Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell 3: Chaos Theory
A bride is about to enter the church. Her mom quickly comes to the rescue. The bride has forgotten to tighten her corset. Mom pulls the cords so tight the bride is unable to breathe. Arrived at the altar the priest pops the question. But oh dear, the bride can’t say a word and is searching for air. So mom jumps up from her front row seat and gives the poor girl an Airwave. Satisfied and breathing again the bride answers with a confident “yes”. Does this story seem familiar to you? Well, than you’re part of the unlucky people who have witnessed the new commercial for the chewing gum Airwaves. What in Christ’s name does this irritating commercial have in common with Chaos Theory? You’re about to find out in my extensive review.
Chaos Theory is all but irritating but certain parts of the game do remind me of the commercial. In the first cut scene you see Sam quickly taking an Airwave before being thrown into the action area. The marketers call this product placement, a new way of advertising that till this day didn’t make me bite my nails. Promoting your product or brand in a game isn’t bad but don’t overdo it. With the above mentioned example it’s obvious that the product placement in Chaos Theory is a bit over the top. Sam Fisher, the tough, charismatic stealth king is associated with Airwaves; the chewing gum with the immense irritating commercial. Thank god there are other product placements in the game such as Axe; a deodorant which I love to compare myself with. Yes, I do attract the attention of the ladies in the same way Axe does. Don’t doubt my impregnable good looks, you ignorant gamer.
But enough about my mannequin looks and marketing gibberish, there are far more important things do see and do in Chaos Theory. The story is again written by none other than Tom “I love the terrorist hype these days” Clancy and I can sum it up in just one sentence: North-Korea and China try to terrorise Japan. To be honest, I’ve had it with those terrorists. Not only do they pop up in the news more often than Jackson’s “love” stories, they start making their way to videogames too. I say it’s time for a revolution against terrorist stories. I find the story therefore still one of the weakest parts of Splinter Cell because there is little to none attraction to the characters and their deeds. Of course this is a pure personal point of view and the fact is that I am more intrigued by the gameplay than the storyline.
And that gameplay is one heck of a cutie again. Sam has, despite his age, still learned some new moves. To get your grasp on those the game developers have invented a tutorial mode. Where you’re able to play the tutorial in previous Splinter Cell iterations you now get a bunch of movies presented. To make things worse the little demonstrations tend to drop frames quite severely. This forces you to just try out several moves during your first mission without even knowing what the new moves are. This however never gets irritating as the new moves are only minor adjustments to the previous ones. This doesn’t mean they’re not impressive. Take for instance the addition of a knife in Sam’s inventory. It’s clear that you can do serious damage to someone’s throat with a butcher’s knife but it has some other handy advantages too. You can cut several materials such as tents and pierce generators to cut off the power supply in certain levels. And believe it or not but Ubisoft has heard my prayers of last times review. Sam can now interrupt the electricity in lamps with the help of his pistol so you won’t have to break those lovely light bulbs. This is a major relief for someone who grew up with Philips light bulbs and cries days and days over a broken one. Two thumbs up for Ubisoft.
The combination of new moves and the knife give Sam more killing abilities. From simply pushing one down a hill to giving effective stabs in the stomach area; Sam is more aggressive than ever. Aside from this Sam can perform a rather cool neck breaking move when in hanging duck position. The only downfall however is that you don’t get to use these new moves that often making you rely on the typical ways of killing your enemies. One move however that got my attention was the ability of kicking in doors. This is very fun when a guard is on the other side of the door. I mean; the most stupid dead is probably being killed by a kicked in door that has a door knot on it and isn’t closed at all. Overall the new moves do offer some memorable gameplay moments.
A big minus for some players of previous Splinter Cell games was the trial and error gameplay. You often had to play parts of levels again and again, which was mainly due to the checkpoint save points. In Chaos Theory however it’s possible to save at any given time in any given place. This not only lowers the trial and error gameplay but also gives you a more calm feeling while playing. You can continue your sneaking without worrying about when the next checkpoint will come along. A rather negative side effect however is the fact that you’ll easily play through Chaos Theory. But no worries, it’s still the best stealth game out there. Or is it less stealthy?
