Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory
Review by Davo
Tom Clancy's Haunter of the Dark
The world is a dangerous place. Terrorists, religious fanatics
and dictators seek every opportunity to destroy the free world.
Iraq. Iran. Syria. Afghanistan. These countries evoke images of
car bombings, terrorist kidnappings and insurgent attacks. The most
unstable country of all, however, may be North Korea with its dogged
pursuit of nuclear weapons. North Korea's dictator, Kim Jong Il,
revels in hysterical proclamations that war between the Koreas is
an inevitable outcome of U.S. aggression and imperialism.
Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory imagines a near
future in which North Korea attacks an American military target
as a prelude to sending its troops streaming across the South Korean
border to capture Seoul and eject the U.S. from the Korean peninsula.
North Korea may not be working alone, however. A massive Asian conspiracy
is afoot, with China, North Korea, South Korea and Japan all maneuvering
behind the scenes to advance their own causes at the expense of
U.S. interests. What is the official U.S. response to this morass?
Fire up the nukes and launch a preemptive nuclear strike against
North Korea. The only thing that can stop the nukes and uncover
the real motives behind the North Korean attack is the super-secret
U.S. spy organization, Fifth Echelon.
Chaos Theory puts the player in the third-person shoes of
Fifth Echelon's top operative, Sam Fisher. Fisher is a jaded assassin
skilled in the deadly arts necessary to infiltrate foreign nations
and gain access to their most precious secrets. Playing as Fisher,
you'll creep unseen through the shadows, breaking into foreign government
buildings, capturing enemies, interrogating them for vital information
and dispatching them with extreme prejudice when necessary. You're
equipped with the most advanced weaponry available: night vision,
remote cameras, sniper rifles, electronics neutralizers, sleeping
gas, hand grenades, machine guns and more. Despite the weaponry,
you have the choice in most instances of taking out your opponents
using nonlethal means. The gameplay is nail-biting, gut-wrenching
and nerve-wracking. You'll creep through the shadows on the edge
of your seat totally confident that you're about to get the drop
on an enemy unaware of your presence only to inadvertently trip
a hidden alarm that brings a swarm of heavily armed combatants hunting
after you with a vengeance. You're silent death in the shadows but
dead meat in the light.
Chaos Theory provides excellent gameplay, and it's a good
thing too because the Gamecube version of the game contains some
serious flaws. The graphics in particular are a real disappointment
at times, which is a shame because this game relies on its imagery
like few others to deliver a compelling gameplay experience. Although
this realistic feel is accomplished much of the time, it suffers
in the Gamecube version because of graphical deficiencies that pop
up throughout the game. Too many portions of the game are plagued
by dark, glitchy graphics that are difficult to see. (A side note
on the Gamecube version: If you're wondering whether the graphical
deficiencies plague the Xbox and PC versions, the short answer is
"no." I haven't played the PS2 version at all, so I can't
comment on it. This review is based entirely on the Gamecube version,
which also lacks many of the online and cooperative features common
to the other versions.)
The Gamecube controller also presents a few problems. It isn't
always up to the task of letting you do what you want to do as quickly
as you need to do it.
A lesser but still significant problem common to all versions of
Chaos Theory is the story. Although it is steeped in horrifically
plausible real-life events, it's meted out in a rushed and abbreviated
style that doesn't really create a resonant emotional hook. It's
not a bad storyit just ends up feeling unnecessary. It's a
lot of hot air that does little more than provide you with minimal
motivation for traveling to exotic places and killing people.
In spite of its flaws, Chaos Theory manages to offer players
an incredibly exciting experience. The game excels at forcing you
into tense situations that require you to creep behind a guard in
the shadows hoping he won't detect you before you can slip an arm
around his neck and drag him into the darkness for interrogation.
Chaos Theory focuses on stealth over gunplay, even during
those moments when you're running and gunning. You can sometimes
succeed by charging in with guns blazing, but you'll always need
to return to the shadows to survive. If you get any kind of thrill
from sneaking through the shadows armed to the teeth and catching
enemies off-guard, you'll enjoy the game immensely.
