STAFF REVIEW of Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory (Xbox)

Sunday, April 3, 2005.
by SilverOak

Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory Box art If Sam Fisher were available for hire to just anyone, do you think we would have some of the stories and scandals that are in today?s news? Would Sam have left the kids alone with Michael? Would bad intel have made it?s way to the White House regarding WMD? Do you think Sam would have let Nicole and Ron walk up that sidewalk all alone with a knife wielding assailant in the bushes? The correct answer to all of the above is ?no way?. Much like Viagra or Cialis, Sam Fisher is the ultimate asset when you really, really need assistance with your uhhh?problems.

Sam and the gang at Third Echelon, a ?splinter cell? of the NSA, are back and ready to rescue the world again from the dark forces that would wreak havoc on the world if left to their own devices. Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory is the sequel to last summers blockbuster hit, Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow. When we last saw Sam, Lambert, and Grimsdottir in Pandora Tomorrow, they had just saved the free world from a deadly smallpox virus release. This time they are after bad guys intent on an evil that could be torn from the newspaper headlines today?Information Warfare.

Mr. Clancy and the nice folks at Ubisoft have graced us with three different game types in Chaos Theory. Single player, Co-op, and Versus Modes. If you?re a fan and player of the previous game, you?ll have no problems recognizing the SP and Versus types. Co-op is our new gift and so far, it is proving more than a just addition to the genre.

Ten missions comprise the SP mode. Ten ways in which your skills as a master spy can be tested. To some foolhardy folks, the creeping about and becoming ?one with the shadows? was boring. Sheesh! You just can?t please everyone! Well, Ubisoft heard their whimpering and altered the SP mode so that if you prefer to do more killing and less covert warfare you can do so, but at the cost of mission accomplishments and ratings. As an example, if you go to beating up and/or killing guards, you might miss an interrogation that reveals info about secondary targets, or Opportunity Targets as Third Echelon refers to them. Achieving more goals is what allows your mission rating to go higher. We also must assume this is how Sam get?s his annual salary increase from the NSA.

To this writer, these secondary goals are what makes SC:CT so engrossing. Exploring different routes and attempting the goals by methods never tried is what gives this game its potential longevity and the raises the excitability factor.

The bad guys in most videogames are like the Scarecrow in ?The Wizard of Oz?. More than anything else, all they want is some brains so they can be smart! The developers heard their cries and have made them much more curious, if not smarter, in SC:CT. If they hear a noise or see something peculiar, they?ll check it out much more thoroughly than they ever did in SC:PT. I am playing my missions on the ?hard? level and the guards stubbornness to not go back to their regular patrolling was maddening at first, until I just made more of an effort to pursue a more quiet, deliberate pace of play with less risks. Damn their job attentiveness!

Like the 150 lb. weakling at the beach who regularly gets sand kicked in his face by ripped girl magnets that play volleyball all day long, the Mercenaries just got the raw end of the deal in SC:PT. Only an accomplished player could routinely use their minimum skills and tools to defeat those aggressive Spies. This time around, the Mercs were given a heavy dose of anabolic steroids and inserted back into the game. Want to break a Merc neck? Better hit it perfect or you?ll be laid out by their Berserk Attack which, as the name implies, is like a combination somewhere between a teens temper tantrum and a strung out crack addict wielding an assault rifle. It ain?t pretty, but it is highly effective against Spies who?s ultimate thrill is trash talking before a good neck snapping. If the Spy is laid out but not killed, the Merc can in turn kneel on the Spies chest and talk to him as well. What is said in these compromised positions in usually not very nice, but turnabout is fair play. Additionally, the use of the surveillance cameras offers another tool to catch unsuspecting Spies. With teamwork, two Mercs can use the new camera system to its fullest potential and do a lot less running from room to room.

Spy fans were not left out of the ?05 upgrade either. New gadgets include a camouflage suit that, while not perfect, does offer the user enhanced invisibility in situations where shadows are not available. The suit wearer appears to the eye as a shimmering spot?not quite what the other surroundings look like, but to the Merc that is not carefully watching, that could quickly become a huge mistake in the form of a neck breaking.

Ubisoft touts the game as having 11 ?new? maps, but in reality only 6 of them are new and the other five are redesigned and revamped from Pandora. Not really bad things as most of us are very familiar with those maps and with the upgrades made in the rest of the game play, the longevity is extended in the older maps like Warehouse.

The newest (and best IMO) game in Chaos is the Co-op mode. Available on split screen via System Link or Online, Co-op will have you hooked from the first time you join with your partner to knock out a few guys using your combined skills. Following the premise that two heads are better than one, the developers expanded on the SP mode and gave us maps and missions that require two people to accomplish them. Pick your partners wisely. Like a good marriage, there will have to be unspoken communication to be successful.

When your teammate peeks underneath a door using his optic cable, you?ll receive a prompt that gives you the option to share his view the room beyond. Likewise, sharing equipment and healing one another through the use of syringes is available. Very nice enhancements Ubisoft! Scaling low walls, high walls, rappelling together, and the almost laughable Tomoe Nage maneuver in which you toss your teammate backwards into an enemy are all used by each person pressing the black button on their controller. Once you get the basic understanding of how it works, it becomes seamless and second nature when you come to obstacles in your path.

After my first week of playing, I must freely admit that one of my biggest thrills in SP mode is taking out a guard and finding a high spot from which to drop him. Cliff edges, deep crevices or anything like them will do. Just to watch the body drop far down and splat into something immovable in very satisfying. Yes, I realize I have issues, but beyond that, it is one example of the limits that Ubisoft is pushing the Xbox visually. There is wind, rain, and moving lit areas that challenge you not only as you play the game, but also let you become more engrossed in what you?re doing. Close-ups of faces
Show detail to characters that reflect their emotions accurately. Of course our man Sam is so cool he?ll never waver from his business like approach, but some of these guards had better check their underwear after Sam is done with them.

I?m told we must write something about the audio portion of games we review, but it so difficult for me as sound in a game is something we don?t appreciate fully unless it is a negative. In Chaos? case, this is not the issue. The soundtrack is a foreboding type of music that, while it is dark and ominous, it can get your heart rate beating faster quite easily. If you KNOW there?s a guard around the next corner that is looking for you, the music doesn?t help your situation by enhancing the scenario and going into a quick bass beat. It makes it quite easy to do things at a pace you wouldn?t normally do them.

Wind speed, waves crashing, footsteps, voices, they?re all covered very well in Chaos. The talk in Co-op is something my teammate and I had some good laughs at the expense of. Homophobia took hold of us in a laughing fit as I kneeled in front of him and said ?I?m ready?. Good times yes, but just an example of the voices and the role they play in assisting your progress.

Early playing and discussion has centered around disconnects and sluggish frame rates in Co-op mode. While bugs are almost certainly found in almost every new release, this hopefully will be resolved quickly as this bug is in the games newest (and best) game type.

Let?s play a game?.?I am the President of Ubisoft and everyone who works for me has to do whatever I say?.even those attractive secretaries over there. Uhhh?where was I?oh yeah...what I want all you game developers to do is make maps. Make tons of maps. Hire people whose sole function at our beloved company is to design new maps for our fans to buy for a nominal fee. Nothing enhances the legs of a video game than the newness of exploring a new map. Plus, it gives those who don?t play as much as the 8 Hour A Day Player more of an equal footing when it comes to online play. So there you have it people, those are my marching orders?expand on what we?ve already done with this game and keep the game fresh!?

Overall: 9.8 / 10
Gameplay: 9.8 / 10
Visuals: 9.8 / 10
Sound: 9.8 / 10


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