In Pandora Tomorrow you could only chose for a stealthy approach whereas you now have the opportunity to pick your style of play, ranging from stealth to assault. In assault you’ll just have more bullets and destructive grenades. I see little purpose in choosing for assault equipment as Splinter Cell is all about sneaking up behind your opponent, taking him in a stranglehold and after popping some silly questions…well you know what. When interrogating your victims it’s clear that Chaos Theory has a lot more humour than previous games. An example: in one level you’ll overhear two guards talking about their experience last year on an oil rig where a certain ninja was giving them a hard time (yes, that ninja would be you in Pandora Tomorrow). When you grab one of them and interrogate him, he gets all excited that he’ll be killed by the same ninja. After his legendary words: “Oh my god, I’ve never been killed by a ninja before”, I decided to end his miserable life, even if I’m not really ninja. This humour breaks the rather serious atmosphere of the game and gives it a lighter feel.
The missions in Chaos Theory are very much comparable to those seen in PT with some minor adjustments here and there. Sam can for instance hack into computers now to get some secret information. The hacking system is really quite simple. On the left you’ll get a list of four numbers and in the bottom right corner you’ll see another four digits. Those will light up one after another and it’s your task to press the X button when they’re lit. This way the list on the left will eventually narrow down to one number, which is the winning code. It sounds a lot harder than it actually is. Aside from this you can complete secondary objectives in a next level if you weren’t able to complete them in the last mission. You’ll also get optional objectives where you’ll mostly be collecting certain objects such as secret microphones or scanning crates with valuable information. You can do this with your newly acquired EMF. This is comparable to the other viewing modes such as night vision and works equally the same with your typical three light binoculars. Chaos Theory plays mostly the same as Pandora Tomorrow but the minor adjustments still make it a worthy follow up.
The most innovative thing about Chaos Theory is probably the co-op mode which we see popping up in more and more games these days. In it you can play together with a friend in four different missions. The levels are designed in a way you’re forced to cooperate. You should for instance reach higher areas which can only be done by working together. One player should stand against the wall while the other can crawl up his shoulders to reach the higher area. This makes for some cool gameplay. It’s obvious however that the developers have put more effort into the single player mode. But don’t worry; the online mode is still available in Chaos Theory. It’s been mostly kept the same with the addition of a few new maps. You can still play as a spy or a mercenary. The maps are pretty big though forcing you to really study them thoroughly. To sum things up; the online mode is a welcome variation and it certainly lengthens the lasting appeal.
What amazed me the most were the graphics. Where Pandora Tomorrow only had minor adjustments in the looks, Chaos Theory really makes a leap. The levels are all drop dead gorgeous which is mostly thanks to the improved bump-mapping making the indoor levels much more detailed as previously was the case. The new rag-doll physics also make the opponents fall down more convincingly. I must admit that I do feel that the Xbox is nearing its limit because the game does drop in frames now and then. Especially when you’re about to be discovered by suspicious guards the screen hangs for a while. My advice to you; don’t get caught and you’ll have no problem with the frame drops. The sound is again top notch. With a very nifty soundtrack and equal sound effects, the game sets the right espionage mood.
Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory is, despite the innovative co-op mode, not an enormous advancement in comparison to last years’ instalment. From another point of view, you shouldn’t be downed by that as Pandora Tomorrow was a very decent game and why change a winning strategy? The improved graphics, co-op mode and decent online mode make Chaos Theory a great game and secure the stealth king crown for Sam Fisher to wear. The only thing that keeps me busy is that irritating Airwaves commercial and playing Chaos Theory isn’t helping me get rid off it. It looks like Sam Fisher will be giving me negative associations for weeks to come.