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Ubisoft Focus: Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory
game: Ubisoft Focus: Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory
posted by: Chris Martin
publisher: Ubisoft
developer: Ubisoft Montreal
ESRB rating: M (Mature)
date posted: 12:00 AM Wed Feb 9th, 2005
last revision: 12:00 AM Wed Feb 9th, 2005

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Soon, very soon, Ubisoft will release its third installment of the Splinter Cell series, entitled Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory.  Still following the exploits of America's favorite secret agent Sam Fisher (where'd Bond go?), Chaos Theory takes place in 2008 at a time when electronic warfare has become the greatest threat to our country.  While many have reservations about whether they like or dislike the concepts of the game (Sam Fisher has the lawful ability to execute without trial; he is judge, jury, and executioner), there's no doubt the Splinter Cell series has been well received.  This is mainly because of the game's tight production values, graphics, control, and a particular emphasis on stealth and hyper-advanced technology as opposed to outright shooting.  Similar in many respects to the Metal Gear Solid series, yet without so many cutscenes (yay!), Chaos Theory is hoping to innovate the stealth genre in more than a few ways.

There are three types of game modes: Adversarial, Co-op, and Singleplayer.  Adversarial is much like the multiplayer from Pandora Tomorrow, where two people infiltrate (the spies) and two hunt (the mercs) but with tweaks and upgrades necessary for this sequel.  There are 11 adversarial levels - all as big as Pandora's I'm guessing - so it's unlikely you'll become bored.

New to the series is the long-awaited co-op mode.  Co-op allows two players to go through all of 4 levels together, using teamwork to accomplish tasks and eliminate foes.  While that's not a huge number, they'll be incredibly challenging and partner oriented, so don't expect to go through them on your own.

Of course, the new singleplayer (with a total of 11 new levels) is there to round out an already huge game.  While I haven't had the chance to play through Chaos Theory's single player, if it is anything like Pandora Tomorrow's, we're in for a treat.  But, with any luck, it will dwarf Pandora Tomorrow's single player and remain a tight gameplay experience.  But you probably didn't need me to tell you that.

Not all games are created equal.  Since there are system restrictions, there are - very sadly - restrictions depending on the console.  The Gamecube version will ship without Adversarial mode (a big sad face goes here).  PS2 will lose online capabilities, but still retain co-op split-screen (and maybe system link? Please?).  For all you Xbox and PC people, you'll be getting the whole shebang: Adversarial (online, split-screen), Co-op (online, split-screen), singleplayer, and future downloadable content.  If you're familiar with the previous game, then you know one of the complaints was there was no split-screen multiplayer.  This time around the gaming gods are happy and it looks like there will be. 

If you just own a PS2 you don't have to cry about losing online play.  Ubisoft Montreal will be adding a console specific move to Sam Fisher's arsenal.  I know of one new move, but there might be more.  Hopefully there will be other things added to help cover up the lack of online support for the PS2.  This is, sadly, one of the nagging things I've found with the cross platform approach: not every platform is treated equally.

A visual, visceral feast

Looking at the game in motion, it doesn't take a clairvoyant to see that Chaos Theory is gorgeous.  Textures are high resolution and certain textures (like stone) can reflect light when wet - this effect is freaking awesome.  Like many other games being released, Chaos Theory features normal mapping, made extremely popular in games such as Halo 2 and The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay.  This gives the game a more dense and detailed feel, like you're actually in a living, breathing world.  The amount of detail in the game is staggering.  For comparison's sake, if Pandora Tomorrow was a forest, Chaos Theory is the Congo (crazy apes not included, or are they?).  All the visuals will likely appeal to your animalistic nature, as you'll likely be drooling over them, spittle pooling on your papers and electronics.  Wait a minute.  Close your jaw with your hand, friend, because we're not done yet.

There are other bells and whistles that will appear in the game, carried over from the other titles with small additions.  Fisher's trademark door camera is still here and features the traditional fish-eyed perspective.  Now when you switch on thermal optics or nightvision, you see the mask descending over the hud, as if you were looking right through Sam Fisher's eyes.  This gives the game a more immersive feel even through it seemed to displace my point of view (I'm Sam Fisher looking at Sam Fisher, weird). 

Of course, darkness is once again your best friend; you'll use it a lot.  The shadow effects are amazing.  Light on Sam will expand to a larger silhouette of him on an adjacent wall.  Everything from lighting to environment effects has been overhauled with extreme care by Ubisoft Montreal.  I'm interested to see if the shadows can alert guards (it didn't in Pandora) but that might too detailed, but, then again, it could alert one of your friends playing as a mercenary, so perhaps it's fair game.

The proximity effect

Developer Ubisoft Montreal has been very proud of their work with proximity, meaning that animated actions are now distance related.  For example, Fisher will go for his knife, head alert, taking them in as he's sneaking up behind.  These little additions make the character more kinetic and, therefore, human.  Oh, and Fisher now has a knife.  This addition seems only natural, since the only way you could attack and kill anyone as a spy in Pandora was the smoke bomb/neck snap technique.  Either that or run around like mad and try to get behind the merc who's shooting madly at you.  And that didn't always work.  Needless to say, the knife will be handy in all game modes.

