Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory
The Purest and most basic pleasure of the stealth game is without doubt the silent kill. That exquisite satisfaction of taking an enemy unawares, dispatching him with a modest splash of claret and escaping back to the refuge of darkness without the slightest hint of public disturbance. Over the years, this pleasure has been obscured by guns and gadgets and hybrid shooter atrocities with no appreciation of the ninja mentality. But fear not, because Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory is about to set things straight, taking the genre back to its roots with a renewed emphasis on silent kills and dispatches of the most devious kind.
One of the strong focuses of Chaos Theory is proximity, says producer Mathieu Ferland. The game is all about strong emotions from being closer to danger, and we've created a lot of new moves that translate that idea. We really like the neck snap move, where Sam is upside down, hanging with his feet and twisting the neck of an enemy below."
The game also restores the blade to its rightful prominence, enabling you to hold hostages at knifepoint (although not to kill them). What's more, with the new material properties in place, you can even slice through a tent wall or rice paper screen and dispose of an enemy where he sleeps. Beautiful.
Grand Unified Theory
Of course, this is but one triumph in a game that promises many wondrous things. Chaos Theory has been in development for over two years now - the true sequel to 2003's stealth masterpiece - and from what we've seen it's going to be utterly magnificent. As well as building an entirely new system for up-close-and-personal kills (known as Closer Than Ever mode), the game is set to overhaul and hone every conceivable area of the game. We're talking bigger levels, multiple game paths, world-beating Al, a ground-breaking co-op multiplayer mode, advanced facial animation, a more intelligent stealth meter and graphics to make your soul rejoice.
One of the biggest innovations in the game is the non-linear gameplay. In resounding response to criticisms that the first game funnelled you down too narrow a channel, Chaos Theory is set to be one of the most cleverly non-linear games ever attempted. Not only will there be multiple physical pathways to take through the levels, but the mission objectives will alter dynamically, shifting in response to events within the game world.
So, in the first mission, your objective is to rescue a scientist from a terrorist stronghold. Succeed in doing so and it's smiles all round, and onto the next. Fail, and it's not an automatic game over. Instead, your mission priorities simply shift - now your primary goal is to prevent the terrorists from escaping and retrieve whatever information they gleaned from the late professor.
Secondary and tertiary objectives also play a part, rising and falling in significance according to what's going in the mission. "Chaos Theory is definitively less linear than the original," says Mathieu. We wanted to remove unexpected game-over situations and other trial and error gameplay. You'll have a great deal more freedom to play the game the way you want to."
On The Ball
A crucial prerequisite to this non-linear gameplay was building an Al system that could cope with its hefty demands. As a result, Chaos Theory's enemies promise to be among the best and most adaptive in the business, making the dumbed-down grunts of Pandora Tomorrow look like bandage-head lobotomy jobs.
NPCs now respond realistically to all manner of suspicious stimulus, be it broken glass from a light bulb, other guards disappearing, lights going out or unexpected noises. When their suspicions are aroused they'll call for back-up, use flares to illuminate shadows, initiate search patterns and set up barricades. Even the Al systems that were fudged in previous episodes - like the hiding and finding of bodies -now work in a true and honest fashion.
"A lot of work has been done on the Al in order to assure the most realistic reactions possible," agrees Mathieu. We've added new layers of awareness for NPCs, and they'll now remember when something goes wrong. Moreover, NPCs' voices will make a big difference, since their generic reactions have eight times the variety of previous titles."
To be perfectly honest, Chaos Theory looks staggeringly good. The March release date is now mere weeks away, and should confirm once and for all that this is the only stealth series worth knowing about.
The Perfect Weapon
Every Gadget Gets A Polish In Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory
While there's no shortage of new features in Chaos Theory, all the existing tools of the trade are getting a full makeover as well. Take the sticky cam, for example. This used to be a bit of a gimmick that you'd have a go with when you got bored of doing split jumps. Now, the sticky cam will be a crucial surveillance tool. Not only will you be able to leave them in place and switch back to them at any point, you'll be able to deploy multiple cams and swap between them at will. (Which is how they should have been in the first place, but handy nonetheless.)
