Review by Corlist

Reviewed: 03/07/08

The last and most developed of "true" Splinter Cell games, but several minor issues stops it from being perfect.

Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory, a.k.a SCCT, is Ubisoft’s third third-person stealth action game.

The good:
+ Best stealth action mechanics since Pandora Tomorrow.
+ More freedom
+ Many new features
+ Great graphics
+ Great sounds
+ Great music
+ Cooperative mode
+ 3 games in one

The bad:
+ Story not very gripping
+ Occasionally unrealistic AI
+ Buggy cooperative mode
+ Intimidating competitive mode

Story (7/10):
The story in Chaos Theory is your typical Tom Clancy-esque techno-thriller and if you have played previous Splinter Cells, you can easily guess that story involves terrorists and a scheme to incite a world war. The story is delivered in the single-player campaign through news telecasts, cut scenes and during the missions themselves. There are a few twists here and there, but there is nothing too interesting about any of them. Overall, the majority of people who plays Chaos Theory would not be bothered about the story, but it is still a decent one nonetheless.

New Stuff (10/10):
If you played any of the previous Splinter Cells, you will feel right at home with the controls in Chaos Theory. A slew of new moves, thanks to the combat knife, are now available to Fisher, making him much more effective in close quarters combat. He also gains a variety of other moves that he can execute whilst hanging upside down from a pole or on a ledge. Sadists will also be pleased to hear that Fisher can now kill his victims, with a deadly knee to the spine, whilst they are grabbed in an interrogative pose. Besides executing Fifth Freedom on his enemies, Fisher can also use the knife to take out motor power generators or cut open thin paper walls.

Technology-wise, in addition to the light-darkness meter, there is now a sound meter, which gauges the noise that Fisher is currently making against ambient noise. The SC pistol, instead of a red laser aiming module, is replaced with an OCP, or an optically-channelled potentiator. This nifty device allows Fisher to temporarily deactivate or interfere with any electronic device, including lights, computers and security cameras. Instead of having a diversion camera and a sticky camera, both of these devices have merged into one

For those who would like to play rough, the SC-20K now comes with three new attachments – a foregrip for steady shots, a shotgun for close range action, and a powerful 20mm sniper.

Most important, all of the new additions are far from being just complimentary, many of them will be used extensively through Fisher’s journeys.

One of the flaws of Pandora Tomorrow is the “Three alarms and game over syndrome”. In Chaos Theory, Fisher is given much more lenience during his missions, killing too many civilians or triggering too many alarms will no longer result in mission failure. Instead, enemies will be on heightened alert and difficulty will increase by a few notches. Fisher’s end of round score will also be affected appropriately. This means, in all save a few missions, you could pull out your rifle and its various powerful attachments and start putting holes in everyone’s heads – including civilians.

Game-play (9/10):
The game-play in Chaos Theory, in a basket, is more of the same. However, more of the same is not really a bad thing for Chaos Theory. Stealth action just got tighter than ever in Chaos Theory. New players will still find it a struggle to play the game, even though the series’ veterans will feel right at home. Through each of the missions, Fisher has a number of primary, secondary and opportunity objectives he can complete – even though he only needs to complete the primaries – which is good, because it can get very frustration searching every inch of a level to find and complete opportunity objectives. The levels are generally well designed, but tend to be a little linear; you probably will not get lost throughout most of the game because the path is usually laid out for you very obviously. Less obvious paths exist and it is through these paths where Fisher is able to avoid confrontation with his enemies.

The enemies that Fisher faces are quite intelligent and believable, but not entirely. All of them will stand in your way throughout the campaign and they can usually be dispatched easily when the lights are out – so shooting lights become an important affair. In the dark, your enemies will bring out flares and torch lights to give you a bit of a situation. Its fun to see them spook out or utter nonsense when you make noises or do suspicious things. Upon grabbing and interrogating them, you will usually be treated to an interesting conversation. There is a whole lot of dialogue Fisher’s team at Third Echelon also talks to their man in the field quite frequently. There is also a different set of dialogues conversed to Fisher when he triggers four alarms, which goes to show how much is done.

When you alert an enemy due to carelessness, prepare for a difficult and thrilling stand-off. This is especially so when many enemies are present. They will intelligently run for cover and lay down suppressive fire; they will also occasionally flank you and toss grenades at you.

Besides enemies, Fisher will also have to be aware of security systems in his missions. There are cameras, infrared cameras, laser grids, retinal scanners and keypad locked doors. Most of them can be deactivated using his trusty OCP or by hacking into them. Hacking into keypads or retinal scanners eliminates the possibility that Fisher gets stuck in a mission if he is not able to get a hold of key codes or a hostage, a very good move made by the developers.

As previously mentioned, Fisher has more freedom to do whatever he wants. If you are a person who likes to sneak around as many people as you can, the OCP lets you do that. If you feel more comfortable knocking every out, the stealth kit lets you do that. If you feel ruthless and want to chuck everyone down a building, grab the assault kit and you’re good to go.

An end of round tally showing the number of enemies you’ve taken out, injured or killed exists. Whenever you make a mistake, you lose success rating. There is even a timer for each level, giving this game a lot of potential for speed runs.

However, it does not take long for someone to realise that the enemies, no matter if they are Korean, American, Peruvian or Japanese, all speak the exact same lines. It is also quite evident that the AI follows a fixed pattern whenever something suspicious happens. Enemies will walk to the spot where they last seen or heard something suspicious, pause for a second, turn, say something like “Nothing”, and if there is another person around, he will say “What are we gonna do now?” replied with “Don’t look at me I don’t know.” It can get a little repetitive after a while, especially after the hundredth time you heard it.

