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Game: Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory
Developer: Ubisoft
Publisher: Ubisoft
Year: 2005
Reviewed: 2008
Platform: PC
Genre: 3rd-person Stealth
Game Version: Patched to version 1.05
Reviewer: ValkyrDeath

Light bulb wearing Sam Fisher returns for the third game in the Splinter Cell series. After Pandora Tomorrow’s rather uneven level design, this could have turned out badly. Thankfully, with Chaos Theory, the series has finally started to reach the potential shown by the original game. And now it comes complete with fabulous in-game advertising! Hoorah!

Splinter Cell Chaos Theory Interrogation
“I’ll give you one last chance. Are you going to buy some Airwaves or aren’t you?”

The gameplay is the same sort of thing that is expected from a Splinter Cell game, but it’s been refined to eliminate the problems with the previous game and create a much improved experience. This is mostly achieved through the vastly improved level design. Where some of the levels in the middle of Pandora Tomorrow were frustrating, especially the levels set in the jungle which had me feeling like smashing the game disc to pieces on more than one occasion, Chaos Theory has a remarkably consistent quality given the diverse range of settings you get to sneak through. You also get to be educated in the ways of other countries, such as how everyone all over the world seems to use Nokia advertisements as screensavers, and how spies love to chew Airwaves gum on their way into enemy territory. (Do I get paid for the brand mentions in my review?)

In terms of plot, the game has improved over the previous games. That’s not to say it’s got a great plot; it’s still your general Tom Clancy one-man-can-defeat-entire-terrorist-organisation plot, but it’s a bit more interesting. This is partly due to the fact that the game has suddenly got a sense of humour. It makes things a lot more enjoyable when the game isn’t taking its ridiculous plots so seriously that it doesn’t want to risk causing the player to even smile once. Most of the humour comes from the interrogations; when Sam grabs someone from behind, before he knocks them out he can question them to find out information, sometimes useful, sometimes pointless, but generally entertaining. These interrogations tended to only come in very rare situations in the earlier games, and only when there was important information to give, but now you can generally interrogate several people per level. These range from the guard in Japan that’s bizarrely happy about the fact that he’s just been grabbed by someone he believes to be a ninja to Mr. Fisher’s sarcastic comments and bad jokes as he threatens to kill various hapless henchmen. There are also various jokes at the expense of Pandora Tomorrow, such as when Sam enquires as to whether three alarms means the mission is over and gets a negative response, stating that he isn’t in a game.

Vision Modes
As well as the sneaking around, Splinter Cell games have always included lots of gadgets and different modes of vision. Here’s a brief look at the three vision modes offered in Chaos Theory…
Splinter Cell Chaos Theory Night Vision
Night Vision: The usual green-tinted see in the dark classic. Splinter Cell has always done night vision better than anyone else, and it works as well as ever here.
Splinter Cell Chaos Theory Thermal Vision
Thermal Vision: The Splinter Cell staple that detects heat signatures, allowing you to detect enemies in any circumstances. Especially useful in smoke filled or steamy environments where night vision is useless.
Splinter Cell Chaos Theory EMF Vision
EMF Vision: AKA Useless-o-vision. Turns the screen blue, almost entirely featureless except for glowing points where electronic equipment is. Umm…thanks… I’d never have known that computer was electronic without it.

Just a moment while I open my new packet of tasty Airwaves gum.

This time around, we also get to play around with some new moves, and the game actually gives situations where they can be used, unlike the rather pointless additions to the previous instalment. Now you can drop down on enemies from above to knock them unconscious, hang from an overhead pipe and wait for a guard to pass by below before silently snapping his neck, or hang down from high platform and pull people over as they walk past, sending them plummeting to their doom. Of course, it’s usually easier just to sneak up on them from behind in the standard way, and you’re still likely to spend more time doing that than anything else, but it’s hard to resist using these new moves when you get the chance. It’s just so much more stylish to drag someone over a railing than to just whack them on the back of their head.

Splinter Cell Chaos Theory Lasers
Rappelling down over laser beams…this reminds me of something…

As mentioned earlier, the level design is very good. Through the game’s ten missions you get to sneak through a lighthouse and a ship and around Korea. You get to creep around buildings in Japan, grabbing enemy guards through paper walls just to look cool. In one mission, you even get to break into a bank vault, making it look like a robbery to cover your true motives. Although I guess stealing $50 million is a bit more than just making it look like a robbery.

And don’t worry about the in-game advertising either! Ubisoft are there to reassure us that we really love in-game advertising. Checking the official FAQs on the Ubisoft site reveals the following:
“Question   When I start the single player version of Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory the game tries to connect to the Internet what is going on, is this spyware of some sort?
Answer   This is not spyware at all. In Chaos Theory we are using a new tool that allows us to change the background ads that appear on monitors and TV screens to give a more immersive and up to date effect.”

