The first three Splinter Cell games are regarded as some of the best stealth gaming of all time by many fans of the stealth genre. The original Splinter Cell and Pandora Tomorrow were indeed great games, but the final game in the trilogy (in that generation) sneaked out of the shadows to reveal a classic of our time.
Time to save the world. Again
The plot involves your typical Tom Clancy objectives whereby tension between Japan, China and Korea is on the rise and it’s up to America to step in and retrieve an algorithm before it falls into the wrong hands. To do so they send in Sam Fisher (voiced by the brilliant Michael Ironside), a Third Echelon Team Field Operator, to infiltrate and catch the mastermind behind this conflict and to put an end to it all. What makes Chaos Theory such a great title from the get-go is that the developers don’t treat players as idiots. The basics, like jumping, crouching and shooting are touched on within the first few seconds of the game and from here on it all comes down to you experimenting with your various gadgets, weapons and Sam’s unique stealth abilities.
As with the first two Splinter Cell games most of what Sam does takes place in the dark. As you sneak your way towards some unsuspecting guard you’re always keeping an eye on the Stealth Meter gauge that tells you if your surroundings are dark enough or whether enemies can spot you. Unlike the first two games there is another meter to keep an eye on and that’s the Noise Meter. Not only are you doing all this in the dark, but you also need to tread carefully. Make one bit of noise and it could be game over if they spot you. Therefore you’re always on the lookout for lights that can be defused by your 9mm silencer, and it’s where the classic headgear goggles come into play.
Players can switch between night vision, thermal and EMF vision, depending on what your objective might be or what you’re trying to highlight. You’re always being as stealthy as possible, walking in a crouching position, and because of that you’ll often walk up to the back of guards and grab them into a chokehold position. Interrogate them, get some answers and knock them out. Are you more of a brutal player? You can splatter their brains on the wall using your 9mm, just make sure to hide the bodies in the dark or you’ll have their buddies searching for you. In Chaos Theory you have a few new abilities at your disposal.
For the first time, and this was thanks to Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater (MGS 3) at the time, you had Close Quarters Combat techniques at your disposal. It’s not quite as involved as MGS 3, but it allowed for a few cool ways to enter any mission. The big new move came in the form of the ‘inverted neck snap’. It had Sam hanging from a ceiling pipe, with his legs tangled around it, in an upside-down position that allowed him to snap the neck of some poor unsuspecting guard. Back in 2005 it was a cool move and in 2017 it’s still just as satisfying to pull off. It’s however the gadgets that always stole the show.
Scared of the dark? You have enough gadgets
Before any mission Sam gets to hear a mission briefing from various personalities and thereafter you get to choose the weapons and gadgets you’d like to take along for the ride. Your aim is generally to keep noise to a minimum, so getting a good grip on other weapons, other than your 9mm pistol, is a good idea. The Sticky Shocker and gas grenade are two great alternatives to not kill your foes, but sneak past without anyone knowing you were there. It’s also a good idea to get a grasp on the lock-picking mechanic that feels quite rewarding in the game. One thing is for sure though; the game has aged really well from a graphical point of view.
Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory on the Xbox was miles ahead of anything on the PS2 and GameCube at the time. The lighting and textures were so good that you could just about mistake it as an early Xbox 360 launch game. Only problem is that most of the action takes place in the dark, so you miss most of the stunning details. The way shadows react to light in the game is really very impressive when you consider that the game is 12 years old. Chaos Theory had some other tricks up its very stealthy sleeve.
Versus mode returned from Pandora Tomorrow, but for the first time you and a friend could play co-op missions via Xbox Live or System Link. These missions tied in with the main single player missions, but they were all completely new levels to enjoy. Unfortunately playing it via the Xbox Live network is not a possibility anymore as the servers have been shutdown, but should you have a friend with an Xbox and a copy of the game I highly recommend you give it a go.
Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory was the last game in the Splinter Cell series that followed this particular style, and though the newer games were fun to play it never quite matched the patience and timing Chaos Theory required from players. Once you’re dead you have to restart a level – it might annoy some gamers today, but for those of us to played it just over a decade ago it was half the challenge. Think of it as a chaotic theory that drew us back for more.