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Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory

01 Apr 2005

Like a Sliver of GlassYou know you’ve been playing too much Splinter Cell when you switch your lights off at home and expect to nod your head forward and activate your night vision. However, with the latest Splinter Cell title being this addictive - it’s just a matter of time really. The third iteration of the Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell stealth action franchise features the continuing adventures of Sam Fisher, a top secret agent who’s sent in to accomplish the US government’s dirty work when political situations go sour. For those who haven’t experienced Splinter Cell before, you play Sam Fisher, a member of the Third Echelon. This U.S. government force deploys units known as Splinter Cells: elite intelligence-gathering forces consisting of a lone field operative supported by a remote team. Like a sliver of glass, a Splinter Cell is small, sharp, and nearly invisible. This game relies heavily on stealth and running around in your high-heels is going to get you killed. Instead you are equipped with high-tech cameras that can stick to walls, flexible microphones, infra-red vision, stun guns and tight fitting black latex to sneak and crawl your way through buildings and cities to infiltrate and disappear. The game plays out in third-person form, with intelligent camera angles looking slightly over your shoulder by default - but with the right analogue stick you can have complete control to view in any direction. This camera control is not only vital to the covert gameplay but a welcome presence from the many games that fail to consider how irritating the wrong camera angle can really be.

Fisher is deadlier than ever this time around, thanks partly to his new combat knife, which he has inexplicably started using since his last assignment. After sneaking up behind your unsuspecting foes, you can place them into a very uncomfortable choke-hold where you are free to interrogate them, use them as a human shield or “silence” them in a permanent fashion. Strangely enough, even though you hold them at knife-point you can’t actually use it, instead Fisher simply snaps his wrists and your captive falls down in a heap. It should all seem very familiar with any fan of the past two Splinter Cell titles.

Fisher’s New TricksSo, what’s so different about Chaos Theory’s campaign if you’re doing the same sort of stuff as before? It’s that the campaign is much more open-ended now. This latest Splinter Cell generally gives you a lot more freedom to pursue your objectives by any means necessary. For example, when faced with a locked door, you don’t strictly need to have the key code to get through it anymore - you can now hack the electronic lock or simply break the lock with your knife. Also, your pistol now has a secondary firing mode, which can temporarily disable electronics - useful for creating darkness as well as distraction. And whereas many of the older Splinter Cell missions ended in an automatic failure if you sounded an alarm too many times, most of the missions are much less restrictive and offer a much more enjoyable, playable game this time round. Missions also have optional objectives and sometimes multiple paths to the main objectives - you can even go into each mission with a different arsenal, suited either for stealth, assault, or a balanced combination of the two. A neat new feature for the stealth section is a cloaking-like device that renders you ever more invisible, regardless of light.

The game’s beautifully detailed graphics make all the different settings you’ll visit, from an ominous lighthouse and an inconspicuous ocean freighter to the streets of Seoul and a Japanese teahouse, very believable and little details like moving cloth, flickering candles and perfect shadows all add to the environment. The enemies you’ll face in Chaos Theory are also somewhat smarter, or at least different, than before. They’ll notice if the lights go out or if a door is left ajar, and they’ll wander over to investigate. And, if you try to snipe them and miss, they’ll flinch believably or maybe even dive out of the line of fire. They’ll attack you from behind cover, and they are dangerous in numbers. Most of them are still completely unable to see you when it’s dark, so it’s really not that hard to quietly creep up behind or around them - but getting to see your foes’ new tricks, and coming up with new and interesting ways of distracting them or luring them to you, is definitely part of the fun.

Differences between the Xbox and PC versions of Chaos Theory are slight. You can save anywhere and at any time in both versions, which is a mixed blessing, since this convenience is counterweighted by the fact that you have to think about saving your progress every 10 minutes. The Xbox version also features a very unique multiplayer co-op split-screen mode where you have to work together to get through specially created two-player situations. Another additional feature is a death-match mode - seeing two Sam Fishers trying to “out-sneak” each other makes for an interesting game.