For those in co-op online (Xbox, and PC), the voice headsets can be used with proximity too.  If you're familiar with Halo 2's online play you're already acclimated to this ability.  But this works in the co-op mode against computer opponents as well.  That means if you're trying to talk to a teammate, you'll have to find a louder ambient sound to cover up your voice, or risk alerting guards.  And there's no button-press to alert an enemy (Metal Gear Solid allowed you to tap on a wall, Pandora allowed you to whistle), so imagine actually whistling a little in your headset to get a guard's attention.  In other words, your voice becomes Sam Fisher's voice.  Very cool.

Other sounds, too, have been given proximity? additions.  When things are getting heated or tense, the music will reflect what's happening.  This is not terribly different than the music in Metal Gear Solid - if Snake is spotted, the game immediately jumps into an intense fast paced track.  But the sound in Chaos Theory isn't going to be as quick and throbbing as that in MGS.  In fact, most of the time there will be an intense quiet, with echoing voices or footsteps.  Events in Chaos Theory are meant to be tense, after all.  That said, there is a grand addition to the musical score.  Bringing his precision to the mix is Brazil born, drum ˜n bass master Amon Tobin, who has stormed the U.K. with his ambient audio journey Out From Out Where? and others and will carry his success over to the Chaos Theory soundtrack.  Tobin has actually made two compilations for Ubisoft.  One standard, the other an upgraded 5.1. surround mix.  That's, needless to say, a lot of work.  Let's hope it pays off.

Let's Co-Op!

Chaos Theory will have Sam Fisher right in the thick of things as usual, attempting to silence some terrorists on the verge of acquiring weapons of mass destruction, stopping madmen with the intent to use them, and all the good stuff we've come to expect.  Those of you who are familiar with Splinter Cell will find this similar to the other two games, yet different enough to avoide confusing them as the same games. 

In fact, the Co-Op modes will not only be great gameplay additions, but will help round out the story established by the singleplayer game.  The only difference here is that you won't be alone, going through four unique levels built around the idea of teamwork.  In fact, there are about 10 or so brand new moves made specifically for cooperative play.  There's the human ladder, the old-fashioned hand boost, repel in tandem, or the Tomoeage move where your ally can toss you to cross gaps or knock out enemies.  Moves like these examples coupled with the voice proximity can be used to lure enemies or achieve specific goals.  Just use a bit of imagination and discover the different ways of dealing with any given situation.  Chaos Theory gives you this possibility.

While only 4 maps for co-op might seem like a tiny number in comparison with the rest, hopefully, and likely, there will be downloadable levels for the Xbox and PC.  I would expect these 4 levels to be a bit larger than those in the single player game, but until we have a hands-on go at the system, that's just a guess.

The new adversarial mode: bigger than a breadbox

Like in Pandora Tomorrow, Chaos Theory gives you the option of playing through levels as either a spy or mercenary (merc).   Six of the maps included are new; five are retooled ones from Pandora.  Luckily, to balance that out, there are enough new gadgets, modes, and moves available to keep things spiced up.

There are three different Adversarial game modes.  The first is Story Mode, which offers numerous objectives to the Spies.  Some choices can open up other options later in the level, or change the face of the level entirely.  Destructible walls, for example, allow mercs to open faster paths to the spies, but also quicker routes for spies to follow.

There is also Disk Hunt, which puts the spies to the test of finding all the disks in a given level (locations are randomized).  However, the mercs are trying to keep the spies from doing just that and, more likely than not, will shoot now and ask questions later.  If a spy is killed in the line of duty, the disks are lost, but the spy respawns.  This mode is looking to be rather intense on both ends of the spectrum (merc and spy alike).  Additionally, the Co-op moves will be available to the spies, as will the ability for both teams to heal each other; teamwork is a must.  Also, throw in the ability to taunt the opponent as you strangle them to death and the game gets not only intense, but downright frightening!  Mercs also have the cool ability to swing their gun in a 360 degree motion and knock their opponents down.  This is called the Berzerk Mode.?  Once floored, mercs can jump on the spies and strangle them with their gun.  Cool stuff.  So being a merc has its own little rewards as well.

Go, go gadgets!

Of course, what's a secret agent game without gadgets?  Sam Fisher has a variety of gadgets to choose from in single and multi-player game types.  Things like his optic cable and the wonderfully fun sticky cam (with built in toxic gas) will return, but there are more options this time around.  In adversarial mode, the spy gets newfound gadgets like the thermal optic camouflage and heartbeat detector (a la Rainbow Six), while the mercs get a Camera Network Browsing Device, Backpack, Gas Mask (˜bout time), and poison mine.  Each functions exactly as they sound.  I'm probably most excited about the merc's new ability to use the Network Browser to access various video cameras and spy on the spy, which is just sweet.  You could even have one merc at the terminal, giving locations away to his teammate.  But clever spies will, perhaps, be on the watch at those terminals, ready to break necks and taunt their foes.

Chaos Theory is already a helluva complex game, but it seems Ubisoft Montreal is adding a bit more strategy and depth.  This might be daunting for new players, but hopefully - and I'm guessing Ubisoft is hoping this too -  new players will take the time required to get into Chaos Theory it instead of passing, opting for the next incarnation of Rainbow Six.  That might not be such a bad thing either (but there's time for that in another preview).

The Hope for the Future

Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow took the first game to a new level with tight multiplayer and improved gameplay design.  Chaos Theory, if the videos are any indication, will be a treat for all when it reveals itself from the shadows in March.  We'll have more impressions when we get our hands on a playable demo.

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