can usually afford to take the hit - I quite happily offed a bunch of Mexican policemen who were stupid enough to get in my way. This isn't a possibility in the JBA levels - you really have to sneak around to progress the NSA missions here - but those levels get overly repetitive towards the end of the game.
Multiplayer, which I will touch on here, also has some issues. The Xbox Live play in Chaos Theory was absolutely stunning, and Double Agent appears to be a step backward from that, taking the route of simplicity over depth and, overall, fun. There's some great analysis of the multiplayer experience here at Penny-Arcade, by guys that are really into that side of the game.
But overall, it's hard not to be impressed with the effort that has been made here to drag Sam into a new era of gaming. There are certainly no complaints with the engine, which looks spectacular. The developers have made an attempt to address the problems many had with the last couple of games, and have done a good job of getting three-quarters of the way there. For all the moans, the overall experience is a really fun one, a really exciting one, and one that really gives you that 'this is the future of gaming' tingly feeling. If you have a 360, or a PC capable of running the game happily, you'll have a great time with Double Agent - just don't expect it to everything you dreamed of. Maybe next time.
Stay tuned for our look at the PC graphics engine early next week.