Gamestyle Archive intro: you know I cannot remember much about this game that I reviewed just over 10 years ago now. Splinter Cell was a fine series and offered an entertaining challenge away from the usual gung-ho blasting titles. This review dates from March 2005.
Can it be that the third Splinter Cell release is already upon us? An incessant and unforgiving impetus to deliver the next annual instalment can sometimes mean the kiss of death for many a series (and novelist). Yet somehow Tom Clancy and his Splinter Cell always manage to come up trumps: constantly evolving and pushing the boundaries of stealth and co-operative play, this is a premier series that deserves all the recognition it gets. And, once again, Chaos Theory is no different. The storyline casts you into an international crisis which Third Echelon finds of interest – because North Korea, China and Japan are intent on kicking off the next world war. However, this is merely subterfuge, as there is something far more sinister underway: information is power; throw a troublesome algorithm into the proceedings and there is only one man that can hope to win the battle. Cue Sam Fisher and his next adventure.
While Gamestyle cannot criticise the storyline (despite its overfamiliarity) or the dynamics at work, we can find fault with the host: this should be the final Splinter Cell on the ageing Playstation 2, and it’s about time. For two instalments now, the format has tried to cope with the ambition and sweeping design of the development team; the loading issues associated with Pandora Tomorrow have improved greatly, yet there aren’t enough alternate routes or commanding environments within the ten levels that comprise Chaos Theory. The checkpoints are also badly positioned; thankfully a quicksave feature has been implemented, but in retrospect the changes don’t always facilitate a more user-friendly experience (despite its easiest setting being ‘normal’).
Speaking of experience, Sam Fisher can boast of several moves added to an already bewildering stock-in-trade. Because of this, the control system can sometimes feel forced, lacking an intuitive edge and forcing a scramble for the instruction booklet. Of course, each Splinter Cell performance is reminiscent of James Bond; more fantastical gadgets arrive with each new script. Sam now has a scrambler attachment for his pistol (which can knock out various devices) and, perhaps predictably, a commando knife. Previous Splinter Cell missions could be approached systematically (eg, “no that didn’t work, I’ll try this instead”) until a successful outcome was reached. Perhaps in reply to criticism of Pandora Tomorrow’s difficulty, Chaos Theory allows for alternate ‘approaches’ when loading up for the next mission; the flaw here is that both sets of equipment (ie, stealth or assault) are predetermined – there is no Ghost Recon-like freedom to kit out as you please. Regardless of approach, the AI in Chaos Theory is responsive (but not overly so), and a tad more forgiving than ‘one slip-up and you’re dead’.
Upon inserting game code into the PS2, one can almost visualise the machine’s inner rumblings, perpetual growling at having to stomach ever more complex routines. The improved menus initially offer hope that the digestive tract is clear, however optimism – and optimisation – is clouded because Sam works almost exclusively at night (or dusk) – and Chaos Theory plunges the player into eternal darkness, with nary a speck of radiance that this version so obviously needs. Animation and character models are admittedly top-notch, but in comparison the surrounding textures are somewhat chunky and ill-defined (and perhaps indicative of the multiformat appetite which so distends the comfort zone of the Playstation 2). The arrival of Amon Tobin to score the soundtrack has been beneficial, as Chaos Theory boasts plenty of atmosphere (although the music somewhat detracts from the excellent sound effects and dialogue – including the in-game directions from Lambert – and the stealthy remit). Taken as an ensemble production however, there is a place for everything – and everything is audibly in place. If Pandora Tomorrow hinted at what could be achieved online, then Chaos Theory is the natural extension.
Offline, there’s the featured addition of co-operative mode, whereby you and a friend can partake in a bit of espionage gymnastics: it’s a thoroughly breathtaking experience in overcoming obstacles through co-operation and using the environment to your advantage. Played online, co-op relaxes its grip and instead promotes mental agility – knowing the map can often hold vital clues to victory. Again, played online, Chaos Theory benefits from the limited number of participants; it is a fluid and self-assured experience – and given the popularity of the title, matches are never too hard to find (although it’s perhaps too reminiscent of the previous game, and even includes many of the same maps).
Splinter Cell Chaos Theory matches the high intrigue of previous releases, and even throws a few new tricks into the rucksack. Conceptually, it is a journey worth taking – but with the next round of consoles waiting in the wings, Gamestyle anticipates not merely another chapter, but instead a whole new beginning.
Gamestyle Score: 8/10