Likewise, your humble SC 5.7 Pistol. Once used primarily for shooting light bulbs, it now comes fitted with an Optically Channelled Potentiator or OCP, used to make electronic devices (including lights) go berserk for a few seconds.
Minor weaponry tweaks you might say, but hopefully they'll all add up to the perfect stealth experience.
There Are many impressive new weapons in Sam Fisher's arsenal, but the most impressive displayed in Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory is the humour. Much has been made by lesser commentators than myself about this second sequel's snazzy new attack moves, sneaky-about skills and knifeusage, but what's been overlooked by almost everyone is just how well-scripted the game has now become. The plot bounces along with plenty of zip and dramatic pacing and the dialogue is genuinely amusing. Plenty of wisecracks about Sam's advancing years, much comic banter between nervous guards and even a fair few in-jokes about the shortcomings of Fisher's previous gaming outings.
For example, at the start of one shipbound homage to Metal Gear Solid 2, Sam assumes, in the traditional world-weary tones that has come to characterise Michael Ironside's take on the role, that should he trigger the standard three alarms the mission will be over. "Of course not," barks his boss's reply, "what do you think this is, a videogame?" Or if you shoot out a light bulb, you hear the traditional: "Why's that light bulb broken? Something's not right here," from one guard, only for his compadre to reply: "What are you talking about? Light bulbs do break on their own you know. Relax..."
Talking of Ironside, much as people started to claim Brosnan was really secure in the part of James Bond by The World Is Not Enough, so the gravelly-voiced actor best known for playing Ham Tyler in V really seems to have settled comfortably into the role of Fisher's voice. More's the pity that should the aforementioned Splinter Cell motion picture come to fruition, it's unlikely that the star of Starship Troopers, Total Recall and, er, SeaQuest 2032 will be considered for the lead role due to his advancing years.
Still, as far as the game's concerned, the dialogue crackles and sparks nicely, the acting is as un-wooden as a plastic tree and everyone seems to be living their parts to the full. It helps that the plot is lively and full of the necessary twists, turns and intrigue that has come to define the modern-day espionage thriller. A slightly pat Scooby-Doo ending perhaps, but one that's forgivable since the ride to get there appears to be shaping up nicely.
A lot of this is down to the inclusion not only of top-draw Hollywood acting 'talent' (ie Ironside and the bloke who plays President Palmer in 24), but also Andy Davis, the director of such action classics as Under Siege, The Fugitive and Collateral Damage. Davis has leant his hand to the pacing of the game and the direction of cut-scenes, which are looking mightily impressive.
Very little of the traditional 'stiff' character rendering is on display, editing is practically identical to any top-notch motion picture, although there's perhaps a little too much reliance on the CNN-ctylo nowe broadcast presentation gimmick for our liking. Still, it's absorbing enough to have made us dig out our semi-legal video file decompression programs in order to view the rest of the scenes before we take delivery of the actual levels that surround them. Of those levels, we were given the first four to play with and if they're anything to go by, the whole game is living up to the promises that have been made over the past half a year. Complaints of linearity that plagued the first two games appear to have been addressed, with each map seeming to borrow more from the Thief school of level design - here's your objective, here are your tools, work the rest out for yourself.
It leads to some brilliantly organic moments of gameplay, especially since the old three strikes and you're out mechanic has been dropped. Alarms or discovery no longer mean game over, just game harder as reinforcements are brought in and alert levels are raised.
There's still a personal bugbear on show about restriction in the usage of your athletic skills. Plenty of pipes and ledges that realistically would be easy enough to climb and hang from are inaccessible because of programming limitation - something the multiplayer game, using a slightly different engine, actually suffers less from.
