Yeah, I said it. All you Metal Gear fans are probably frothing at the mouth right now, but honestly, it’s time for a change. I’ve sampled both series now, and Chaos Theory wins by a wide margin. Metal Gear Solid and its sequels are convoluted tales of genetic conspiracy, riddled with far-fetched coincidences and bafflingly bizarre plots. Sam Fisher’s world is dark, gritty, down to earth and it could literally become tomorrow. Allow me to elaborate on my judgment.
First off, let me say that the PC version of Chaos Theory is the best. If you have a high end PC, don’t even consider getting one of the console ports, even the Xbox one. With the proper hardware and processing muscle, you’ll find that the PC experience is markedly superior.
When examined superficially, the third installment in Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell franchise is the perfect spy thriller. It’s glitzy, edgy and all kinds of hard ass. Fisher doesn’t just beat out Snake, he whips Bond, Ethan Hunt, Joanna Dark and almost every other so-called spy in one swift stroke. There’s a very simple reason for this: Chaos Theory is the only spy game that makes you feel like a REAL spy. You aren’t blowing up trucks or leaping from cliffs, squaring off against three story walking tanks or hooking up with aliens. You’re spying. The way it should be.
This is where the gameplay sets itself apart from the rest of the genre, and from the other two Splinter Cell games as well. The formula is so refined and tight, you’ll never want to go back to hiding in cardboard boxes or seducing ditsy foreign babes. Chaos Theory is all about realism, and Sam’s arsenal of tech reflects this perfectly.
He doesn’t have five different types of goggles, he has one pair that has multiple vision modes. They can see in the dark, highlight thermal images, and even hack computers via a WiFi uplink. Sam can access a terminal from across the room, while an enemy is using the same computer. Very slick. His hacking tools actually require the player to interact with a computer’s database and search out the right input codes. Most of this gadgetry is imbedded in Sam’s stealth suit; he travels light, with just enough ammo and supplies to see him through a mission. He doesn’t have the bottomless pockets and utility belt so common in action games.
Sam carries only two guns, a pistol and a rifle, but each one is as versatile as Fisher himself. Both have numerous upgrades and attachments; the pistol fires a scrambling laser to temporarily black out lights, and the rifle has a shotgun, a sniper and a rapid-fire barrel. The weaponry also plays into the game’s new “freedom” mentality; be as nice or as mean as you want. You have an equal balance of lethal and non-lethal tools and techniques to dispatch the enemy, and most of the time the choice is up to you. Granted, some missions require that you not kill anyone, but the flexibility is there through a lot of the game and it’s quite refreshing.
To be honest, I hardly ever fired a shot. Maybe I’m just a nice guy, but I rarely took a life, unless it was necessary or the guy really pissed me off. I prefer the sneak-up-and-interrogate approach, but more bloodthirsty gamers will have the option to snap some necks or perforate a torso or two. Or five. As I said, it’s up to you. This is again where the realism comes in. Real life spies pull the trigger only when absolutely necessary, because the idea of spying is NOT TO GET CAUGHT. Snake may be able to camp out in a locker while the alarm blares and idiot guards scratch their heads, but Chaos Theory is populated with intelligent baddies who are not so oblivious. They really will hunt you down, and they can see and hear a lot farther than five feet in front of their faces. It’s always better to avoid detection.
In comparison to other spy games, this one’s mechanics are the smoothest. Dynamic camera control is linked to the mouse, so I never had to guess where the next enemy was coming from. Sam’s animations are all fluid and precise, but within the realm of possibility. He can’t run on walls, but rappelling from a cliff isn’t beyond his capability.
There was only one element of the single player campaign that struck me as unrealistic. In almost every mission, you have a “fetch quest” objective. These require you to hunt down x number of crates/phones/computers and bug/tap/hack them. This got annoying fairly quickly, especially when a building is filled with computer terminals, and you have to search them all to find the special five that you have to hack. I don’t see the purpose here, and Chaos Theory loses a few points in this regard.
To the subject of visuals, Chaos Theory again crushes the competition. But, like Sam Fisher himself, you won’t really notice Chaos Theory crushing the competition unless you really look closely. This game isn’t Doom 3, with “OMG amazing graphics in my face” spectacles. It’s the subtle things, like how Sam’s suit gets soaked with rain and really looks wet, or how you can almost feel the texture of a vinyl tent. The lighting and shadow effects, a staple of the Splinter Cell games, have been fine tuned for a serious “wow” factor; the beam from a guard’s flashlight as he gets closer to detecting you will have you sweating with anxiety.
The audio is almost on par with the graphics, and follows the same concept of subtlety. Sound is a big factor in Chaos Theory, and you must be constantly aware how much noise you are making, or what the guards are talking about. Sound effects and voice acting are all believable, and once again Sam’s trademark sense of humor and bitter cynicism come through in his well performed lines. The accompanying music track is a mixture of techno and guitar riffs; it doesn’t blast in your ears but rather mounts almost imperceptibly in tandem with the action. The beat quickens with your pulse as guards search a dark room form your hunched, waiting form. In style with the rest of this game, the music and sound is integrated seamlessly and does its part without trying to steal the show.
So, I have made it clear that the single player experience outperforms anything else on the market. Wonderful. But, what about the multiplayer, you ask? Trust me, you will not be disappointed. If you’ve played Splinter Cell Pandora Tomorrow, you probably remember how fresh and innovative the “spies vs. mercenaries” mode was. Chaos Theory takes that idea and injects it with a healthy dose of creativity and replay value, pushing it past its original boundaries. The basic scenarios return, with added improvements.
The story mode is well organized and feels like a second campaign, just with human opponents. Level design is as stellar as the single player, and just as varied. Along for the ride are your typical modes, deathmatch and the like, but playing them in the context of terrorists and secret agents is a breath of fresh air, compared to the ungodly amount of cookie-cutter shooters available today. Put simply, Chaos Theory’s multiplayer is what Pandora Tomorrow’s should have been, we just never knew it playing the second game. The polish has tweaked the experience considerably, and you owe it to yourself to go head to head with some fellow spies.
The cooperative mode takes the gut-wrenching single player and makes it impossible to complete without a partner. Many of the puzzles now require interaction between two people, be it a simple boost up a wall or using a partner as a human ladder. If your teammate is knocked unconscious, it is possible to revive him or her. Equipment can be shared. This is one of the only cooperative games that really takes cooperation to complete, a rare occurrence these days.
In an industry that is becoming clogged with clone sequels, Splinter Cell Chaos Theory proves that new ideas are still valuable. It takes the tired formula of the spy game and infuses it with new life, and a much needed feel of realism. Don’t get me wrong; I love typical spy thrillers. Over the top bad guys and endless explosions can be very entertaining. I’m a huge 007 fan, and I’m feverishly anticipating EA’s From Russia with Love. But Splinter Cell is such a departure from the humdrum that I can’t help but get sucked into it. It’s a meaty game with a LOT of content, and all of it has a sense of realism that is unmatched. The story is eerily believable, and the characters could exist in today’s world. I don’t think you can say the same of super lasers, Metal Gear and villains like Dr. No and Revolver Ocelot. Sorry Snake, but it’s time to grow up now.
Splinter Cell Chaos Theory is everything a spy game should be. It takes the relaiable conventions of the previous two Splinter Cells and polishes them to sparkling perfection. There are only a few minor irritations along the way, and the outstanding package as a whole outshines anything remotely bad. This title is sure to sate your stealth/action needs for months to come.