Your Mission, Should You Decide to Accept It ...
Chaos Theory is a third-person mission-based action stealth
game. You begin each mission with a series of objectives that you
must complete to finish the level. The objectives you receive are
varied and compelling. They range from interrogations to kidnappings
to rescues to assassinations. Many times, the intelligence you gather
leads to midlevel mission changes that flesh out the story and add
an element of urgency. You may start out gathering information by
hacking into a computer to discover an enemy leader's motives only
to have that information trigger the need to assassinate said leader
A lot of the fun in the game comes through your interactions with
the environment. The game itself is mostly linear. Each level, however,
permits a number of ways to complete your objectives. You may decide
to pick a lock on a side door and slip into a building quietly.
Alternatively, you could shoot out a light bulb to lure a guard
away from the front door, grab him for a little interrogation, and
then dispatch him before slipping inside. Or you might decide to
take out a guard with a silenced bullet to the head or a nonlethal
projectile. Then again, you might find a pipe on the side of the
building that permits access to the interior duct system on the
roof. You have a great deal of freedom in how you choose to complete
The game promotes this open-ended approach by offering you three
weapons and equipment selections at the beginning of each level.
The Stealth Kit provides you with a wide selection of devices like
cameras, sleeping gas, plastic bullets and other silent equipment.
The Assault Kit offers a variety of mostly lethal weapons like sniper
rifles, shotguns, hand grenades and extra ammunition. Redding's
Recommendation, named after your weapons provider, offers a mix
of the Stealth and Assault kits. This kit gives you a little of
everything, permitting many opportunities for stealth while still
providing the means for an all-out assault when you feel so inclined.
The most important piece of equipment is your visor, which permits
you to switch among three modes. Night vision enhances your sight
in totally dark environments, bathing everything in a soft green
hue. Thermal mode lets you see the heat emanating from objects,
especially humans. EMF mode blacks out everything except electrical
items like hidden video cameras and light sources. Judicious use
of the goggles is critical to your success because you play in mostly
dark environments. It's also a total blast to tiptoe through a pitch-black
room with your night vision on and sneak up on a nervous guard who
can't see you at all.
You have a wide variety of moves and attacks at your disposal that
further support the game's open-ended mission design. You can sneak
around undetected, attack from behind with a knife or a fist, hang
from ceiling pipes, hack into computer networks, shoot light bulbs,
open doors silently, bash doors into unsuspecting guards, disable
electronics, use enemies as human shields and distract opponents
with environmental objects. The sheer number of moves available
promotes a real sense of experimentation and freedom while still
supporting different playing styles. The Gamecube has one move not
available on the Xbox or PC: the water grab. You can crouch down
in any pool of water deep enough to hide you, grab an unsuspecting
enemy as he walks by and drown him. You don't get to use it very
often, but it's thrilling when you do.
Most of the game's moves are easy to perform with the Gamecube
controller. Creeping around silently is no problem at all. Switching
weapons, however, can be a real pain. There aren't enough buttons
on the Gamecube controller, and the manual doesn't adequately explain
the necessary manipulations. I had a 15-minute wrestling match with
my controller before I figured out how to install the sniper attachment.
It requires a combination of button presses that just isn't explained
adequately in the manual.
The enemy A.I. is excellent. Enemies will react appropriately to
your presence. If an enemy spots you or sees you moving, he'll come
looking for you with reinforcements. Enemies alerted to your presence
will sound alarms, hide behind objects, work in groups, and even
try to outflank you.
The single-player portion of the game contains 10 missions, each
of which takes about 60 to 90 minutes to complete. My fastest mission
time was 67 minutes, and my longest mission lasted 109 minutes.
Add another three or four hours for reloading after death, capture
or blowing a mission objective, and you have a single-player game
that clocks in at approximately 15 hours. Each of the individual
missions, with one notable exception, maintains the excitement and
tension until the end of the level. The exception is the North Korea
level, which has you maneuvering for two hours through a series
of dark, boring, rectangular warehouses.
