4/30/2006 4:02:41 PM
Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory Xbox Review
By Mark Diller
In the world of vicarious living, I’m Sam Fisher. The rest of you may fantasize about being unstoppable killing machines or unparalleled athletes, but I tend to fantasize about being a more concentrated version of my normal self: careful, strategic, and focused. So you can keep your BFGs, thank you very much; I’ll take my stealth action straight up, and there’s no one better than Ubisoft when it comes to providing that sort of experience.
The “Splinter Cell” franchise, of course, has been a nice little money maker for several years now, and “Chaos Theory” will do nothing to damage the brand. Everything you expect in a “Splinter Cell” title -- intricate storyline, excellent human animation, gorgeous lighting effects, and bundles of fun little toys for Sam to play with -- are here, and they’re just as good as ever. When the game opens, you find yourself alone on a beach, with the mission of investigating a hostage situation. There’s nothing telling you which direction to go, but eventually you’ll find a cave opening, and most of the levels are like that -- not quite linear, but not laid out in a way where you’re likely to get lost. Soon you’ll run into a couple foreign terrorists, who conveniently speak heavily accented versions of English; there are too many adversaries for you to tackle them head-on, so you’ll spend your time lurking in the shadows, figuring out your strategy, and then sneaking around them or taking them out one by one (the game nicely presents you with both lethal and non-lethal options for attacking NPCs, though the choice of to kill or not to kill has no effect on the story).
Make no mistake about it, this game is slow-paced. If you’re a runner and a gunner, it may drive you nuts, but if you enjoy strategy and subtlety you’ll find a lot to enjoy. Visually the game is nothing short of sumptuous. Sam Fisher’s movements have always looked fluid and terrific, and “Chaos Theory” throws a few more excellent animations into the mix. The game world is excellently designed, and the designers do their usual terrific job of contrasting areas of light and shadow. The soul of this game is finding dark corners to hide in, and “Chaos Theory” does an excellent job of making that intuitive by providing deep pools of shadow (usually on the other side of a brightly-lit area, which you’ll have to scamper across at just the right time). The audio is also good, which is necessary since you’ll spend much of the game listening for clues to how you should proceed. Guns sound as loud and violent as they should, and the voice work that went into Sam Fisher and the various NPCs was of a uniform high standard.
If you’ve played previous versions of “Splinter Cell,” you’ll find a few new wrinkles here. Most notably, there’s now a two-player co-op mode that you can share with a friend. There are a limited number of co-op scenarios, but on the other hand there are a few co-op only animations to enjoy (such as throwing each other across a gap, or using one another as a ladder). Multiplayer makes its return in this version, in a four-player, spies vs. mercenaries mode that is almost identical to the version in “Pandora Tomorrow,” so if you’re a veteran of that game, you’ll find yourself right at home.
The “Splinter Cell” games are not for everyone, certainly, but what they do, they do very, very well. “Chaos Theory” is a worthy successor to one of the best-made game franchises out there, and if you like the idea of pretending to be Sam Fisher, you’re going to like this game a lot.
Graphics: 10. I almost never give out perfect 10’s, but I can’t imagine a sleeker, more fluid, more beautifully lit game world.
Sound: 8.0. The foreign accents are a little cheesy, but Sam Fisher’s voice work is excellent and the game music does a good job of alerting you to rising and falling levels of danger.
Gameplay: 9.0. Unless you just hate stealth games, you’ll like the way “Chaos Theory” plays.
Story: 7.5. Pretty standard Tom Clancy: terrorists, international tension, secret government operations, yada yada yada.
Replayability: 8.0: Multiplayer and different difficulty levels provide plenty of depth.
Overall: 8.5. “Chaos Theory” is a worthy successor to the “Splinter Cell” dynasty.
Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory Xbox Review