Update: I was unfortunately not aware of Shamus Young's severe criticism of Fallout 3 available here to link in the original piece and I regret that. It dovetails rather nicely with what I've written and it's much better executed than my piece. I strongly recommend anyone...
Splinter Cell has always pretty much been about one thing. Infiltrating somewhere, doing something inside, escaping. In a more broad manner, it's pretty much saving the world. The third instalment of the Tom Clancy's stealth franchise, being Chaos Theory delivers this one again, but with quite the upgrade.
First, let's talk about single player.
Once again, for the third time one could assume, players take the role of stealth expert and war veteran Sam Fisher. The storyline begins with Sam attempting to locate this mathmetician genius type guy, who's been taken by Peruvian rebels. In time this eventually leads Sam toward a rather large conflict involving China, Japan, North and South Korea. The big issue is that China and the Koreas are quite annoyed with Japan, believing the I-SDF (Japanese intelligence) is violating international law merely because it exists. Japan however, accuse the Chinese and Koreans that they're attempting to disrupt their economy. One event leads to another, and suddenly World War III is a possibility.
So it's time for this non-existant superspy to save the world once again, and not be recognized for it. This time around Sam's got plenty of new moves and looks much better in the process.
If you're playing on a pretty nice PC, then the first thing you'll notice about Chaos Theory is its graphics. Absolutely beautiful. The textures literally look like they're actually popping out from the walls, certain surfaces shine and the lighting is dynamic and realistic (as is the darkness and shadows). The levels in general look life-like, almost like actual locations. In the previous Splinter Cell games (being the first one, and its sequel Pandora Tomorrow) the levels were built in a rather linear fashion. Move from point A to point B so to speak. Chaos Theory differs from this, and allows the player to navigate through the level using multiple paths. You might want to hack or pick your way through some locked (or digitally locked in regards to hacking) doors to gain access to one area, or you might just stumble upon a ventallation shaft to take you to an entirely different location. The choice is yours, really. It's no sandbox environment like Grand Theft Auto or Oblivion, but each mission in Chaos Theory offers quite an amount of freedom and various approaches to get the job done. Most of the time players may not even realise or notice any alternative routes throughout levels. As Sam himself suggests in the tutorial videos, you have to learn to see things, that no average person can see.
Returning along with Sam Fisher are some old friends, the gadgets of course. Sam still has his silenced handgun, but this time it has a very useful attachment to it. An electro-magnetic scrambler, kinda like ESP (electro-magnetic pulse) in a way. You aim at a certain electronic device, and press the alternate fire button, and voila, you have silently, but temporarily disabled an electronic, whether it be a light or a surveillence camera. This works extremly well to simply get through areas undetected, or scare and distract any guards within the area. Sam also has his nifty SC-K2000 rifle. Aside from the regular assault rifle, it comes with some nice attachments. The SC-K can take a foregrip attachment, a sniper attachment and even a shotgun attachment. The foregrip is used to fire gadgets such as sticky shockers, airfoil rounds, gas grenades and sticky cameras. The sniper attachment greatly increases the rifle's zooming capability, while the shotgun attachment literally puts a shotgun attachment onto your rifle, for deadly close range power, although it's definetly not exactly the most subtle of methods.
One of the most simplest pieces of equipment Sam has along with him this time is his combat knife. The knife has various uses, whether it be cutting through fabricated or thin walls for shortcuts, disabling certain devices, or breaking locks open in a rather harsh manner. Destroying objects for quick access may be the easiest and fastest method, but guards in the area will get suspiscious if they find any damages.
Continuing along with the knife, Sam can also utilize it in close quarters combat. By grabbing an enemy from behind, Sam now holds the knife to their throat instead of his gun to their head. Sam can also choose to dispose of his enemies in close quarters in both lethal and non-lethal fashions. The primary attack button will cause Sam to stab, or slice his opponents in a lethal-location, such as the heart or throat, while the alternate fire button will allow Sam to dispatch an enemy by knocking them unconscious. Whether it be through a choke sleeper hold, or simply punching them in the face. Either way, close combat has become extremly beneficial in this instalment, as in the previous Splinter Cell games Sam could only deliver dodgy elbow-attacks (that wouldn't work properly if you were facing an enemy). One of my favourite things to do is jumping attacks. Should an enemy be below you, you can simply jump on them, or, jump and (with the aid of the primary attack button) deliver a rather harsh knock out punch or kick as you land. It looks quite cool, and makes you feel very 'ninja'. Sam's animations look absolutely fantastic, much better than the previous games. Sam's also capable of still doing some of his classic moves, such as the infamous split jump. Some moves have been removed however, such as Pandora Tomorrow's S.W.A.T spin move, and the ability to shoot around corners.
The enemy AI has greatly improved from the previous games. Enemies will speak to one another in a realistic manner, growing afraid or frustrated of situations. They move together slowly, sometimes brandishing flash lights or flares, and will run about to take cover and whatnot should they spot you. Relocation is always a good thing, if the area is dark and the enemy is firing at you thinking you're in one area, you can use the shadows and environment to your aid and move about them, to stealthily catch them from behind as they think they're firing at the right location. Enemies will also recognize any strange occurances, such as broken locks, broken lights, open doors, lights on or off etc. And of course, especially in regards to a dead or unconscious comrade. On a rather pleasing note, Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory has improved in regards to dispatching bodies. In the previous games, when the player left the area, the game would automatically scan for any bodies that were not hidden in the darkness, any in the light? An alarm will be sounded. Crap, isn't it? Fear not however, for in Chaos Theory another enemy of the level must actually find an unconcsious or dead body in order to sound the alarm. With this, the realism improves even further (so if you manage to dispatch all enemies in one area, but leave all their bodies in the open light? Nothing will happen - as long as no other enemies walk into the area and spots them).