The game allows you to save anywhere, but the Gamecube version
has only one save slot that you have to keep overwriting. In addition,
loading times for the saves are horrendously long. It would have
been great to have at least a few save slots for those moments when
you realize too late that you've saved after blowing one of the
optional missions. Once again, Xbox and PC gamers get the goodies
because they have unlimited saves.
The optional mission objectives, by the way, have no real effect
on the outcome of the game. The game ranks you in terms of how effective
you are at completing your objectives and moving through the levels
stealthily. Failure to complete the optional objectives, however,
has no impact on the game other than to lower your ranking. It's
not as if a high ranking unlocks weapons, levels, new challenges
or anything else. Still, many of the optional objectives were fun
to complete because they offered unique challenges.
Mr. FisherWill You Tell Me a Bedtime Story?
Despite the developer's efforts at creating a compelling back story
through between-level movies and mission briefings, it's nothing
more than a piece of scenery that frames the gameplay. If the movies
and mission briefings were removed completely, it would not detract
from the game at all. The game could have delivered the same information
through in-game communications between Fisher and his handlers a
lot more efficiently and effectively.
The story begins with a Korean/Chinese blockade against Japan and
the simultaneous theft of a cutting-edge technology that allows
its holder to hack into any computer or bypass any security system.
The hunt for this technology takes you through terrorist camps in
South America and a blackout in New York, eventually requiring you
to travel to Asia after a successful North Korean attack on a supposedly
undetectable U.S. missile cruiser. Although the missile is launched
from North Korea, the North Koreans may not be responsible for the
attack. The Chinese, the South Koreans or the Japanese may be in
possession of the stolen technology and manipulating the attack
behind the scenes. This is a great setup for a techno-thriller,
but it never reaches its potential.
The story is doled out in animated cutscenes and mission briefings.
The animation in the cutscenes ranges from very good to jerky and
unrealistic, while the mission briefings are delivered by smeared
static portraits. The story moves from one narrator to the next
without pause, giving everything a rushed feel. It's almost like
an MTV video editor got hold of the game and decided to tell the
story with a strobe light. The initial story about the hunt for
the stolen technology isn't all that interesting, although there
are a few intriguing twists and turns involving a former spy who
used to be Fisher's comrade. The storytelling becomes more problematic
when it switches to the Korean crisis because the rapid-fire storytelling
doesn't give you any chance to make an emotional connection with
the horrific events unfolding in Korea. If you told me tomorrow
that North Korea had just invaded Seoul and China was urging the
world to butt out, I'd have a horrible sinking feeling in deepest
recesses of my stomach. Would this mean nuclear war is inevitable?
Would it mean we were at war with China? Would the United States
be attacked? I never experienced any of these fears during the game
because of the rushed presentation.
Besides, the story doesn't really matter. Chaos Theory is
about the journey rather than the destination. The story works best
when it focuses on delivering the barest information you need to
complete your objectives. It is immensely satisfying when you complete
a difficult task and obtain information that advances the story.
This sense of satisfaction makes the between-level movies and mission
briefings seem unnecessary and intrusive. As Fisher, you're a nearly
invincible shadow of death. The excitement for you comes through
the successful completion of a mission objective that yields valuable
information. It's so exciting to advance the story through your
in-game actions that you almost feel cheated when you have to sit
through a poorly animated movie or mission briefing. I endured every
movie and briefing dutifully, suppressing an urge every time to
hammer on the A button and get back to the game.
The interactions that draw us in, at least in terms of story, are
the ones that take place between Fisher and his environment. Many
of the enemies yield not only valuable information, but also priceless
little snippets that linger long after the game ends. My favorite
moment occurred when I grabbed a guard in a Japanese pagoda in a
choke hold only to have him begin blathering loudly that I was a
ninja and he knew that ninjas really existed. I was trying
to sneak into a creaky bamboo building filled with enemies and this
ninja-worshipping guard was attracting unwanted attention. I squeezed
a little harder and threatened to kill him if he didn't quiet down.
