Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory Review

Developer: Gameloft Publisher: Nokia
Release Date: March 30, 2005 Also On: GCN, PC, PS2, and Xbox

Since its birth on the Xbox in the fall of 2003, Splinter Cell has become a cornerstone of Ubisoft’s lineup of games with three iterations in the time frame of about 15 months. Sam Fisher is as well-known a star in the industry today as Solid Snake or Master Chief. While both games have dwarfed Splinter Cell in sales, Ubisoft sure isn’t complaining. They’ve released a version on GBA, GCN, N-Gage, PC, PS2, and Xbox. Even cellphones have caught onto the craze (through Gameloft, a mobile games subsidiary of Ubisoft).

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Chaos Theory is the first Splinter Cell game, on a handheld, to be in full 3D. It should come as no surprise, since the N-Gage has seen the fully 3D releases of Tony Hawk, Tomb Raider, and Ghost Recon (also from Ubisoft). Taking the Ghost Recon engine, Chaos Theory enhances the experience by adding stealth elements that could be found in the console versions of the Splinter Cell series.

The first thing you may think is N-Gage limits what developers could do with the game. Not so fast! Gameloft has done a marvelous job of compressing what they had with the console version, the stealth elements, use of lighting, weapons, gadgets, etc., and has fit it onto a small handheld device. The only thing that suffers is the length of the game, the number of optional paths, and of course the graphics. These are all minor complaints in the thick of things, considering what content medium we’re speaking of.

Chaos Theory is a plot-driven action-stealth-shooter. As Sam Fisher, it’s your job to investigate a couple things, including a dead informant, and an attack on a US military ship, with suspicions of North Korean involvement. Your job: prevent World War III in the Pacific. You’ll encounter plot twists, including betrayal, murder, etc., all displayed through cut-scenes or Metal Gear-like sequences, except without voice-over.

If you’re at all concerned about Sam losing his moves either due to old age or to the N-Gage’s limited capabilities, fear not. He can duck, sneak, run, wall-climb, slide against walls, climb poles/ladders, zip-line, slide, shoot, and knockout and interrogate enemies. The convenience of the digit pad on the N-Gage allows for several key moves and camera control with minimum effort. This includes moving the camera, equipping items, or using items.

Speaking of items, a lot of items from the console version appear in the N-Gage version. You have a pistol, an assault weapon, shockers, sticky cameras, and all sorts of grenades, including smoke, chaff, and flashbang. Smoke grenades clear a room with nearly 0% visibility, while chaff affects electronic equipment, and flashbang stuns guards.

As far as graphics are concerned, Chaos Theory surprisingly holds its own. I’d compare them to early-era PlayStation games, with an amazing amount of detail for a handheld like this, vast environments with more optional paths than you might expect, and stunning character animation and models for the N-Gage.

I have two complaints: one is that the game is far too difficult, relying on trial-and-error with oddly placed save points, and with the technology. What I mean by that is, with the DS and PSP now out, this feels like a step back in terms of graphics and presentation. Though it’s a huge step forward compared to other N-Gage titles, and handheld titles in general, it can’t match the DS or PSP.

Had the lighting been more convincing, I’d say this is an even-matched recreation of the console experience. Shadows instead appear more as dark spots on the floor than actual shadows. There are some lighting difference in some areas, sure, but it’s hard to tell most of the time. Nonetheless, even the shadows work well, since your stealth bar will let you know when you enter lighted areas.

Chaos Theory is the standout N-Gage game of 2005. We’re entering the N-Gage’s final year, possibly, with a hardware announcement coming at E3. When people look back on N-Gage, Chaos Theory will be a, possibly THE, game they remember. It might not save a dying handheld, but it’s the finest handheld stealth-action game that I’ve ever played, despite the frustration from constant death and alarms.

Graphics: 10
Sound: 7.5
Gameplay: 9
Creativity: 8.5
Replay Value/Game Length: 8.5
Final: 9
Written by Kyle Review Guide

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