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The first two Splinter Cell titles are solid stealth games. Splinter Cell established the formula and Pandora Tomorrow offers more of the same plus multiplayer. As for the single player, they both come with the same pros and cons. Quietly sneaking around areas using firearms and a variety of equipment and gadgets to evade and drop foes is all good fun. In my opinion, it’s the linearity and lack of replay value that hold them back. I’ve been looking forward to playing the next game, Chaos Theory, because they say it’s the best one in the series. In fact, the internet tells me it’s considered one of the greatest games ever made.
Developed by Ubisoft Montreal and Ubisoft Milan and published by Ubisoft, Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory was released for PC, PlayStation 2, Xbox, and GameCube in March, 2005 and DS in June of that same year. In 2011, a port titled Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell 3D was released for 3DS and an HD remaster was released for PlayStation 3 along with remasters of the previous two games, Splinter Cell and Pandora Tomorrow. For this review, I played the PC version. I did consult the game’s PCGamingWiki page before playing and I’m happy to say that as of this review, in my experience, the game is not as broken on modern systems as the previous titles. I did apply ThirteenAG’s Widescreen Fix which automatically adjusts the field of view and fixes the HUD position and stretching.
Set in 2007, Japan has formed the Information Self-Defense Force (I-SDF) and as a result, tensions in Asia are high. The NSA dispatches Third Echelon operative Sam Fisher to Peru to rescue a kidnapped programmer who was deciphering the Masse Kernels, the weaponized algorithms used during the Georgian information crisis in 2004. Sam eventually uncovers clues which lead him to a conspiracy that brings the United States, North Korea and South Korea to the brink of war. Chaos Theory is another tale of espionage and action with some interesting twists and turns. The story functions pretty well on its own but knowledge of the previous games will provide some context because certain characters make a return and specific plot elements are referenced.
Michael Ironside reprises his role as Sam Fisher and Chaos Theory sees the return of Don Jordan and Claudia Besso as Irving and Anna respectively. The writing showcases a little more humor than the previous efforts and even includes nods to other games. Michael Ironside delivers another great performance as Sam and I found the dialogue exchanged during his interrogation of certain foes to be pretty funny. I think the tone of Chaos Theory is slightly darker than that of the previous games and I feel the sarcasm and witty remarks tend to lighten up the mood a bit.
I am very happy to say Chaos Theory blows away its predecessors in terms of gameplay and rectifies the two major issues I had with those games; the linearity and lack of replay value in the single player. Chaos Theory comes with a single player mode, Versus multiplayer mode, and a cooperative mode with its own missions. The official multiplayer servers were shut down some time ago but I believe there are still ways to get online games going. Versus and Cooperative do support LAN and you can actually play through the cooperative maps solo although you will need to cheat to get passed certain points.
Chaos Theory is a stealth game and everything you learned in the previous games still applies here for the most part. I would say Chaos Theory is a little more forgiving in some respects. The gameplay kind of feels like an overhaul of the formula. The single player comes with three difficulty levels, the environments are more open giving you more options in terms of navigation, many missions offer secondary and optional objectives to complete, and you can even choose a preset loadout before jumping into a mission. Furthermore, you can view your stats at the end of each mission and are rated based on your performance. I think my only complaint with this game is that you can’t customize your loadout. For example, you cannot choose what individual items you want to bring with you. You must select a preset.
Sam can perform most of the same maneuvers that he could previously and has access to most of the same equipment and gadgets. He now a carries a combat knife and can use it to kill foes. The shooting has been refined and feels a lot better and the SC-20K can be configured with different attachments like a foregrip, launcher, and shotgun. It can also be equipped with many of the same fire modules or alternate fire modes as before including airfoil rounds, gas grenades, sticky shockers, and the sticky camera which now includes the features of the diversion camera. The pistol now comes equipped with the Optically Channeled Potentiator (OCP) which can be used to temporarily disable electrical devices. It’s also worth mentioning that Chaos Theory is the first game in the series to use ragdoll physics which I think does make the combat and kills feel a little more satisfying this time around.
If you’ve played the previous games, you should feel right at home with Chaos Theory and notice the refinements immediately. Stealth works much like it did previously. Staying quiet and out of sight is the key to success. You want to move slowly and stick to the shadows. In addition to the standard stealth bar is a sound monitor which measures the noise in the area including the noise Sam makes. This is actually an amazing addition simply because it allows you to see how much noise you make as your moving and adjust your movement speed as necessary. You want to generate less noise than your surroundings and if there’s a lot of noise in the area, you can sneak around pretty quickly without alerting enemies. In general, most of the refinements and new additions make for less trial and error gameplay.
