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In Memory
Sean Pettibone

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


By Michael Palisano

Sam Fisher returns to remake the stealth-action genre once again in Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory for the Xbox. The gameplay excellent, with the standard high-tech weaponry and cool gadgets you've come to expect. Fisher has a few new moves this time, and can shoot while hanging, cut through cloth and paper walls and perform deadlier close quarter moves with his combat knife. The mission structure is more open with multiple paths and looser objectives. In addition to the single player mode, the game includes some impressive multiplayer co-op and deathmatch modes. From a visual standpoint, Chaos Theory looks simply amazing with stunning specular lighting, realistic water effects and incredibly detailed character models and environments. Read our review and find out why this is easily the best in the series to date, and a must-purchase for all Xbox owners.

Set in 2007, in an entirely believable version of the near future where the world is threatened by cyber-terrorists who've caused a worldwide blackout, Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory continues the adventures of Sam Fisher. Fisher is an undercover agent for the National Security Agency (NSA)'s top secret Third Echelon strike force. His mission is to uncover what the real reasons behind the Japanese governments formation of a new covert security agency. Fisher is sent into the field to find out who's responsible for the increasing tensions these events have caused in Asia and stop their plans without being detected. He relies on stealth and diversionary tactics to create as small a ripple as possible and avoid larger problems for the United States government. While he's physically alone in his missions, he can receive communications from Col. Lambert back in the States. Lambert typically outlines the mission objectives and goals, while warning Fisher to hold back frequently. He'll also receive information from several other characters including Anna, a computer specialist who provides Fisher with backup technical information and William Redding, who helps Fisher with planning in the field. However, these characters provide only provisional support, most of the actions and decisions made are Fisher's alone.

Once in the field, Fisher will need to rely on his skills, but he also has a few gadgets at his disposal. His primary objective in most areas is to get in and out without being seen. This requires him to lurk in the darkness and surprise unsuspecting foes. To help him see his visibility, he can check his light indicator on the bottom left of the screen, which shows how hidden he is. This is quite helpful, but he also needs to move quietly. Even a small noise can alert guards to his presence. However, there are times when he might want to draw a guard towards his location and he can do this either by whistling or throwing a small object such as a glass bottle. Fisher relies on his heat sensitive and night vision goggles that aid him throughout. These goggles allow him see things he wouldn't be able to see ordinarily. For example, he can see heat signatures behind walls to locate enemies lurking in the distance. This plays a large role in the gameplay, requiring you to keep aware of your surroundings at all times. In addition to locating enemies visually, you can also become aware of them by hearing their chatter in the distance. You can also gauge their distance by listening to how loud they are talking.

As you'd expect from a Clancy title, the game's incredible realism sets it apart. Fisher's arsenal of weapons and gadgets is quite impressive, ranging from standard pistols and machine guns. The biggest change this time is the SK-20K Assault Rifle, which he can now customize with unique attachments including Air-Foil rounds and Electronics Jammers in addition to his famous goggles. He can also use sniper rifles to shoot enemies from afar, throw flash and concussion grenades at enemies and more. Fisher can also use many of his famous gadgets and prototype weapons including the optical snake camera that allows him to see behind doors. In addition, he's learned several new abilities that allow him to shoot while hanging from the ceiling, strike while hiding underwater and change viewpoints from left to right while firing. These new weapons are impressive, but his most dangerous new ability might be the simplest - his combat knife. While previous titles gave players the ability to take out foes at close range, Chaos Theory expands this system dramatically with a number of new, more effective moves. He can also now use throws to dispatch enemies much faster and can do much more while hanging down from a ceiling, such as targeting and shooting. Another key strategy has Fisher lurking in the shadows, waiting for the perfect moment to strike. He can choose to take enemies out using his guns, or more effectively, sneak up behind them and take them out using his knife without making a sound. As in previous titles, after Fisher has downed an enemy, he can drag their body out of the light to avoid detection. These new moves give the player many more options, and the more versatile moves lists gives the player a much greater sense of freedom than before.

In addition to the newly expanded moves list, Ubisoft has also opened up the gameplay structure. Missions now have multiple objective, with primary and secondary objectives. The game is also slightly more forgiving, with minor errors no longer automatically ending a mission. You'll also find multiple paths and different ways to complete objectives which allows for greater freedom. However, the main storyline unfolds in a similar fashion, but the added freedom in completing missions is very much appreciated. With all these new moves and gadgets, its nice to see that the game still has a similar feel to previous games, which allows players to jump right in. Controlling Fisher is simple thanks to the game's intuitive controls and smartly designed interface. Moving around is fairly simple, and players can change from combat to stealth modes much easier. When in combat mode, players can also change their viewpoint from left to right perspectives automatically, making targeting much easier. Switching between weapons is simpler now as well, with most accessible with the press of a button. When the viewpoint changes from third-person to first when in binocular or sniper mode, you can scan and zoom through the environments easily without too much effort. Players can also use attachments and gadgets as well. Many of the close combat moves can be performed by pressing the action button from a small menu at the upper right of the screen. This single button approach allows you to perform a variety of action easily. It's context sensitive, and lets you cut through cloth, take down an enemy, use your lock picking abilities, scan computers, use the optical camera, open doors with a single action. Chaos Theory's intuitive interface is transparent for the most part, allowing you to concentrate on the mission at hand, instead of fumbling through complicated menus.

