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Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory

Review By:  Jared Black

Developer:  Ubisoft Montreal
Publisher:  Ubisoft
# of Players:  1-2
Genre:  Stealth Action
ESRB:  Mature
Online Play:  Yes
Accessories:  Xbox Live (online play, Content DL, scoreboards), In-game Dolby Digital, System Link
Date Posted: 


The original Splinter Cell earned incredibly high marks from even the most jaded critics, and amazingly Pandora Tomorrow took the series to a whole new level by adding in an excellent online multiplayer mode and several small single-player improvements.  Chaos Theory takes the series yet another step forward with the addition of a co-op mode, and an even higher level of refinement in the single player mode.

Naturally, the focus continues to remain on the single-player mode and Chaos Theory presents another international tale of espionage.  Japan has created an Information Self-Defense Force, which is seen as a violation of international laws and ignites tensions in Asia.  Meanwhile, Sam Fisher is called in to investigate the kidnapping of a computer geek knowledgeable of advanced algorithms related to Philip Masse (remember him from the first Splinter Cell?) that could prove dangerous if in the wrong hands.  As youíd expect these events are all related, and soon Samís traveling around the world to save the day once again.

Pandora Tomorrow introduced alarm stages, in which the enemy would gradually add additional armor and increased patrols as Sam was spotted.  However, setting off too many alarms would still result in mission failure.  This was unrealistic (since Samís already there shouldnít he just finish the job?) and forced gamers to remain stealthy even in situations where itíd be better to come out blastiní.  Mission failure as a result of alarms has been done away with completely in Chaos Theory, although there are still consequences and the enemy will adjust their behavior and equipment accordingly.  This provides even more gameplay flexibility and accommodation for gamers that might not have the patience to remain stealthy.

Additionally, objectives are now broken down into Primary, Secondary, Opportunity, and Bonus objectives.  Obviously primary objectives must be completed to finish a mission, but the others do not and only hurt the final level score if uncompleted.  Some secondary objectives actually carry over to the next mission if not completed, adding in an extra layer of flexibility as well.  To reflect all of this Sam can now outfit himself before each mission with three different gear kits that play to the strengths of each play style, either with a stealth setup, an assault setup, or Reddingís Recommendation (usually a mix of the two).

However, the game still rewards sneaky and non-lethal gameplay.  As I alluded to before players are awarded a score at the end of each mission based on how well they did during it, which includes penalties for setting off alarms, bodies found, etc.  Additionally, grabbing NPCs from behind and interrogating them often provides a variety of intel (most notably keypad codes) or simply amusing conversations not otherwise available.  Speaking of which, Sam can now hack computers, retinal scanners, and other electronic devices by guessing the appropriate IP address from a list of available ones.  As Sam begins hacking a timer appears, which counts down while each of the four parts of the IP address are revealed in intermittent fashion.  Not only does it provide for some tense moments (an alarm is trigged if hacking fails), but it also helps accommodate players that want to blast their way through a mission.  Hacking was one of my favorite parts of the GBA version of Tom Clancyís Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow, so Iím particularly happy to see it implemented here in some form.

Sam also has several new moves at his disposal.  This includes the inverted neck snap, which allows Sam to hang from a pipe and grab NPCs that walk under him.  He also has an option for Electronically Enhanced Vision (EEV) now, which allows him to scan an area for special objects (viewed in all white) and includes a built-in laser mic.  Also, when opening doors Sam can now bash it in (to knock out enemies on the other side) or break the lock instead of picking it.  The pistol now has a secondary fire that can jam electrical devices, effectively replacing the camera jammer.

However, the biggest addition to Samís arsenal is a simple knife, with which Sam can use to slice enemy throats (without even grabbing them first) or cut open various hanging fabrics (like the side of a tent) before walking through them.  Unfortunately when you add capabilities to a game already full of them you have to make room by getting rid of others, so we have to say goodbye to several nifty moves found in Pandora Tomorrow.  These include the SWAT turn (which I loved and miss), back to the wall shooting and throwing (not a big loss), and the Half Split Jump and Half Split Jump and Jump (both complicated and unnecessary).

