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Splinter Cell Chaos Theory

Platform(s): GameCube, Nintendo DS, PC, PlayStation 2, Xbox
Genre: Action
Publisher: Ubisoft
Developer: Ubisoft
Release Date: March 28, 2005


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Xbox Preview - 'Splinter Cell Chaos Theory'

by Thomas Wilde on March 21, 2005 @ 1:06 a.m. PST

In Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell Chaos Theory, the year is 2008. Citywide blackouts, stock exchange sabotage, electronic hijacking of national defense systems: This is information warfare. To prevent such attacks, operatives must infiltrate hostile territory and aggressively collect critical intelligence, getting closer than ever to enemy soldiers.

Genre : Action
Publisher: Ubisoft
Developer: Ubisoft
Release Date: March 28, 2005

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The overwhelming impression I get from Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory is that Sam Fisher is no longer taking any crap from anyone.

Fisher now has a knife, which you can use to instantly dispatch enemies in close-quarters combat. If you’re hanging off a ledge and someone comes to its edge to investigate, Fisher can reach up and pull him over, sending him screaming to the ground.

Fisher’s most dramatic new move may be his overhead chokehold. When you’re clinging to a pipe in the ceiling and someone passes by underneath you, Fisher can now reach down and haul them up by their neck for a painful chokehold. It looks fatal, but somehow it isn’t, and I find it very hard to keep from doing it over and over again. I was luring terrorists halfway across a level, just so I could strangle them from above.

The trick is admitting that you have a problem.

The really weird thing, at least to my mind, is that Chaos Theory is coming out barely a year after Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow, and it isn’t just an expansion pack. It’s a serious improvement, with better graphics, a vastly superior singleplayer game and a few additional gameplay modes, including a two-player co-op where a pair of spies infiltrate an enemy facility. I don’t know how Ubisoft did it, but I suspect black magic was involved.

A few reviews and previews have already called Chaos Theory the best-looking Xbox game yet. I don’t know about that; I have not actually played every Xbox game, so I don’t want to unfairly generalize. That said, it does look great. The shadow and light effects take center stage, obviously, and there are moments of near-photorealism scattered throughout the game. It’s not quite perfect, and is marred slightly by how easy it is to position the camera inside Sam’s head, but I’m nitpicking. I do that. Sorry.

In Chaos Theory’s singleplayer mode, you’ll be – get this – going on a series of missions to unravel the secrets behind an international conspiracy. Fisher’s mission will take him to an ancient colonial fortress in Peru, a high-security bank vault in Panama City, the streets of New York, and several locations throughout Asia, among other places, as you try to figure out what the abduction of an American computer programmer has to do with a bunch of South American revolutionaries and the Japanese Self-Defense Force.

The gameplay is the trademark Splinter Cell stealth action, with a new layer of refinements and improvements. Chaos Theory’s levels feature a more open-ended design than previous games’ did, allowing you to use a variety of routes and tactics to reach your goal.

I’ll give you an example. You start one level on a crowded city street during a blackout. To get to where you’re going, you’ll need to evade a bunch of jumpy cops and National Guardsmen, who don’t know who you are and will understandably start shooting if they notice a heavily armed commando in their midst. (Part of Splinter Cell’s attention to realism is its depiction of the New York police. They will empty five clips in you if they so much as think you’re there.)

You can opt for a more traditional approach here, slipping from shadow to shadow and watching the police’s movements. There are a lot of random objects lying around in most of the levels, perfect for throwing. You can also climb up a handy fire escape and shimmy along one of the buildings’ cornerstone, completely avoiding most of the cops. It removes a lot of the painful trial-and-error process from singleplayer mode.

Along the same lines, the enemies’ AI has been redesigned to… well, to cheat less. They’ll actually display varying levels of competence, so an inexperienced rookie is easier to outwit than a veteran mercenary, and guards no longer have alarm systems hardwired into their brains. If you screw up and get noticed by an enemy, you don’t trip the alarm instantly and automatically via some bizarre psychic process; instead, he’s actually got to run to a wall switch and set it off.

At the same time, guards now move to back each other up, and many are equipped with flashlights or flares. If there’s a heightened state of alarm, they’ll move in groups, investigate every shadow, and start firing at random if something bizarre happens. I startled a couple of bank guards once by shooting out a light bulb, and their reaction was to jump, scream, and blow the hell out of a bush.

In their defense, that bush was clearly an enemy of freedom.

Each level of Chaos Theory’s singleplayer mode features a variety of optional goals and hidden objectives, such as finding all the weapons caches within a level or hacking a local security system. If you can hit all the goals on a stage, you’ll reach 100% completion, and perhaps unlock some secrets; I say “perhaps” because I haven’t managed to do it yet. By comparison, if you kill a civilian or friendly target, your completion rating automatically drops to 0%.

The short version of all this is that, unlike Pandora Tomorrow, Chaos Theory’s singleplayer mode is a lot of fun and stands up to multiple replays. Like Pandora Tomorrow, it’s also got the same great multiplayer modes with brand new maps and tactics.

I’ll be honest here; I was expecting a cash run. That’s usually what you get when a game gets a sequel a year later. Instead, Chaos Theory plays great, looks good, and hasn’t made me throw a controller out a window yet. It’ll be available on March 28th.

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