The music in the game is decent, although it does give away the situation too readily. You know when you’ve done something wrong when the music grows louder; when the music suddenly blasts away you know that you need to run for cover fast. Sometimes the AI might seem like its cheating. Picture this – you creep up, in pitch darkness, to an enemy, you take him out quickly with a knee to the gut, he falls down without uttering a word. However, the music blares and away and Lambert starts talking down to you about the alarm you’ve just triggered. How the guard you’ve just knocked out managed to magically alert his buddies 10 metres away in an enclosed room is just amazing.

One last nitpick is that, despite having a lot of choices, there is usually a one “best” solution to the problem. You could shoot a rifle round to the lone guard’s head, use a shocker, an airfoil, a grenade, a flash grenade or a sticky camera. But the best solution is nonetheless whistling to lure the guard over and take him out.

Graphics / Visual Presentation: (10/10)
The graphics, without a doubt, has vastly improved over Pandora Tomorrow. Lighting and shadows are good as usual and Fisher looks even more unshaven and rugged as a veteran Splinter Cell than before. The enemies look like they are really afraid when grabbed by Fisher.

By cranking up the settings to 1600x1200 with 4x AA 16x AF and the game will truly shine. Despite those resolutions, Chaos Theory can still run at moderate frame rates.

The various locales that Fisher visits in his missions look remarkable. While the animations in Pandora Tomorrow can look a little clumsy, especially when dropping on people the animations in Chaos Theory are really good. Fisher looks fantastic when he performs his knife takedowns. The animation where Fisher climbs up from a ledge is also nice. His enemies also filch and duck realistically when shot at.

The rag doll physics in Chaos Theory are also an improvement over its predecessor. Enemies slump and fall rather believably, even though there are occasional glitches.

Sound / Audio Presentation: (10/10)
The sounds in Chaos Theory are top notch. Gunfire sounds believable, so do missed bullets. Every little sound; grenades exploding, televisions short circuiting and doors sliding open, sound really good.

The music, composed by Amon Tobin, is also stellar. From the creepy tunes of the lighthouse level to the metallic vibes of the music in provided for the Displace level, are very good and can really get your adrenaline pumping in tense situations.

Michael Ironside once again demonstrates that he is the best man for Fisher’s voice, portraying a dark, gritty voice fit for a veteran spy. His dark sense of humour is also displayed evidently in his interrogations with his hostages and gives Fisher more substance as a character.

Cooperative Mode: (8/10)
For the first time in the Splinter Cell franchise, a cooperative mode is available. It is really exciting to complete missions with a friend, with several cooperative-only modes with all new maps. The agents say stuff like “Damn, we’re good!” when they finish such a move, and it will be hilarious to find out that they still say that even though an agent has tossed his partner into a turret.

Much of this mode borrows a lot from the single-player portion of Chaos Theory and enemies can be dealt with in a similar fashion.

There are some truly exciting moments, such as when both of the agents hurry to cut the correct wires to disarm a bomb that is rapidly ticking down, or when one agent lays suppression fire while the other runs up with a knife, all thanks to the VOIP support.

Its very cool and handy to have a buddy distract enemies while you handle some time consuming stuff, such as hacking computers. The possibilities are endless compared to single player.

However, much of its execution is not as good as one would have hoped. Instead of providing both agents with an OCP each, they are given jammers. These jammers are essentially the same as OCPs, except that a person will have to stay still for the jammer to be effective. Cooperative-only moves can also only be pulled off in very few places and cannot be used as liberally as one would have hoped. Also, despite the fact that a double retinal scanner can be unlocked by bringing two appropriate people, it is almost always much easier and faster to just hack both of them.

The two agents communicate with only Lambert, and not very often do they do that, which is a little disappointing.

It also doesn’t help that the mode glitches occasionally. There were a few times when I got stuck during the double rappelling move. Also, a one sided locked door into a room almost prevented the mission from being completed.

The last complain about this mode is that neither of the agents can whistle – perhaps only long-time Splinter Cells are authorised to do that?

Competitive Mode: (9/10)
The acclaimed Spy vs Mercenaries mode returns in Chaos Theory, although not a whole lot has changed from its predecessor. The premise of this mode is simple; the spies must take out a number of objectives scattered throughout the level, and the mercenaries must defend them.

This truly one-of-a-kind multiplayer mode is something fans of stealth action can look forward to. The maps are well designed to accommodate both the spies and mercenaries, with intricate series of secret passages and pathways littered throughout the level, so as to facilitate spies to escape – as well as several locked doors which only mercenaries can access as shortcuts.

Mercenaries pack powerful guns which can blow spies away in seconds, while the slick agility of spies allows them to climb, jump and crawl through areas where mercenaries simply cannot get to. Both parties also possess interesting tools to help them hunt or escape effectively.

However, due to the complexity of the game, it can be very intimidating to new players. Not many people will be willing to spend a lot of time into this game so that they can be good, because not many people play on the game’s official servers anyway.

The maps seem to be awfully large for just 4 players, and all of them are very complex. If you are not good, you will simply be very lost and get killed easily.

Overall (9.0 / 10)

All in all, Chaos Theory is a great package for almost three full games. The quality of the single player campaign is something to behold, and the fun that the multiplayer modes provide will last for a long time to come.

Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Product Release: Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory (EU, 04/01/05)

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