See! They aren’t sticking advertising into their games to irritate the players while bringing in huge sums of money after all. No, it’s entirely to make the game immersive. Because the one thing we love about the real world that we need to be brought into our games is the constant advertising. Well, that’s a relief. More adverts please! I’d better just nip out and buy a Nokia phone.

Advergaming
In-game advertising can work unobtrusively at times. I don’t object at all to advertising in racing games, since that’s what you get on a real race track. I can even tolerate when Chaos Theory presents a neon Axe (Lynx here in England) deodorant advertisement as an obstacle, since you’ll get things like that in a city. A completely still Nokia advertisement as a screen saver though? Hardly makes sense. But when Sam Fisher pulls out a packet of Airwaves gum and we get a full screen close up of the packet being opened, it’s going a bit far. And then there’s the blimp…
Splinter Cell Chaos Theory Axe Ad
I’m sure neon advertising lights aren’t unusual, but the game makes sure you don’t miss it by placing it right where you need to go. Still, it isn’t too bad. At least it makes sense.
Splinter Cell Chaos Theory Nokia Ad
Not so sure about this though. Doesn’t having a still picture for a screensaver sort of defeat the whole point of them? It seems American military organisations will go to any lengths to promote Finnish mobile phones.
Splinter Cell Chaos Theory Airwaves
Sam Fisher won’t go on a mission without a pack of delicious Airwaves® gum. It’s so important that we have to see a close up view of the packet as he takes it out in the helicopter. In the cutscenes for the very first mission.
Splinter Cell Chaos Theory Airwaves
Airwaves gum is so important that we have to have this completely gratuitous shot of a pack of it in another cutscene. But don’t worry, it’s nothing to do with Ubisoft making extra money from advertising revenue. It clearly makes the game more realistic.
Splinter Cell Chaos Theory Blimp Splinter Cell Chaos Theory Blimp
And in the most blatantly unsubtle attempt at advertising I’ve ever seen, we have a cutscene where the power goes out in the city. We see the lights in the buildings gradually blink out leaving the city in complete darkness… all except the huge Airwaves blimp flying overhead of course, which remains lit. The amount of money they must have been raking in from this advertising I’d have expected to be able to buy the game for about 50p brand new.

Minor annoyances with the blatant commercialism aside, the game doesn’t really do much wrong. There’s one very weird graphical bug that happened occasionally with Tone Mapping enabled in the graphics options, whatever that is, but it was easily fixed. Chaos Theory is easily the best game in the Splinter Cell series, with polished gameplay, good level design and improvements in all areas. I’d probably recommend it as the best game to start with, with the mild caveat that it doesn’t feature any sort of interactive tutorial. It has a manual, and a set of videos you can watch from the menu that explain things to you, but it could potentially be a bit baffling to be thrown in without assistance to anyone who hasn’t played a Splinter Cell before. Even with that, I ended up killing all but one person in the first level while believing I was only knocking them unconscious, simply because I hadn’t found anywhere that told me that the left mouse button deals lethal attacks while the right mouse button is used if you merely want to knock someone out. But still, it makes a change not to have the game designers starting us off with a tutorial that thinks it has to teach us how to walk.

The Frank Miller Bug
I’ve seen a lot of bugs in games over the years, but this is the first bug I’ve found that makes the game look like it was drawn by Frank Miller. For the first hour or so the game played fine, but the next time I loaded it up things had changed. In the shadows, everything turned completely black with occasional white outlines, but go towards any lit areas and everything inverts and becomes white with black patches. Exiting and reloading the game fixed this, but then later on when I loaded the game it happened again, and reloading the game didn’t do anything. Eventually I discovered it was down to two graphics settings conflicting in some way. It’s not the worst bug I’ve ever seen, but at least it had style.
Splinter Cell Chaos Theory Frank Miller Bug Splinter Cell Chaos Theory Frank Miller Bug

Now stop reading this and go and buy some gum. (When do I get the money, Mr Fisher?)

Save System Review: Save anywhere and quicksave. Perfect!
Graphics: The graphics are pretty good. Obviously the game is now 3 years old so they’re not completely up to date, but they still look great when they’re not performing weird polarising trickery. Lighting is great as always.
Sound: The usual standard for the series, nothing that stands out greatly, but that means it’s doing its job well enough. The voice acting is of a high standard as usual for Splinter Cell.
Bugs: Just the graphical bug mentioned, but nothing too serious.
Gameplay: The usual great gameplay of the Splinter Cell series, improved by new moves and more choice of ways to approach any given situation, and aided by some brilliant level design.
Storyline: Better than the previous games, although still firmly in the usual generic anti-terrorism mould. It makes a bit more sense this time around though, and is a bit more interesting, and the tongue-in-cheek touches make it a lot more entertaining.

Arbitrary Final Score: 4.5 stars

Great stealth or just chaos? Give your theory in the forum!