Another big improvement in Chaos Theory is found in the level design.  Splinter Cell has never been less linear, as there are often several ways to handle any given situation.  Although there are still primary locations the player must reach, there are usually several different ways to get there.  Do you shimmy up the pipe, climb on top of some boxes and jump, or simply take the stairs and go the long way?  Enemies can be dealt with in similar fashion; do you snap his neck from above, grab him from behind and interrogate him, shoot him and risk the noise, or just avoid him altogether? 

As expected the versus mode that proved to be a big hit in Pandora Tomorrow makes a return in this installment.  Once again itís Spies versus Mercenaries, with 11 new maps and three different game modes including Story (tasks are accomplished in linear fashion across one map), Disk Hunt (basically replaces the ND133s of the last game), and Deathmatch.  In Deathmatch the sides are balanced out by limiting the number of gadgets to one on each side.  Additionally, Mercs also lose EMF and movement vision, laser sights, and the Berserk move.  To be honest I prefer the series far more for the single-player experience than the multiplayer, but I have to admit that Ubisoft has once again crafted another excellent and unique multiplayer component.

New to the series is the co-op mode, which consists of four levels not found in either the single player or versus modes.  These levels are fairly simple, with the co-op moves automatically available in preset locations.  These moves include things like hurling a teammate like a missile, boosting over walls, etc.  Players communicate via the Communicator, but must do so softly as enemies can hear voice communication at higher volume levels.  Since there are only four levels it isnít worth buying the game for on its own, but itís a cool addition nevertheless.

As great as Pandora Tomorrow looked, Chaos Theory looks even better.  The lighting is more realistic, with blinking lights and other dynamic elements.  The environments are more expansive than theyíve ever been, with longer corridors and larger and more detailed environments providing Sam with more ways to accomplish objectives.  Animation has improved significantly over the previous game, and that game featured some of the best animation ever found on a console.  Samís sneaking is now more realistic, as heíll shift his weight subtly while creeping up on a foe.

The biggest improvement sound wise lies in the new meter that measures environmental sound.  By monitoring this and Samís own sound on the meter, the player can tell exactly whether Samís being too loud or not.  This is a big improvement, as sound was always factored in before but never really measured.  Thereís also much more dialogue than before.  Sam will now have discussions with many more enemies than before, some serious and others lighthearted and humorous.

Throughout the adventure players are treated to other environmental effects as well.  Engine rooms are noisy, an enemyís radio gets louder as Sam approaches, guards have discussions in the distance, electronic gadgets short out with a realistic crackling sound, and there are many other effects too numerous to list here.  These also add to the environmental noise meter, meaning sound plays an expanded role this time around.   Amon Tobin supplied the soundtrack for the game, and his alternating mix of pulsating techno and Halo-like epic-ness perfectly fits Sam Fisherís dangerous world.


  • Another incredible single-player adventure, full of Clancy-esque plot turns.

  • The versus mode makes a welcome and slightly upgraded return, and the co-op mode is another excellent addition to the franchise.

  • More gameplay flexibility than ever with an improved alarm system and hacking abilities.  Yet, the game still rewards the stealthy with additional dialogues/intel and an increased end of mission score.

  • Are we sure a standard issue Xbox is handling these graphics, and that Ubisoft didnít sneak upgraded chipsets into our systems somehow?

  • More new moves to play around with that outweigh those we lost, with the inverted neck snap being the coolest and the simple addition of a knife opening up new abilities.  The EEV also allows for new types of objectives.

  • After complaining about it in my reviews of the first two Splinter Cells, I have to mention that I didnít see a single body clip through a wall or other object this time.


  • Iím gonna miss the SWAT turn.
  • As weird as this may sound, sometimes the ultra-slick graphics look a bit too slick given the gritty settings some levels take place in.  Should cave walls really have a polished look to them?
  • A few areas seem awfully reminiscent of previous Splinter Cell games.

Final Verdict: 

Once again Ubisoft has created a sequel that remains true to the seriesí roots and yet provides a fresh experience at the same time.  The environments are more diverse and gameplay has been tweaked for the better yet again, providing the player with more ways to handle a situation than ever.  Complemented by ultra-slick graphics and typically great sound work, Tom Clancyís Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory has again raised the bar on Xbox.

Overall Score: 9.5

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