That's a minor issue though, and something that may well be ironed out in later levels as the game assumes you get used to the controls. However, in four whole levels of action I only managed to find one occasion when Sam could use his famed split jump, and the SWAT wall roll move from Pandora Tomorrow seems to have been forgotten entirely. We'll wait until we've played the full game before passing judgement though - it may well just have been my incompetence after all.
As A Man who has frittered away the better part of his youth on sleep and videogames. I feel comfortable saying you have to keep pushing yourself if you want to stay at the top. It's not an easy maxim to live by, and not many can genuinely claim to pull it off -me, maybe Hasselhoff. and now, I think I can happily say, the team behind Splinter Cell, here in its third PC iteration.
With every new episode, Ubisoft's flagship has pushed the boundaries, hard. The first set a new standard for interactivity, gadgetry and sheer cinematic joy; the second pioneered an unimaginably clever new multiplayer paradigm. And with Chaos Theory we find the most complete picture yet.
The Spies v. Mercs multiplayer is back, retooled and focused to make it more accessible and coherent. Next to that, there's another completely new and unprecedented stealth game type in the co-operative mode, essentially a game within a game offering four custom-built missions for two. It's a slight addition, but most definitely a welcome one. And of course, there's the main event: the lengthy new solo outing. It's the total stealth package for the modern man.
What's more, it's a game to silence the critics. The team has clearly studied the reviews and web forums meticulously, as pretty much every grievance ever expressed by fans has been addressed. You thought the first one was too linear? Not this time pal - you'll be doing more exploring than an over-zealous customs official. You thought the Al was weak? Quite the opposite, bub - it's now among the most sophisticated and responsive in the business, leaving Thief 3 desperately rubbing sticks together in the Dark Ages.
Even the most anal criticisms we made in our review two years ago have been answered - the characters have more depth and humour to them, the gadgets are less redundant - you can even throw people off cliffs and boats. Whichever way you turn the thing, it's got it covered. Of course, that doesn't mean it's perfect, but it is tuned better than an F1 motor on race day.
To The Lighthouse
To bring you quickly up to speed, the game once again takes place in the very near future. There's a nightmare flashpoint brewing in the Far East, as North Korea and China start ganging up on Japan, and America is forced to stick its oar in to prevent World War III. On the other side of the world, Sam Fisher is in Peru trying to rescue an information specialist from some half-arsed freedom fighters, and wouldn't you know it, the two events turn out to be intertwined. Cue a series of globe-hopping missions that take in New York, Hokkaido, North Korea, Seoul and a cargo ship somewhere in the Pacific.
At first, veterans may think little has changed, but delve deeper and you soon discover a world of delightful little tweaks (which sounds a lot ruder than was intended). The gadgets, for example, have been comprehensively tidied up. Useless things like the chemical flares have gone. The two different types of sticky spy cameras have been combined. The pistol now comes with an OCP device that can temporarily knock out lights and other electronic devices. The attachments for the SC-20k modular rifle now make more sense, forcing you to choose between the new shotgun addon, a sniper scope and the simple, stabilising fore-grip.
The biggest addition however, is the combat knife, which is more fun than it has any right to be. The quick, up-close kills add a (worryingly) gratifying new dimension to the game, and now provide some of its best moments. You honestly won't care about damaging your stealth rating once you've got a taste for the knife-kill - my favourite move in the game is now the jump and barrel roll into knife in guts of incredulous bad guy' (though the hanging inverted neck snap' comes a close second).
The athletic moves too have been strengthened - implausible features such as the invisible pirouette from Pandora Tomorrow and the awkward, reverse shooting through doorways have been ditched, replaced by a new function that allows you to shift your weight to shoot around corners.
The alarm system has also been overhauled. Instead of the clunky three strikes and you're out' routine, tripping alarms now simply raises the level of enemy responsiveness, and eventually causes them to don body armour and helmets. And where the game used to cheat, bodies now have to actually be discovered by a patrolling guard before an alarm is raised.