What’s really cool is that you can attack foes with melee attacks from any direction. You still have to grab foes from behind and it doesn’t matter if enemies are aware of your presence like in previous games. Sam can take them down in one hit or stab or slash with the knife from any direction. You can still utilize equipment to kill, incapacitate, and distract foes and the environments typically give you multiple options in terms of how you want to approach situations. As expected, you can utilize night and thermal vision as needed and Chaos Theory introduces Electromagnetic Field Vision or EMF to detect electrical objects and sources. Chaos Theory also introduces hacking, allowing you to access security systems and even bypass things like retinal scanners and keypads. Not only that but you can hack things from a distance using the Electronically Enhanced Vision or EEV.
Another nice change is you no longer have to hide bodies in the shadows. It’s still a good idea but bodies simply being out of sight should suffice. As far as I know Chaos Theory doesn’t do the behind-the-scenes sweep thing the previous games did so bodies can only be detected by patrolling enemies or cameras. There are some other neat little additions like being able cut through certain materials with the knife and the OPSAT now provides a 3D map of the current level and shows where your objectives are located which does prove to be helpful because of the often non-linear environmental design.
One of the best changes the developers made was making the environments non-linear. Instead of funneling the player down specific paths like in the previous games, Chaos Theory gives you multiple options. There are typically multiple routes to a destination and levels even feature multiple interconnected areas. For example, to get to a specific location, you can go through the door or crawl through a vent from another room. You can grab a guard or foe and use him to get passed the laser security system or find an alternate path. It’s stuff like that. I found that there was always another way. There’s usually multiple solutions to a problem. Chaos Theory is a stealth game all about options and that’s what makes it so much fun and replayable. You’re given multiple ways to engage foes and multiple ways to progress and the latter is what really changes things. That is what’s missing in the prior games.
Chaos Theory is another entry that takes players to various locations around the globe. You’ll rob a bank in Panama, infiltrate a cargo ship on the Pacific Ocean to find and eliminate a target, infiltrate a penthouse and retrieve information in New York City, and one mission has Sam navigating the war torn streets of Seoul in an effort to recover data while evading the fighting between North and South Korean troops. In addition to your primary objectives are secondary and optional objectives. You’ll have to find and tap phone lines, find and disable hidden microphones, insert tracer programs, and other simple things that will require you to explore.
The environments are well crafted with plenty of rooms, areas, paths, vents, and corridors to navigate. In typical Splinter Cell fashion, you’ll get to climb and move along pipes and fences and hang from and shimmy along ledges. The environments are designed in a way that each playthrough can feel different. They’re not aggressively linear so you don’t always have to take the same routes. You can interact with all kinds of things, hack your way through areas, and interrogate NPCs to retrieve information and there’s a lot more people to interrogate this time around. Many of them of will simply give you hints and information on how to access certain things. Compared to the previous games, Chaos Theory gives you so much more freedom in terms of how you can approach things that it feels refreshing.
Visually, Chaos Theory is certainly the best looking game up to this point thanks primarily to many graphical improvements like the addition of normal mapping, parallax mapping, refraction, and some other enhancements. Character models look better and even the facial animations during gameplay look good, specifically during interrogations. For the time this came out, anyway. Once again the audio work is excellent and the music is implemented in a way to convey information and on top of that, the tunes are pretty good. The soundtrack contains a good combination of moody and intense tunes that fit what’s happening on screen and help add to the mood. On the technical side, the game ran smooth and I did not encounter any major problems.
Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory feels like Splinter Cell fully realized and it has become one of my favorite stealth games. The amount of improvements made here is astounding and it feels like the developers went out of their way to directly address the issues of its predecessors. I have very little to complain about. I only wish I could customize my own loadout. But that’s a minor gripe in an otherwise phenomenal experience. Not only is the single player portion incredible but you can tackle cooperative maps with a buddy and from what I understand, Chaos Theory expands upon the competitive multiplayer which was first introduced in Pandora Tomorrow but I didn’t get to try it so I can’t confirm with certainty. All of this in addition to the non-linear environments, secondary and optional objectives, and mission ratings give players so many reasons to return.
I would absolutely recommend Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory. It is by far the best game in the series up to this point and it’s one of the greatest sequels I’ve ever played. The stealth mechanics work really well, the gunplay is refined and satisfying, and all the equipment and options on offer allow players to experiment like never before. Chaos Theory perfects the Splinter Cell formula. Definitely check it out.