July 06, 2005

Splinter Cell Chaos Theory – Review

This is an offline review only. Seeing as I'm on dialup at the moment I can't actually play it online, but from the Versus mode tutorials it seems that they have at least sorted out the differences between on and offline (which were so noticable in Pandora Tomorrow) to some extent. I've also dabbled with co-op mode on Xbox, and it was great fun, albeit rather confusing. I would very much like to try both online modes, preferrably on a LAN. Hopefully some time soon...


Sam Fischer, aging US super-spy (and if this is anything to go by, the world’s greatest user of Just For Men) returns to save the world from information and electronic warfare. Yet again. It's a miracle anyone survives past puberty, what with all these global crises.

This time the action climaxes in Korea and Japan, with a spot of globe-trotting beforehand as you attempt to discover what is actually going on. Sadly the plot is rather predictable and not particularly interesting. You will know who the bad guy is from the first time you encounter him, because he looks evil and has a scar – a rather depressing level of characterisation. I should maybe apologise for giving that away, but it will really only be a spoiler to someone with less than 5 brain cells to rub together.

That said, it should be pointed out that Splinter Cell Chaos Theory is by no means a bad game – the concept of the Splinter Cell games is such that it would probably take more effort to mess them up than to make them enjoyable. Sam has some new equipment and moves this time too, most of which come in handy throughout the course of the game, although not often enough for my liking, and I still never found a use for the split jump. The levels are generally well designed, and while not of the consistently high standard of the original, they offer more choice over how to complete the missions. As well as this, the whole game looks_ fantastic_, and the voice acting as impressive as ever, with Michael Ironside yet again providing the perfect support for Sam's dry wit.

There are a couple of dialogue atrocities however, particularly Lambert's response of "This isn't a video game Sam" when asked if the mission will be terminated if three alarms go off (which was exactly the case with Pandora Tomorrow), and a guard advertising Ubisoft's own Prince of Persia game in such a terrible and exploitative manner that it nearly made me weep. This also ties in with some fairly dire product placement which, particularly in cut-scenes, is jarring enough to disturb your immersion in the game world. Other than that the dialogue is pretty solid, although the guards' phrases could do with some more variation from mission to mission.

Another problem is with the level design. I said it was generally pretty good, and it is. For a game. Consider things from the viewpoint of realism however, and cracks begin to show. Everything is just way too staged – there are always crawl-spaces just where you need them, regardless of the fact that no one would ever design a building like that. Corridors are often shrouded in darkness before you even begin to shoot out the lights. Important power switches are located on said corridor walls, rather than hidden away in some kind of maintenance room. And so on…

This lack of realism is also reflected in the game's most important flaw – the guard AI. Stay silently in the shadows and they will ignore you. Make some noise or move out into the light and they will come and investigate. Fine. The problems don't appear until they are actually alerted to your presence. To give an example – you creep up on a guard and he spots you a split second before your well-placed fist renders him unconscious. He didn't even have time to scream, and yet somehow – apparently by telepathy – guards in nearby rooms suddenly know you're there and alarms start going off. Equally bizarre is the way you can knock out a guard with a sticky shocker – causing him to cry out – and his mate 20 meters away won't notice. But shoot him with a bullet – a silent, one-shot kill – and you're instantly being shot at by the other guard, despite being deep in the shadows which stopped him seeing you at all just a second ago. This has always been Splinter Cell's Achilles heel and after 3 games, particularly in this post Far Cry and Half Life 2 era, we really expect better AI.

All that said, I still return to this simple fact: Chaos Theory is a good, enjoyable game. While not reaching the consistency of the original Splinter Cell, it is the sequel we've been waiting for. Pandora Tomorrow has been shown for what it really was - something to pass the time until this arrived. If you enjoyed Splinter Cell, then Chaos Theory is a game you must play, if only to get some new variation on the old theme. If not, then you are missing out on something that, despite its flaws, is still better than the majority of games out there at present.


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