|Sam Fisher's back...and this time he's bringing a friend|
I worship this game, and believe me when I say that's coming from he who normally hates
Chaos Theory is the game that finally makes sneaking around feel genuinely fun. It's an absolute riot to lurk in the shadows, eyeing up your prey and sussing out the perfect time to strike. Knowing that every second that passes brings them closer and closer to death. That the choices as to how they'll meet that grisly end are limitless. I'm telling ya, playing Chaos Theory has given me new found respect for celebrity stalkers who live in the bushes; those guys sure know where the fun's at.
Let's step back for a moment. This is the third Splinter Cell title, once again following the counter terrorism antics of Sam Fisher, and the follow up to last year's Pandora Tomorrow. While I sorta dug that game, it feels like pretty much all the time and effort went into the multiplayer portion. Admittedly the spies vs. mercs dynamic worked surprisingly well, but at the same time it left a single player game that looked and played no differently to the original. More of a multiplayer expansive pack, if you will.
With the third title coming out so soon after, you'd be forgiven for expecting another tacked on sequel. That couldn't be further from the truth however, and that's immediately evident the first time you see this baby in motion.
Graphics to Slit a Throat For
|Combat those photo-realistic shadows with a bit of the old nightvision. Gorgeous|
Chaos Theory's visuals have had a complete overhaul. It keeps everything that was so ace about the first two incarnations - the oh so dark shadows, the realistic environments and the near perfect animation - but crams them into a much more impressive 3D engine that's honestly one of the best I've ever seen. You can't appreciate what a looker this game is until you see it moving, it's absolutely mesmerising.
Although affecting only people, the physics are flippin' awesome too. Taking down enemies and watching them collapse in eerily realistic ways is a blast, and gives the combat much less of a "wooden" feeling. It's great to sneak up on a guy typing away at his keyboard, firing a shell into the back of his skull, then watching him jerk forward and slowly slump off his chair to the ground. No I'm not a sick puppy...I'm saving the world, damn it.
The unified lighting system reminds heavily of Riddick and Doom III, yet the pitch back hues not only work better here, but they're more perfectly matched to the genre. Sam Fisher practically lives
in the dark, so building a 3D engine around such pixel perfect shadow and lighting effects makes much more sense. Real-time shadows, destroyable bulbs, fluorescent nightvision - this stuff doesn't just look cool as in the previously mentioned games, but it also makes up the sheer core of the gameplay. Shadows are everything if you plan to survive, further emphasised by just how damn useful Sam's four vision modes are now.
Where Does He Get Those Wonderful Toys?
While the graphics have been rebuilt from the ground up, the gameplay hasn't been altered quite so heavily. Then again, it didn't really need to be.
It's still good old Splinter Cell here, but at the same time this is by far the best it's ever been. We haven't got any drastically new gameplay systems or additions, but we certainly have some tweaking and perfecting. As a result, it's oh so much more fun now.
|As Sam took down his 800th grunt for the day, Predator watched from afar...|
For starters, this is the most action packed SC yet. Thanks to customised equipment load-outs at the start of each mission, you can happily swap out spy cams and stealth rounds for additional gun ammo and shotgun attachments. Don't get me wrong, the game ain't Resi 4, but you can certainly kick up much more of a fight now if you so wish. None of this really matters however, because sneaking around and doing the whole spy thing is such a blast, you won't even want to use your guns.
A big part of this is down to the addition of a new knife. Now you can slice and dice with the push of a button for the ultimate stealth kill, and it feels so natural and delicious that it boggles the mind why it's taken until now to appear. Lone grunts who you'd simply avoid in the previous games, are now way too tempting a victim to pass up. The knife is not only awesomely slick for slicing bellies, but it also serves exploration purposes, cutting openings into tents and other soft material.
I also love the fact that triggering alarms no longer causes failed missions. Triggering too many will create enemy forces who are much more heavily armoured, and on occasion they may even setup gun turret reinforcements, but the mission itself still remains complete-able no matter what. It's a great system I must say, as your tactics will ultimately need to alter as the enemies boost their defences.
Another great addition is the concept of environmental kills. Depending on your position within the surrounding scenery, you can perform some truly fiendish executions now. Favourites include pulling a guard off the top of a lighthouse, shoving one over the deck of a ship and perhaps best of all, the good old hanging upside down from the ceiling neck snap.
|Make like The Punisher and start using that scenary...it's a long way down|
As great as this stuff is mind you, my fave takedowns were the ones I thought up myself. The ability to bash open doors with immense force is a sheer pleasure when combined with thermal vision, as you can time it just perfectly on unsuspecting guards on the other side. For a genuine LOL moment though, try setting wall mines onto stairways, then calling enemies over with a whistle...the ensuing chaos as the mine explodes and their flame-grilled bodies go hurtling down the stairs is almost beautiful enough to make me join a terror camp.
