Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory

Always loved the Splinter Cell series. The first game introduced the hide and sneak gameplay, the second game introduced the in-game plot twist (“Fisher! You have ten seconds, you have to trust me; shoot that woman now”), the fourth forgot all about the lessons learned above and the fifth turned out to be a game from another series entirely. The third game though, that was where everything that makes the series unique came together splendidly, and with a fairly major addition of its own.

The defining strength of Splinter Cell for me is the fact the gameplay is analogue. Sorry, the wank hat is going on now. Bear with me! Modern games deal in the digital, the binary on/off; pull this trigger and you are now completely in cover, hold this button down and you’ll move quietly. Splinter Cell is analogue; you can be almost completely in cover, and a guard may or may not see you. You can move the left stick up gently and you’ll sneak slooowly, and the guards won’t hear you; move it up just a bit more to increase your speed, but the noise you make goes up too. Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory has a “3 alarms and you’re out” rulebook, but individual guards have escalating states of awareness of the presence of an intruder. They won’t just see or hear something and go for the alarm; they’ll cautiously approach the source of the disturbance, allowing you time to get in cover, time to approach them from behind and knock them out silently. It’s all tactile, it’s all geared for “play” rather than rote learning of how to beat it. Wank hat off!

Something else that the Splinter Cell series gets right to varying degrees (across the first four games, at any rate) is the different paths through a level. From crawling through the occasional hidden air duct, to shimmying along a pipe running across the ceiling of an airport hangar, and then sliding down the massive Xmas tree at the end to reach the floor; there’s usually more than one way from A to B. If you don’t like the look of one route, you get into the habit of exploring for another. What the game trains you to ultimately do is to look for all the options in any given area, be they options to engage or avoid the enemy.

Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory is the best example of the above points in the Splinter Cell series, but it also had one important innovation of its own: the ever-changing Amon Tobin soundtrack. The default is silence, however the level’s track will start to play depending on what you’ve done. Switched a light off and a guard saw the light go off? He’ll be mildly curious, so the game plays the “slightly calm” version of that level’s backing track. Did the guard actually see you at the light switch for a second? If so, he thinks there’s someone there, and will go looking for an intruder. He doesn’t yet know you’re really there, so the game will play the “possibly about to kick off big time” version of the track”. Now, if you run out of the shadows and into the light, the guard knows you are there and will start shooting. The game will play the “it has now kicked off big time” version of the track. As you move in and out of the shadows, and avoid detection, the soundtrack will change between the versions of the track to show the state of the guards. This is fucking awesome, cos if the music kicks in at any time, you know someone somewhere has seen or heard something. It’s a simple trick, but so very effective, and helped greatly by the fucking astounding music by Amon Tobin. He has crafted a soundtrack that sounds like a million old spy film soundtracks pushed through a PC case. I’m not good at describing anything, and that was a horrible description, but trust me, it be goooood.

The one thing that ties all the Splinter Cell games together, the one thing that makes even the occasionally horrendous second game worth playing, is Sam Fisher. The secret US ninja spy, voiced superbly by Michael Ironside, is a genuine character, and one that is a pleasure to listen to and play with. Sam Fisher has a daughter and a nice home life, and yet his job means he has to do some fucking nasty things to protect them and his country. He’s a badass, but he’s professional about it. He talks to most of the soldiers he snatches, before either knocking them out or stabbing them in the lungs (which is mostly up to you as to which one he will do). He even jokes with some of them. His boss and colleagues take the piss out of him for being old. He goes out of his way to help friends when he can. He’s a good guy whose job happens to involve doing bad things. And players can’t help but like him.

Chaos Theory is the ultimate Splinter Cell game. It takes everything that makes a proper Splinter Cell game and polishes the lot as far as possible. And then it makes it sound awesome. And then it makes you laugh.

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