I could keep going. The way noise is handled is vastly improved (there's now a separate sound meter), the way you hack into security systems is better, even the ways you can open a door (such as bashing them in) are better. The whole mechanism of the game has been tightened up and streamlined across the board -and it was none too shabby in the first place.
Despite this, there are one or two problems. There are less visible flaws and quirks, sure, but the experience as a whole is not as well orchestrated or sustained as the original. There are definite low points in a game that should have none, and I suspect this is partly down to the new non-linear approach to level design. This is a vigorous step forward in some ways, adding a far greater sense of freedom and adventure to proceedings, but it also seems to have broken the perfectly modulated tempo of the original game, the precise sense of rhythm and variety. Worse still, there's at least one level - in which you break into the offices of a paramilitary organisation and hack into their networks - which is just plain dull.
Strike A Light
Luckily, the individual encounters are so improved as to make such concerns fairly negligible. Enemies are smarter, more responsive, they have more realistic eyesight, they light torches and flares to see into dark areas, they notice when anything in the environment changes. (Some of them are even pretty funny.) In a game like this, it's the Al that often makes the difference between compelling and merely diverting, and while there are always going to be a few blind spots for the sake of playability, Chaos Theory does things better than any other stealth title on the market right now.
The presentation is also seriously top-drawer. You can see the standard of the graphics with your own eyes, but what you can't see is the triple-A voice-acting and the dirty, groove-laden soundtrack delivered by Amon Tobin.
Indeed, whichever way you look at it Chaos Theory is a superior piece of work. It's a videogame blockbuster, but one crafted with a love and care rarely afforded anything in this cynical age. Despite any small reservations I have about the consistency of the single-player campaign, it still ranks among the most polished and exciting games on the market - stealth or no. If you enjoy cutting-edge entertainment, you should definitely take note.
Stand By Me
Two's Company In The New Co-Op Game
While offering up just four custom missions, Chaos Theory's two-player co-op mode is an impressive and often hilarious addition to the series. It basically redesigns the solo gameplay for two, adding a handful of new moves and gadgets and rejigging the level design to suit. The new actions include human ladder, wall boost and the extraordinary Tomoe Nage, which allows you to launch your partner across a gap or at an NPC. It's all great fun, but perhaps the biggest changes arise simply from having two people in a level. Now, when you come to a room full of guards, you have all sorts of new possibilities: assaulting from two different directions, luring the enemy into an ambush, causing a diversion for your partner...
Overall, it's a resounding success - and another great multiplayer coup for Ubi.
COULD someone explain to me why, in this day and age, it takes several days of dropped connections from ubi.com and unexplained inabilities to either create or connect to someone else's server, and even then the only way we were able to experience the co-operative side of Sam Fisher's latest adventure was over a LAN?
Assuming you can get it to work, though (maybe at LAN parties?) you're in for a bit of a treat. I'm not going to sit here and say it's the best online experience evah!!11 !1! or anything, but it's certainly a step in the right direction for future games. Only four maps, but well enough designed to allow for all manner of sneaky, stealthy two-player moves (if unintentionally hilarious/homo-erotic ones). It does have the effect of leaving you with a taste for more, as though this were just a taster, a demo for a fuller game.
Otherwise we have the two-to four-player third-person spies versus first-person mercenanes game seen in Pandora Tomorrow, some extra maps and new gadgets, and a few new modes (Capture The Flag and Deathmatch, basically). As before, it takes a lot of patience to get used to the strange dynamic at work here, and you will spend your first few hours completely flummoxed and mostly dead until you get into the swing of things.
The additions don't particularly enhance the basic experience or offer anything substantially new. and the existing quibbles about it using a completely different engine (and therefore a completely different control system) still remain, although the co-op mode makes up for that if, as we said, you can get it running. Bottom line, don't buy Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory purely for the multiplayer, but do see it as a stepping stone towards a much greater game yet to come.
Processor: PC compatible,
OS: Windows 9x, Windows 2000 Windows XP, Vista, Win 7, Win 8, Win 10.
Game Features:Single game mode