It all ties in with just how damn interactive this world has become. I love how pretty much every single room in the game has something that can be manipulated. It could be as simple as turning the lights on or off like in the previous games, but now there's also blowing out candles, cutting phone lines, peeking under doors, climbing into air-vents, turning on the radio, turning off a monitor or even pulling the curtains to. Such interactions can provide you with better hiding places, but what's great is guards will notice when things have been altered, and subsequently get suspicious. This sort of depth creates a much more organic experience, where you truly feel part of a real world.
Finally I have to mention the level design; they're as varied as they are brilliant. You'll find yourself dangling through skylights to infiltrate a bank, bouncing around rooftops amid a warzone and perhaps most homoerotically of all, fumbling your way through a steamy bathhouse (tip: heat vision is your friend).
Not only are the levels fabulously designed, with multiple paths and the like, but they also include a ton of side objectives - additional content for you to partake in only if you wish. This can include tapping cameras, hacking computer systems and much more besides. Sure, you can blast through the missions and just touch base with the primary objectives, but completing all the various secondary missions will require some serious time and talent, and the fact you're then "rated" on level's completion means the game has some surprising replay value in that regard.
Spies Like Us
|Two's better than one. Now you can access all those hard to reach spots|
Needless to say, I was damn impressed with Chaos Theory's single player game. It overshadows the previous games by a mile, and gives me that same sense of excitement that I hadn't felt since I played the first SC demo oh so many years back. This is only half the story though, because as far as multiplayer action goes, Ubi Soft have outdone themselves with Chaos Theory.
You still get the same old vs. mode as before, upgraded slightly as it is, but the real star of the show is the co-op feature. Now unfortunately this doesn't let you play through the entire single player game with a mate, but it does provide five additional and very long standalone missions, and trust me when I tell you...it fucking rocks.
These levels have been specifically created for co-op play, so the design enforces the use of tag-team abilities such as rope grappling and wall boosting. With a buddy in tow, the game feels a lot less gadget-based and a lot more physical - almost like your team mate is now your main tool. It certainly opens up a fair few manoeuvres that you couldn't pull off in the single player portion.
Once Upon a...zzzZZZzzz...
The main problem I really have with the Splinter Cell games as a whole, and it's not just this one by any means, is the storytelling. They attempt to weave complex, international conspiracy laden plot-lines that dart all over the place, but ultimately just come off as a little confusing. I never feel truly drawn in and mesmerised by what I'm doing, and much more like a detached gun for hire who doesn't particularly care about the overarching implications of his actions.
Names and places are reeled off continually both during and between your missions in the Splinter Cell games, so much so that they tend to blur together and become irrelevant. Perhaps this all suits the character of Sam Fisher; someone who needs only concentrate on the guard around the corner, not the larger forces at work, and in fact his dialogue even reflects this at times. It would be nice to care a little more about the consequences of these missions though.
That said, Chaos Theory does improve slightly as far as these games go. There are much more in-depth pre-mission briefings for one, including each of the different specialists on your team providing you with more detailed intel that you can choose to listen to or not. There were also one or two major plot points involving stray missiles that pleasantly surprised me. It's kinda perfect that 24's Dennis Haybert has been providing voice acting duties for these games, as with each passing instalment, Sam Fisher's exploits feel more and more like Jack Bauer's, if still not quite as entertaining.
I should also point out, the game has become hella funny now. Some of the one-liners caught me off guard, and were pleasingly self-deprecating in a way not really heard since the original Max Payne.
Splinter Cell 4 - The Movie?
Regardless of the storytelling methods, Chaos Theory's true strengths lie in its sheer playability. I've played the heck out of this game ever since I got my mitts on it, and am in no danger of stopping any time soon. It's the culmination of everything great about the series, surprisingly wrapped up in some of the most cutting edge graphics technology you'll see in any game currently on release.
While the PC version will look the best as always, I actually recommend getting this one on Xbox. The GameCube and PS2 versions lack hugely in the graphics department, mere shadows of the true game they mimic, however the big green X pulls it all off stunningly well. Between this and the recent Doom III port, I'm continually amazed by what developers are cranking out of the Xbox lately, and while not quite as razor sharp as on a high level PC, it does have the bonus of widescreen support, a nice comfy sofa, and most importantly all, a split screen option for that co-op mode. Grab a mate, turn the lights down, and get busy. Playing the game I mean.
Mind you, the next time we see Sam Fisher it could well be up on the big screen. That's right, the Fish is making his way over to movies, and a teaser trailer for the upcoming flick is even included on the Chaos Theory disc. Other than the fact Peter Berg
is handling directing duties, details are sketchy right now.
One thing's for sure though...as far as video game movies go, it can't be as bad as fucking Street Fighter.