His enthusiastic response: "Cool! I'm going to be killed by
The graphics in the Gamecube version of Chaos Theory are,
at times, disappointingly mediocre. I'll take gameplay over graphics
any day, but the Splinter Cell games rely on the high quality
of their graphics to create a realistic environment befitting the
real-world setting. You're engaged in the dirty work of espionage
and assassination. Chaos Theory excels when it places you
in a contemporary setting that looks and feels completely realistic.
The game relies on hyper-realistic graphics to create that realism.
The most noticeable problem is that everything is too dark. It's
true that the entire game takes place in the dark, but do you have
to struggle to see the events on the screen because the game renders
everything in pitch-black hues? You need to see the game to enjoy
Then there are the glitches. The frame rate drops at random moments.
Lights flicker on and off when you turn one way or another. The
camera occasionally catches on the scenery or flies straight into
Fisher's head (surprisingly, it's empty).
It becomes even more disappointing if you compare it to the Xbox
or PC versions, which look about the same except for the higher
screen resolutions on the PC. The lighting is the best example of
the disparity in graphical quality between the PC/Xbox versions
and the Gamecube game. On the Xbox and PC, light washes over the
characters and the settings, creating realistic shadows and highlighting
darkened areas conducive to stealth. The lighting in the Gamecube
version looks like a swarm of insects or a cloud of smoke filled
with weird rings spinning in the air. It's not very realistic, and
it doesn't always permit you to identify shadowy areas that allow
you to sneak about unseen.
It's a shame because the Gamecube is capable of graphics as good
as anything on the Xbox. Have you seen Resident Evil 4?
The Sounds of Silence
Sound is a critical component of Chaos Theory and just about
as important as the visuals. You spend most of your time trying
to infiltrate enemy territory unnoticed. Sneaking around undetected
in combat boots requires you to move slowly and carefully to avoid
attracting attention. Guards will hear you if you try to run past
them in the darkness, and if they do hear you, they'll start hunting
for you. You also have to be aware of what kind of surface you're
walking on. Your boots will rap loudly on concrete if you walk in
anything but the slowest crouch. Wood floors creak. Other surfaces
produce appropriate sounds when walked on. You can also whistle
and whisper to guards to attract their attention or try to lure
them away from a group of enemies.
Michael Ironside of Scanners and Highlander fame
does a great job providing the voice of Fisher. His deep, raspy
growl fits the character perfectly.
Although there is some music in the game, it's primarily used to
alert you that you've been spotted. It's fast-paced and appropriate
but mostly forgettable.
It's TwoTwoTwo Spies in One
Chaos Theory for the Gamecube has an awesome cooperative
mode that is a blast to play but mostly irrelevant because it's
so short. Each of the four cooperative levels can be completed in
20 to 30 minutes. It's a shame that these levels are so short because
it's great fun to work through the cooperative mode with a teammate.
Cooperative mode is played in split-screen with each player serving
as a Splinter Cell operative in training. You'll work together with
moves available only in cooperative mode. You can stand on each
other's shoulders, climb up to otherwise unreachable areas and take
out guards using team tactics.
The first cooperative level in Seoul is by far the best because
it connects to events in the single-player game. At one point during
the single-player game in Seoul, you get a request to interrogate
an enemy officer for the benefit of two other agents working in
the area. It turns out that those two agents are the very ones you
play in cooperative mode. It's great fun to see these events from
two different points of view.
This Review Will Self-Destruct in Five Seconds
Chaos Theory gives a compelling gameplay experience that
suffers a bit from a weak narrative and a failure to make consistent
use of the graphical power of the Gamecube. Even with its flaws,
it's one of the best games available for the Gamecube and definitely
a game not to be missed by fans of stealth-based action games. If
you have an Xbox or a capable PC, however, you should really play
this game on one of those platforms to take advantage of the superior
graphics and more robust online modes.