Splinter Cell Chaos Theory review

Sam Fisher saves the world again. But, hey, NGC admits, we all need hobbies...

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Sam Fisher must be an angry man. And not just because of the obvious 'having the weight of the world on his shoulders/dealing with the filthiest dregs of humanity/having to wear those stupid goggles' reasons.

Having pretty much perfected his game, he's only gone and had many of the things that made the Gamecube Chaos Theory the pinnacle of the series so far taken away from him.

For instance, the ability to save anywhere has been removed. It's a lot to ask of a DS cart, granted, but to revert to the old checkpoint system here feels like a rather unpleasant step backwards. Possibly into something a dog did.

'Ah well,' you think, 'At least they wouldn't be so stupid as to return to the three strikes and you're out alarm system - that was one of the most nonsensical and annoying gameplay devices I've ever encountered.' But sadly, you'd be wrong again.

What's the point of making a game that has almost exactly the same characters, levels and plot as the one most people have already played, and then making it seemingly worse?

It's been said before with similar cross-over games, but surely an entirely original Splinter Cell title would be far more appropriate for DS?

Sneak around these gripes though, and there's an enjoyable game underneath that might just tickle your touch-screen...

The transition from 2D to 3D for the handheld has been a remarkable success. Levels are finally the moodily lit, atmospheric haunts that made the series famous - a feeling increased 10-fold by the inclusion of the original's excellent soundtrack.

Despite the cut control-set, most of Sam's moves have managed to be included, too. Hanging upside down from a pipe then strangling a guard who walks underneath, shooting over the shoulder of a hostage guard, split jumping or bashing open a door to floor the bad guy beyond it - all these brilliant features return for DS.

The levels themselves, while linear and based on the same locations as those from the original game, are, er, entirely original.

You can't fail to be impressed by how much detail and texture variety has been achieved, although, it must be said this comes at a slightly too obvious cost to the frame rate, which is only exacerbated by the use of the night and thermal visions modes.

Generally though, things look quite rosy - until the first time you come to an unknown corner...

Normally, you'd hug the wall, flick the camera around to see if anything's ahead, move away from the wall and head off. Problem: there is no right analogue stick.

The solution is a simple one - the stylus can be dragged across the touch-screen to manoeuvre the camera at will (and to aim Sam's guns). It's very precise, although it will take some getting used to even for seasoned touch-screen users.

Thankfully, they realised that the system might alienate newcomers, and added a detailed radar into the touch-screen, making painstaking camera placement less of an issue.

But it all falls apart a little when guards enter the mix. Looking under a doorway we saw a guard approaching and with only moments to think, we retreated into the room and tried to climb onto a shadowy bookcase ahead.

Under such pressure, these kind of sudden reactions are a real pain, not least because you have to endlessly switch between using your stylus to position Sam and moving your thumb back over to the right to reach the action keys.

It might sound like a small thing, but it really limits your ability to move precisely under pressure.

And, when a guard does stumble upon you, there's a second problem - Sam's knife and elbow-knock melee attacks are gone, so if you don't avoid a guard, your only option is to grab him from behind or just shoot him.

Strangely, the second option is nearly always the one to go for - guards rarely appear in groups and, with the excellent zoom on your SC20K, popping headshots through every goon you meet soon becomes a habit.

Arguably a bad one, when you think about it, because it's hardly what the series is about, and it prevents you from really having to think your way past most opponents - you'll be dealing out lead surprises faster than they can say 'was that a noise I just heard?'

Which is exactly the sort of thing they like to say, and goes a long way toward explaining why the terrorists are generally so incompetent...

Does the DS version have any advantages over the game that spawned it?

Surprisingly, yes - and they're biggies. The first is the touch-screen - you use it to jiggle the pins in lockpicking mode and to actually press the numbers on keypads. It may sound silly, but it's satisfying - it makes the game world seem more realistic.

It's a pity this wasn't capitalised on to create even more in-game touch-screen uses. Best of all though is the, er, pause menu.

It's a version of Sam's famous wrist-mounted PDA but, instead of being a virtual one, the stylus means it really does feel the part, with the different objectives, notes and data all easily accessible through the touch-screen. It really does work an absolute treat.

To top this off, there's a complete version of the multiplayer game. With five original co-op missions and a version of the excellent Spies vs Mercs multiplayer missions, you really do have to give it a go.

But it must be said that controlling the mercenaries in the first-person perspective is as tough to get used to as the problem of flicking between the action buttons and the touch-screen in single-player mode, which can get a little annoying.

In both single-player and multiplayer, the game never seems to come completely together, but there are times - real, memorable, tell-all-your-friends moments - when you get that Splinter Cell feeling, and the magic of the moment comes together to make for some breathlessly exciting gaming.

Sadly though, with a repeated plot, incredibly similar locations, flawed control in both modes and the rubbish three strike checkpoint/alarm systems, this is not half the game it could have been.

Chaos Theory is essentially a tool for preaching to the converted. By now people will know whether they love it or loathe it, and unfortunately the addition of the excellent multiplayer modes and the surprisingly well executed DS conversion aren't enough to make it a must-buy.

Splinter Cell Chaos Theory is out for DS, PS2, Xbox, Gamecube and PC now

More info

Descriptionultimately, Chaos Theory leaves the player stunned, excited and thoroughly satisfied
US censor rating"","","","",""
UK censor rating"16+","16+","16+","16+","16+"
Alternative names"Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory"
Release date1 January 1970 (US), 1 January 1970 (UK)