Chaos Theory's single player mode offers a dynamic, tension-filled experience and its multiplayer experience is just as polished and intense as the main game itself. Players can compete in an online stealth mode and work together to complete missions and objectives in a variety of levels and locales. For the Xbox edition, Chaos Theory supports co-op missions via split screen or in Xbox Live. These offer some exciting matches, but more interesting missions come in the form of the improved Versus mode, which expands and refines the gameplay first seen in Pandora Tomorrow. When playing in this mode, players are split into two teams, Spies and Mercenaries. The spies mission is to infiltrate a facility, recover data and leave without being detected. Playing as the Mercenaries, those on the other side have to locate the spies and eliminate them before they can exit the base. During each mission, players can heal their team-mates, share their viewpoints and communicate using the Xbox' headset. Additionally, there are several new features including many new stealth moves including the ability to pull up partners hanging off ledges, standing on your team member's shoulders, short boosts and more. In each area, players will find a number of random events such as action triggers, evolving environments and many new gadgets and weapons to use.

Previous games in the Splinter Cell series have consistently set new standards of technical excellence, and Chaos Theory is no exception. From a visual standpoint, Ubisoft has once again set a new highwater mark with this title. The interplay between light and shadow is brilliant, making the game a study in contrasts. Every element in the game is beautifully detailed, from the incredibly detailed texture mapping to the brilliant light sourcing. The character models are exceptionally detailed with brilliant motion capturing that makes them seem like real humans, not lifeless brain-dead bots. The realism extends to even the smallest details, down to the way that the guards pace hallways, and their reactions when they spot Fisher lurking in the darkness. Likewise, Chaos Theory's environments are incredibly detailed as well, whether your in a bleak light-house or wandering through Seoul's narrow streets. The lighting effects are simply dazzling throughout and include small details such as flames sparkling out of fireplaces, small lamps, bright spotlights and more. Every light source casts its own shadows, which can be used to alert you to enemy locations but can also alert them to you as well. The environments also feel more natural thanks to the upgraded water effects are quite stunning. You can almost see every drop of rain as it falls, while the waves in beach areas flow realistically.

The overall impact of these visual effects creates some stunning levels and this attention to detail permeates the levels to create an unprecedented realism throughout. Fisher's trademark heat and night-vision goggles have also undergone an impressive visual upgrade - instead of looking a bit flat, these viewpoints now offer more texture, which helps when you are confined in a dark area. Another key element of the series' appeal has always been its realistic weaponry and the detailed modeling here is quite impressive, with each device offering a realistic look that adds to the overall believability. Chaos Theory's presentation is likewise impressive, with a great cinematic flair evident throughout the levels. Chaos Theory's slick production values extend to the voice acting which is both extensive and effective in conveying a sense of tension throughout. Splinter Cell Chaos Theory definitely has a cinematic feel throughout, with high-gloss production values that create an immersive sometimes revelatory experience unmatched by any other title on the marker. Ironically, there's a trailer for the upcoming Splinter Cell movie attached to the game, but the game itself is so immersive, so smooth and compelling, that its doubtful a passive cinematic experience would be able to come even remotely close to the impact that the game has.

Chaos Theory's visuals are impressive, but they are only one reason why the game is so compelling. By creating a realistic, compelling narrative, the game keeps you involved throughout from start to finish. With each unfolding plot point, the sense of danger and foreboding grows, keeping you focused on your mission. The gameplay itself is outstanding, with the missions benefiting immensely from the less-structured branching structure. Fisher's new abilities and tactics definitely add to the excitement, with the less predictable enemies adding a sense of danger to the gameplay that wasn't present in previous titles. The solo game is excellent, with a plot as tightly wound and intense as the best Clancy novels, yet with enough freedom and options that you don't feel like you're a spectator in an on rails cinema. Chaos Theory's online multiplayer modes are innovative and clever, with the team based Spies vs. Splinters mode offering one of the more unique multiplayer experiences to date. From an aesthetic standpoint, the game offers an unmatched level of visual polish, creating a cohesive, believable environment that allows players to suspend their disbelief for an extended period. While many other stealth titles on the market try to imitate elements of the game, few have shown the level of polish that's evident in every element of this title. Even though it follows the brilliant Pandora Tomorrow by little over a year, Chaos Theory sets a new standard of excellence with brilliantly realized visuals, an immersive and gripping storyline, incredible realism and innovative gameplay.

Grade: A

> External Links

Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory Official Site
Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory Developer Diary
Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory TV Commercial
Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory Co-Op Trailer
Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory Premium Content

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