Before online gaming, back in the days when dial-up was the only means of internet access for many, there was the demo disc. The demo disc was a means to try out games and see if they were worth buying. From demo discs inside magazines like PC Gamer and Official Xbox Magazine, to purchasable discs such as the PlayStation Jampack, there were many ways to try out the hot new games.
Then high speed internet started becoming a thing in the mid-2000s. Nowadays, almost everyone downloads demos through their consoles over the internet, thus negating the need for physical discs to be pressed. The demo disc died a sad, quick death.
Thankfully, the old demo discs never gone away, and can still be found at a thrift store or local game shop near you. Most of them are useless unless the demo is slightly different than the final game, but in some cases it’s just a vertical slice of the final game to try out. But who knew a simple demo disc for one of the biggest tactical shooters would be one of the only ways to get exclusive downloadable content for another game?
This is Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six 3: Exclusive Companion Demo Disc. This mouthful of a title was something I had found at a Goodwill, and was curious about the contents of it.
As far as I know, this was likely given as a pre-order for Rainbow Six 3 on the original Xbox, or might’ve been available for purchase separately. There’s sparse info about this online, so I’m gonna hazard a guess it was the former.
Normally I skip demo discs as I see no need to own them unless you want a good time capsule of what games were like in that period. Until I found out something interesting about this particular disc.
I should give a little backstory to all this. Back in the early to mid 2000s, online gaming was not as prevalent as it is today. While people did game online with their PS2, Xbox, or in rare cases the GameCube — mostly for Phantasy Star Online and little else — it wasn’t anywhere near as big as it is today. Most online gaming was more on the PC, with lots of people playing Quake III Arena, Unreal Tournament 2004, Counter-Strike and many others.
Instead of millions of people fragging online in stuff like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, it was only several thousand playing Halo 2 on the original Xbox. Even the concept of “downloadable content” was still pretty unknown back then.
That doesn’t mean that downloadable content for games and digital downloads didn’t exist. In some cases, developers bundled online content into special retail discs, such as the Halo 2 Multiplayer Map Pack; or re-releasing the game in a “Game of the Year edition” on bargain price with all the content already on the disc. Presumably, this was for those who were still rockin’ dial-up connections, or had no convenient means of downloading the content digitally.
In 2002, Ubisoft released Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell, the first in a long-running series of stealth-action games. The Xbox version took advantage of the then-new Xbox Live service by releasing three exclusive levels — Vselka Submarine, Vselka Infiltration, and Kola Cell — freely downloadable via Xbox Live. For a while, these levels were exclusive to this version of the game.
The only other version of the first Splinter Cell that got these extra levels was the PC version. The downside is these levels were only available in a special patch that came bundled with the collector’s edition of Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory, the third game in the series. As far as I know, this special patch has never been made publicly available for download.
Now, these bonus downloadable levels sounded like a great idea, to give online-enabled gamers incentive to use the service. Ubisoft used this to full effect in every major Tom Clancy game that appeared on the Xbox, from Rainbow Six 3 to Ghost Recon 2, even releasing exclusive disc-based expansions for those games only on the Xbox.
Things can’t last forever, though. Microsoft, for reasons not fully explained to this day, announced that they were shutting down the network services to the original Xbox’s Live service in early April 2010, less than eight years after it launched. This lead to people pulling out their original Xbox systems to shoot dudes in Halo 2 or Counter-Strike one last time before its inevitable demise. Not only did this mean the end of online play for that system, but also for any downloadable content available on that system. This meant that if you didn’t download the bonus Splinter Cell levels before Microsoft shut down original Xbox Live, then there was no way of downloading or playing them again. Until now.
Which brings me back to the Companion Demo Disc. Bundled with the disc are demos for Rainbow Six 3 (natch), Ghost Recon, Ghost Recon: Island Thunder and Splinter Cell. The front and the back of the box also advertise “New missions for Ghost Recon: Island Thunder and Splinter Cell.” Those new missions? Vselka Infiltration, Vselka Submarine, and Kola Cell. Those three downloadable missions. Does this mean there actually is a way to get these previously unattainable levels after all? I had to find out.
First, I had to procure copies of both games in question, since they required a copy of the game to work. Thankfully, most Xbox games are dirt cheap these days, with Splinter Cell and Ghost Recon: Island Thunder going for $3 a pop at the nearby local game shop. (Thanks Video Game Wizards!)
As the screenshot states, not only do you need the game, but also a save file on the Xbox in question. Thankfully it could just be a save at any point in the game, so a quick breeze through the tutorial was enough for the disc.
Since I tend to overthink, I was worried this wasn’t going to go smoothly. At one point, I was worried the disc was gonna have to ping the Xbox Live servers to download the content from there, making my demo disc nothing but a $5 paperweight.
I go to the Splinter Cell section on the demo disc, then the missions section, and select one of the missions to download to the Xbox.
Bam! It had successfully transferred the missions from the demo disc to my Xbox’s hard drive. Booted up Splinter Cell and sure enough, the extra levels were there, ready and waiting. I played around them very briefly, but didn’t really get a chance to play them.
Though, Splinter Cell wasn’t the only game that had “exclusive DLC” on this disc. Ghost Recon: Island Thunder was the other game that had exclusive console DLC. I’m not sure if they’re exclusive to this version or ports of levels from the PC version, I was never a big Ghost Recon fan. The same rules applied: Made a save early on in the game, inserted the demo disc, downloaded the levels to the Xbox, put Ghost Recon: Island Thunder back in, and was able to play the levels right then and there.
So a demo disc that I bought out of curiosity for $5 became an easy, legal way for me to get exclusive DLC levels previously thought lost to time due to the shutdown of an online service. Granted, there’s probably more… “seedy” ways to do this nowadays, but if you wanna go the more legitimate route, you couldn’t go wrong with this disc, especially if you wanna check out DLC before DLC was considered a terrible word.
It’s a shame I still suck at Tom Clancy games, and that includes Splinter Cell. This was back when these games had a fairly steep learning curve. The later Tom Clancy games would make them a little more user-friendly and a little easier, much to the chagrin to hardcore gamers. In all honesty, I’m all for making these games just a bit easier to enjoy *and* enjoying the challenge of the older games. It’s a nice contrast.
(UPDATE 4/9/2019: Edited for clarity. If you have the demo disc and can directly capture game screenshots, send me an email or leave a comment so I can replace these old “shot on a phone camera” images with newer ones.)
June 10, 2019 Update:
The most recent Xbox One backwards compatibility update added the entire Splinter Cell saga on the original Xbox. Even the mostly-forgotten Xbox version of Double Agent, which is a completely different style of game more like the previous games, rather than the drastic style changes they did for the 360 version.
The three exclusive DLC levels for Splinter Cell come with the package if you buy the game digitally, or if you’re like me and still have a physical copy around.
So unless you’re really itching to play extra levels on the Xbox version of Ghost Recon: Island Thunder, or you’re trying to make a complete collection of Xbox games, there’s no need to hunt this disc down anymore.
Only downside is that the original Xbox Live servers are still shut down, so the quirky Spys vs Mercs multiplayer is only playable locally, but the co-op modes for Chaos Theory and Double Agent support split-screen play so it’s not a total loss.
It’s interesting. When I wrote this back in early 2012, I had come to the conclusion that these were gonna be lost to time thanks to Our Digital Future™ and the disinterest of game preservation. I was thinking this simple little demo disc was gonna be a digital savior some day. Now with the games being re-released on Xbox One, we can play those games with all the DLC that got released for it intact, on modern systems without having to jump through hoops.
What a time to be alive.