After completing each mission, you'll be checked on how good you performed. A rating of 0% is the absolute worst (and the only way to achieve this is to kill civillians), while 100% is the absolute best. Your rating depends on the things you do within a mission - how many bodies were found, how many enemies killed, how many times identified as an intruder, alarms sounded, to objections - whether it be must-do or/and optional, to even the time it took for you to complete a mission. While the game is unfortunately that of a short one, the ability to re-do missions to try and score a better rating is a reason to go through levels again.
The problems with the single player campaign though is that the game itself is somewhat short. Also, depending on how you approach levels, the game can either be too easy, or too hard. But to be fair, it would depend on how one approaches a level. There are some dodgy moments in the game, such as the enemies. Even with their nice AI, they seem like they can be easily distracted, and become too easy to dispatch in a way. What can also be a pain is trying to grab enemies from behind who are seated. Sometimes you can do it, but sometimes it won't let you. It's strange, at times.
Now, onto multiplayer modes.
The first of the multiplayer mode is co-op. Two players, whether it be online or a LAN go side by side in missions that require cooperation to win (hence co-op). The general storyline follows Chaos Theory's but you're playing as two seperate spies, "Splinter Cells in training" as officially stated by Lambert. The two must work together in a (shorter) campaign that requires team work. The two spies can use one another as physical objects to get through areas, such as using one another as a human ladder to reach higher locations, to giving one another boost's to reach new heights (and then doing the human ladder trick). You can also coordinate ambushes against the enemy, which is fun, but can make the game a bit too easy.
Versus mode once again returns with the Mercenaries versus Spies game, and unfortunately it didn't recieve the graphical upgrade. It looks as good as Pandora Tomorrow, but not as good as Chaos Theory, should that makes sense. But the gameplay is entirely different.
The Mercenaries are definetly the hunters. These guys are a force to be reckoned with, seriously not good for the Spies to try and tangle with these guys. The Mercenaries pack some powerful close quarter combat manouevers, such as the spinning attack (to attack any unfortunate spies who may be trying to approach them from behind), to a powerful knock down shoulder charge. Then, they got their rifles. Whether it be shotguns or assault rifles, either one is powerful and will absolutely destroy the Spies if they get the opportunity. The Mercenaries also come equipped with scary grenade launchers, movement detection goggles and alas, flash lights. All of the which, are necessities for the Mercenary.
The Spy isn't nearly as lethal as the Mercenary, but they're damn quick, agile and stealthy. The Spies are pretty much all about speed and stealth. They run alot faster than the Mercenaries, and can do pretty much all of the moves Sam Fisher can in the Chaos Theory single player campaign. Climb over obstacles, climb up obstacles, jump toward higher surfaces etc. Spies also, as a necessity, have to work cooperatively with their partner in spying, and thus can perform team moves as seen in the co-op game, such as the boosting move to the human ladder. When it comes to equipment, Spies come with the goods. Most of it however is non-lethal. Spies recieve smoke grenades, flash bang grenades, and a stunning rifle used to paralyse the Mercenaries. The Spies though can defeat the Mercenaries through their own close quarter means, it's all about being sneaky though, and timing. The infamous grab from behind and break the guy's neck routine makes a return, followed by grabbing the enemy Mercenary from below (when hanging from a railing) and pulling them down, forcing them to their death. On the contrary though, while the Spies have their own methods to eliminate the Mercenary, that's something they shouldn't be trying to accomplish.
A typical Mercenaries versus Spies game (which can only, and unfortunately hold up to four players, two versus two, or three versus one etc) is about one thing for each side. The Mercenaries must eliminate the intruding threat, being the Spies. Thus, the Mercenaries, along with their powerful moves and equipment, are the hunters. The Spies job varies, they might have to hack into computers to gain and steal intelligence, or simply steal a hard drive and return to their spawn point, or hell, plant some explosives and blow an area sky high. Mercenaries versus Spies when played by players of equal skill is a truly intense and fun experience, but unfortunately if played against say, a pro versus an amateur, or a pro teamed with an amateur, the game can become rather unbalanced. Mercenaries versus Spies has a somewhat difficult learning curve veterans of the past game will barely notice, but newbies to the franchise entirely may have some difficulty with the game.
Although it shouldn't really matter, there are many drastic changes in regards to PC versus the consoles. The PS2 suffers in regards to loading times and graphics, being the most inferior of the lot. The game also has to load up multiple areas in one level, so moving back and fourth can be annoying. The PS2 though happens to have online multiplayer, although it's not as popular as X-Box Live's. The Nintendo Game Cube and X-Box have the better graphics, but do too suffer in regards to loading areas and whatnot. The Game Cube suffers even more, completly lacking online content and having to be on two discs. The PC version stands above the consoles, having no in-game loading times, possessing the best possible graphics (depending on your hardware, to be fair) and having all possible online content, including downloadable content.
So overall, Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory can honestly be welcomed to any gamer's collection with open arms. The single player campaign, while being a bit short, packs alot of action and excitement and can be played through multiple times, whether it be to obtain better level ratings or to discover alternative methods and routes within each mission. The graphics and animations are great, and the game is overall one fun, realistic experience. Multiplayer, whether it be co-op or Mercenaries versus Spies, continues to make the game shine even further, delivering a far greater multiplayer, and in general, Splinter Cell experience than the previous instalment, Pandora Tomorrow.
Even so, Splinter Cell: Double Agent is already out, and Splinter Cell: Conviction is rumoured to be in development, if you haven't played or own this game, you should grab a copy and give it a whirl. The game is pretty cheap now, being at least twenty dollars (in Australian currency).
You know you want to interrogate some poor guard wondering around the darkness by himself.