Review by gbarules2999

Reviewed: 08/10/07

Sam Fisher will kill you if you read this review.

I was excited, because Splinter Cell was coming to the DS in its full complex glory. I had always been wary of the series on the consoles, because they always appeared too daunting…sneaking around was never my forte. I like shooting things--violent tendencies in fruition--plus that whole stealth stuff just doesn’t fit a console experience for me. So perhaps I could enjoy it on the DS, where I can take the handy dandy game everywhere with me in my handy dandy pocket? Not if the game sucks so hard that it might as well not exist.

This version of the game was developed primarily for cell phones and the N-Gage, and then ported to the DS, and it shows. The action is choppy and slow and methodical, and, simply put, it’s just not a well made game that you usually see from Ubisoft or Nintendo. Besides my objections with the genre in the first place, the game was simply and forthright made without much planning for the system, and when it’s done with such a large series such as Splinter Cell, it hurts. There was a lot of fun portable potential here.

Well, it’s the visuals that really dig the splinter into the skin (pardon the pun), and mainly because they’re as if every location in the game was during a power outage. Everything is well made, to be sure: it's presented in a 3D-person view around Sam and his body. But here's the thing, no matter how nice it looks, you can't see any of it. The game is made up of three colors: Brown, Grey, and Brown-Grey. For a handheld system where lighting isn’t always the best, having bright, distinct colors is a must, especially for action games where there's a lot of movement. Chaos Theory is simply too hard to look at unless you are in a dark area, and if you have the option of playing the game with the lights off...just go fire up your Gamecube and play it there.

But when you can see it, do you even want to? The game looks fine for the DS, and the models look nice and clean...but the framerate chugs along, of course making the game even harder to comprehend. It’s not to the point that the game actually is unplayable, but it is noticeable and not nearly as smooth as other games on the DS. Again, an annoying reason why this game should have stayed on cell phones, because it obviously wasn’t developed with Nintendo-gamer-friendliness in mind. It looks fine when you see screenshots here, but once you play the game it’s less than ideal.

Neither is the actual gameplay, which proves that the DS can’t do everything, though it gets pretty close. Sometimes I’d see the true fun of the cat-and-mouse gameplay, sneaking over to a dark corner and sniping the guy from a hundred feet away. That never gets old, and the DS can pull it off for the most part. The first level especially shows off the SC gameplay and just how interesting it can really get: finding an objective around the missions and killing people that stand in your way without getting caught.

And then I think about what I have heard about the console Splinter Cell...they're non-linear, so you can complete a mission any way you want. That’s not what Gameloft did. This game makes you do exactly what the developers had in mind, or your butt will be under alarm and found. It’s extremely annoying, considering that the game's idea of fun isn't always the same as yours. I really want to sneak around the back of the bank, taking out every man that comes walking past...but alas, the e-mail comes and I can’t kill anybody. So I have to sneak, and sneaking in the open is about as easy and enjoyable as it sounds, especially when the main character walks like a snail.

And when the action does hit you like a brick, and you are discovered, there’s no recluse: the game suddenly becomes a fumbling for the next touch screen button to find the certain gun that can stun him in the neck...and then once you’re dead you realize that you probably couldn’t stun the guy anyway, because you approached him from the wrong angle. The touch screen holds all the swapping of guns and weapons, but finding the right one is something that you need to do in the dark corridors; when an enemy spots you, tapping eight or nine icons isn’t the best thing to be doing at that moment. The controls are too complex, plain and simple, especially on the touch screen.

Not that you’ll really feel like you were fairly found. The game has a little meter in the corner of the screen telling you how shadowed you are (because the DS can't do pretty lights) and once you’re in the darkness, even if you are sitting right next to the guards, they will turn around and stalk another corridor. But you step once leg out of that shadow and magically they know where you are, even if you swore their heads were turned the other way. It's a horrible trial-and-error process that feels strangely unforgiving and unsatisfying.

Does this add up to much? No. I enjoyed it a few times during a mission or two, but those were isolated cases. In the long run, the game is not fun, due to linear hallways, stupid AI, and muddy graphics. If only a competent developer had tried their hand with this game, because it has the workings of something fun, but once they screw up graphics and gameplay, what else can you do? Unfortunately for the game, there’s not much else to back it up.

I’ll say it right now: I don’t remember the story at all. I played this game about a month ago, and whatever this game was about (some stupid rebellion group captured some dude to take over some nation) it’s certainly not important enough to know. There’s no voice-overs done here (which I thought would be really nice) and the text is so small that it’s hard to get a grasp on what they are saying in the first place. The cutscenes, admittedly, look cool, and that’s when the frame rate can speed up to a pace where the 3D engine looks really nice. But by and large, the story just kind of sucks, like most of Tom Clancy’s work.

But in a stunning move, there’s one part of the game that completely stands out: the audio. Combining a few short voice clips ("What’s that over there?" "I must be hearing things.".) with a really nice, console quality soundtrack, the DS speakers do well justice to the series. I would even guess to say that the developers just lifted the files from the console version and stuck it in the DS cart, which is probably the best thing they could have done anyway. Major kudos go to the composer of the moody, epic tracks that play in the background of the game, because they sound fantastic and add a lot to the atmosphere.

The game is fairly long, as well. In fact, as many publications and websites like to gleefully point out, the game is a tiny bit longer than the console version, and you'll get a nice long playthrough if you want it. There are some multiplayer modes, but you need more than one cart. Besides, they just aren't that fun to play anyway, with the control, lighting, and slowdown issues. The game's length does nothing when the game itself is pretty boring, though it's adding to the overall polish well.

Alas, if there was such a polish to add to. Ignoring some very cool and nifty moments in the game, Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory largely falls flat because it wasn’t made for the DS. It has its days, but those days can’t make up for the rest of this shoddy port, and when I get the real SC I hope it goes much beyond this.

Rating:   1.5 - Bad

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