Tom Clancy’s straight-laced military stories have been fertile ground for video games since 1987, when Argus Press Software (who?) released The Hunt For Red October on ZX Spectrum. However, the series’ popularity didn’t truly escalate until the original Ghost Recon appeared on PC in 2001, capturing the tense military thrills of the books and marrying them with hardcore tactical shooting. Since then, our Tom has gone from strength to strength in video game form, spawning several established franchises (and a few one-offs) that encompass first-person shooters, flight sims, strategy, stealth and even turn-based battles. The latest – Tom Clancy’s The Division – is an MMO shooter, and looks all set to carry the Clancy name into the future. But before that, let’s look at the whole series history and pick out the ten best Clancy games of all time.
10. Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell Blacklist
The latest in the Splinter Cell series is… just fine. It picks up the aggressive stealth idea from Conviction and runs with it, but perhaps over-complicates things by adding too many gadgets and combat variables. The true beauty of Splinter Cell is working out each area’s shadowy puzzles, and Blacklist simply lets you go too loud if you can’t work out the solution. Doesn’t help that Ubi ditched Michael Ironside from VO duties too, creating a weirdly less-likeable central character (despite him being, essentially, the same guy). Still, some neat level design and smart set-pieces make this one worth a play, even if the overly dramatic military jargon feels like a parody of itself very early on. Hey, I’m just not a fan, ok.
9. Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter 2
The original Advanced Warfighter is a hot mess. While it looked beautiful back in the first year of Xbox 360, the action was shakier than the camerawork in the Blair Witch Project (#contemporaryReference). However, AW2 got its act together and married gorgeous visuals, smart mission design, tight shooting, and some of the sexiest military tech seen in games. Like the gun that could shoot around corners, which totally exists in real life. And a drone that lets you mark targets for allies, and for your own gunny gratification. AW2 hits that sweet spot between reality and near-future tech – the area where Ghost Recon thrives – making it a far more enjoyable experience than the rather silly Future Soldier.
8. Tom Clancy’s Endwar
Endwar made fools of us all. When voice commands were still achingly cool, Ubi dished up this strategy game from the Clancy universe that you could play entirely vocally. Obviously that was a recipe for disaster, as frustrated armchair generals all over the world started inserting increasingly strong swears into their orders when the game fudged it all up. However, underneath all that is a fine strategy game with some delightfully well-designed maps to scrap in. Reverting to pad is a far from ideal solution, but it means you get to almost enjoy one of the few RTS titles that actually worked on console. Y’know, before XCOM: Enemy Unknown showed up and everyone just conceded defeat.
7. Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Shadow Wars
The Nintendo 3DS is not ideally suited to the strengths of any Tom Clancy series. No fancy presentation like the best Splinter Cells, no robust networking features to truly suit Rainbow Six, and shooters in general have never felt great on Nintendo’s handhelds. Ghost Recon Shadow Wars, however, is a freak in the Tom Clancy pantheon. Rather than a slow-paced multiplayer shooter, Shadow Wars is a tactics RPG whose bite-sized skirmishes place you in taut standoffs with a handful of specialists. It handily captures both the succulent tension of a well-executed plan and the brute theatricality of full scale Ghost Recon games, but as a turn-based XCOM-alike. Those XCOM qualities come to Shadow Wars honestly too; it was the last game XCOM creator Julian Gollop turned in for Ubisoft.
6. Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Vegas
Given the rather niche concept of R6 Vegas, it’s amazing that Ubi squeezed a couple of games out of it. In fact, it’s rather telling that the first of them was the best. While the setting provides the glitz and glamour, the fresh gameplay features make this feel like the first Rainbow Six title truly optimised for console. Regenerating health, a third-person view for blind-firing, and context sensitive squad commands (on the d-pad) all make for a shooty-bang-bang experience that’s a little more sympathetic to the less hardcore player. While this undoubtedly softens the series’ appeal for some, the whole thing is still tough and military enough to satisfy. Again, though, it was probably a poor idea to bring the second game back to the city of sin without any real improvements. Does it hold up today? Well, kinda, but shouldn’t you be playing Siege instead?
5. Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon (2001)
Ok, so, the original Ghost Recon doesn’t really hold up by today’s standards. It’s a rather slow, rather ugly game where the tactical shooting doesn’t quite make up for the visual and presentation shortcomings. But back at the turn of the millennium, this was primo-PC gaming. Didn’t matter that the game is half orienteering sim, half shooter – it’s wonderfully ‘authentic’, has some excellent set-pieces, and genuinely rewards patience and smart tactical thinking. Games like Operation Flashpoint and ArmA pushed the painfully-slow military shooter to their zenith, but this was the acceptable face of indulging your spec-ops side.
4. Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six 3
This entry kinda counts twice. Raven Shield on PC is an exceptional game, as is the vanilla Rainbow Six 3 on Xbox. This being a console site, though, let’s look at the latter. Each level is a tense squad-based crawl from start to finish – death comes quickly in Rainbow Six, so every door breach and peep around a corner has to be done oh-so-carefully-and-GODDAMN-IT-I’M-DEAD. It’s such a refreshing change from other fire-and-forget frag-fests on console, and even the multiplayer has that balanced, super-lethal feel. Oh, and fun fact: this game actually has voice commands, which you can issue to cue squad orders. And they actually work!
3. Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell Conviction
This was a new breed of sneaking when it finally appeared, battered and bruised from a troubled development cycle, in 2010. Originally pitched as Sam Fisher meets Jason Bourne, the end product wasn’t quite as free-flowing and ‘murder-a-man-with-a-newspaper’ as promised, but the aggressive, fast-paced stealth was unlike anything seen in games. The ability to string together takedowns, increasingly terrifying the remaining grunts, in fluid motions around each self-contained stage just feels so, so good to play. Ok, the story isn’t the finest in the series (despite the rather memorable scene where you forcefully attach a man’s hand to a tree-stump with your combat knife), but when the action is this smooth that barely matters. And let’s not forget the fantastically tense co-op mode, which climaxes in the order to terminate your buddy before they kill you.
2. Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege
While Siege received several middling reviews and attracted a smaller audience than Ubi might have hoped, time and the amazing communities that have built up around it will testify to the brilliance of this tense, intimate shooter. The core mode – Siege – is so finely tuned, the maps so economically designed, they create a game beautiful through its violent simplicity. Five versus five – one team defends, the other infiltrates. A sprinkling of gadgets and tools add flavour to what is, essentially, a battle of wits and smarts between two teams. But the absolute best thing about Siege is the potential for an epic five vs one finish, with the sole survivor on a struggling team wiping out the entire opposition force by themselves, to the sound of gasps and cheers from their spectating comrades. Those moments are the rarest of gaming gems, and they make this a precious experience, indeed.
1. Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell Chaos Theory
There are so many reasons why Chaos Theory is the best Clancy game out there. For starters, it’s maximum Clancy – the plot focuses on a global shadow conflict that threatens to plunge the world into a new war. It’s a dark, tense game, with enough plot twists and set-pieces to keep you gripped, and leading man Sam Fisher is more agile (despite being older) than ever, packing enough smart gadgets to give James Bond’s Q sleepless nights. However, the star of the show is the Spies vs Mercs mode, which is the most sublime, taut, and thrilling multiplayer you’re likely to experience. There’s something so wonderfully balanced about it – the third-person perspective of the spies offsetting their relative fragility, while the lethality of the mercs feels sensibly restrained by the first-person view. Spies vs Mercs is responsible for more gasps, fist-pumps, and litres of sweat shed per game than any other online experience. Fact. Ish. Sadly, the game’s delightful visuals have aged a little, and Spies vs Mercs can no longer be played on console (the servers have been switched off), but this remains the high-watermark for all Clancy games to date.