There's no hiding in the shadows for this game. Eagerly awaited for what seems like a lifetime, Splinter Cell Chaos Theory has finally blast itself onto the market with more force than a frag grenade.
Thought you'd successfully knocked off Phillip Masse in the original Splinter Cell? Think again. His legend lives on in the name of Bruce Morgenholt who now holds the secret of his computer algorithms. Once again, you're back in Sam Fisher's stealthy shoes, working as a lone operative for the National Security Agency as part of the Third Echelon team. Your aim is to find the algorithms and prevent a pretty big war breaking out between Korea and the United States. Of course you'll have the invaluable Grimsdottir and Lambert (the pen-pushers back at the office) to offer help through your earpiece as you infiltrate locations ranging from a Japanese retreat in Hokkaido, to the high rise building of Manhattan.
It will come as a bit of a shock for newcomers to the game as you begin the first level, when you are unceremoniously dumped on a beach in Peru and told to infiltrate a rocky coastal fortress. This is no Splinter Cell 1 or 2 style 'training' level. This is the real deal where Lambert or Grim won't be talking you through the controls. Before panic sets in, go back to the main menu where you will find a handy set of training videos. These will give you a detailed run down on everything from basic moves and weapons, to hints on what not to do. Even experienced Splinter Cell gamers will find this useful to get a grip on some of the new moves and controls, and in the mean time don't have to sit through a training wheels type level.
A range of stealthy new moves has been added to Sam's repertoire, with hanging inverted neck breaks and dangling from ledges while yanking enemies over the edge, all in a days work. Advanced moves are not the only area to have been upgraded though. Sam's weapons have also been given an overhaul. His pistol has been fitted with an OCP device, which allows you to short out electrical equipment silently for a small space of time. Now there's no more wasting precious ammo shooting out lights. The main SC-20K rifle can be equipped with four different attachments so you can fire the usual bullets, shotgun shells, sticky cameras and sticky shockers. Possibly the most notable addition is a knife. You now have the choice of a non-lethal knockout or a devastatingly simple knife in the back of an enemy. The new knife also comes in handy for slicing open soft materials and picking locks.
Before each mission starts you have to choose from three different ammo options customized to suit individual playing styles. This helps to individualize each person's playing experience. Now there's no risk of frustratingly running out of ammo if you are an assault style player or having to rely on guns if you prefer to use stealth gadgets. For those that don't have a distinctive preference towards stealth or assault, a third option gives a combination of the two.
Instead of save points being restricted to set points within the game, a new option now allows you to save at any time. This is actually a bit of a mixed blessing as although it allows you to move through the game with fewer interruptions, you lose the satisfaction of reaching save points within each mission. The lack of goal-orientated checkpoints is more than made up for by the stats given at the end of each level, including an overall success percentage. Bear in mind that each alarm set off and guard killed will lower your percentage and you could well find yourself finishing with a measly 22% success rate. If that's not an incentive to go back and give it another go, I wouldn't know what is.
One of the most obvious improvements in Chaos Theory is the greater attention to detail in the graphics. The developers didn't cut a single corner in the visual aspect of this game. As always, the lighting and shadows are spectacular but it is the smaller details that really show off the high quality. Close-up views of your environment reveal no signs of pixel blurring. Planks and crates are rendered perfectly, down to the grain of the wood and labeled cargo. The visual details of dirt and grime in some levels are so realistic you'll desperately want to jump in the shower after playing.
Ubisoft's chosen composer, Amon Tobin has produced a soundtrack that will have your heart racing and your blood pumping. The music blends seamlessly with the action and the storyline. Each level is accompanied by an original and entirely non-repetitive musical score - at times chilling and quiet, at others a frenzy of drums and percussion. It's in the moments when it's quiet enough to hear a pin drop that you'll truly appreciate how much effort has been put into the sound effects. Every surface and interactive item makes a sound so lifelike you'll swear blind you had just knocked over a bottle yourself, or someone beside you had just booted up your PC.
In general, Chaos Theory seems to have slightly easier gameplay. A good deal of time was spent in the previous two games creeping around for hours only to have an alarm go off, and the whole mission aborted. Chaos Theory has worked its way around this with smoother game play. In other words, missions are no longer restarted because you killed one guard too many. Primary and secondary objectives mean that you now have more room for mistakes with tasks not essential to mission completion. Tripping too many alarms sets off stages of reactions, from enemies equipping body armor and fortifying their positions, to finally having all but your primary objectives removed.
While the enemy has noticeably better AI, loopholes are still able to be exploited. Some of this predictable behaviour is countered in the harder levels where enemies will throw grenades around the corner rather than just crouching out of view and shouting 'I know it's a trap. Come out.' In the easier difficulty settings guards seem to be easier to lure away from their comrades and knockout than in the previous two games. It seems that Chaos Theory is more about strategy than mastering the use of the SC-20K. In other words- it's not what you've got; it's how you use it.
One of the most appealing aspects of the entire game is that it doesn't take itself too seriously. It's packed with pop culture references, and self mocking jokes. 'Lambert-Fisher, this isn't some silly computer game!' Listen out for some of the guards discussing the new Prince of Persia game and Splinter Cell ads playing on various TVs. There's even a scene where you'll catch a guard telling his mate about the time he came face to face with a Ninja on an oilrig during the Georgian fiasco - ring any bells from the original game?!
Co-op mode has another four huge levels to explore with your partner. Mastering the new moves needed for co-operative missions is a challenging and often hilarious experience. Your partner is there to help you, but remember that another person can easily become a liability. Climb up your partners legs to reach high windows, but be careful not to shoot the first thing that moves in the shadows or you'll find yourself spending more time trying to heal your companion than actually moving through the levels.