The porting of Splinter Cell: Chao Theory almost feels like a statement of intent from Ubisoft and Nintendo. After years of being seen chasing the casual crowd, having such a core game in the 3DS’ launch line up certainly raises an eyebrow. In all honesty they couldn’t have picked a better game though, as Chaos Theory is widely regard as the best of protagonist Sam Fisher’s many outings.[boxout] A third person stealth game, Chaos Theory’s story has more twists and turns than the Nurbergring. The start sees Fisher dispatched to locate and rescue Bruce Morgenholt, a computer programmer who worked on weaponized algorithms as part of “Project Watson”. Unfortunately Morgenholt has been captured by ‘The People’s Voice’, a Peruvian separatist group so the task is to make sure his knowledge hasn’t been extracted. Fisher arrives too late though, and so the fun and games begin. The story is most definitely what one might call a ‘slow burner’. With hardly any flashy cutscenes to progress proceedings, it’s down reams of text and in-game conversations to maintain the pace. Once it gets going though it is an enjoyable enough yarn.
Seeing as how Fisher is some kind of super agent he has many, rather acrobatic, moves at his disposal. Unfortunately this doesn’t translate particularly well to the 3DS’ button layout and gamers are in for a bit of a learning curve before things start to gain any semblance of a flow. The Circle Pad, which is used to move Fisher about, works absolutely perfectly, but as there is only one the camera and aiming controls have been mapped to the X, Y, A and B buttons. This is less than ideal, and in most cases it is just downright sluggish as it feels like there is no sense of urgency. In a situation where one is coming under attack you would expect snappy, focused movements and a robust aiming system, but this feels like moving in treacle. Eventually you learn to overcompensate and it becomes manageable, but hardly enjoyable.
To add to proceedings, there are certain actions (such as jump) which have been mapped to the d-pad, and once again feel far from intuitive. The touch screen itself plays host to a plethora of options, and the result is crowded. Weapon selection, maps, gadgets, options; there are so many things crammed into one small screen. In all fairness I can’t really see any other way Ubisoft could have tackled it, but never-the-less the final result hasn’t quite worked. You also get the impression the game was never optimised for the small screen, as Fisher takes up an awful lot of room, sometimes blotting out over half the viewable area.
The game’s actual stealth mechanics have been handled well, with two main bars on your screen to focus on. Bar one senses the surrounding light, and how visible you are to a passing enemy. Bar two measures the sound you make in comparison to the area’s background noise, and if you are louder it flashes red in warning. Weapon usage is generally seen as a last resort but that doesn’t mean Fisher hasn’t come prepared. You have access to a number of guns, which can be fitted with new parts and secondary functions such as a non-lethal taser. Gadgets are catered for too with your night vision goggles and ‘EEV’, which can be used to scan objects and remotely hack computers. For all the shy and quiet types out there, never fear as you are presented with the option to sneak up to an enemy and knock them out, or plunge a knife in their back. What a charmer! It’s during these unrushed moments that Chaos Theory is at its best, with no frantic fumbling about with aiming, just the thrill of sidling up to an unsuspecting guard and introducing him to your knife. I named mine Felicity.
In a title which is essentially a huge game of cat and mouse what you really need is a challenging opponent, but the A.I in Chaos Theory can be a bit hit and miss. One minute they will be tagging Fisher from thirty yards with a handgun, whilst other instances will see one guard look on in complete apathy whilst his partner is turned into Swiss cheese. It’s very…2005.
Visually the game also has varied levels of success. The character models look good, but the environments are bland. There is a good use of light and shadow, but it lacks the finesse of its console counterparts. The game is also very gloomy, and I know how daft that sounds seeing as how this is a stealth game, but there is a difference between ‘dark’ and ‘gloomy’. 3D is extremely subtle, yet works very well as when you peer down a corridor you are actually able to see all the way down. The game also borrows a feature from Splinter Cell Conviction whereby mission objections are projected onto the wall for you. It’s an odd design choice, but works really well. In terms of 3DS exclusive features, the optic camera you can feed into different rooms can be moved by tilting the console.
Perhaps the biggest omission though is the total lack of multiplayer and co-op modes, which were actually in the original game and even the DS port back in the day. It’s hard to fathom a reason why they have been left out, and they would have added a good dose of longevity, although you might argue whether the game needed to be any longer, taking into consideration some of the issues mentioned.
- Subtle yet effective 3D
- Looks good in parts
- Stealth is still enjoyable
- Unresponsive controls
- Cluttered touchscreen
- No multiplayer/co-op
- A.I is inconsistant
It’s quite disheartening to see how far Chaos Theory has fallen. Whilst there is still the odd rush of adrenaline here and there the 3DS port never quite manages to elevate itself above average. If it had been spruced up with a few more of Conviction’s better features, such as ‘Mark and Execute’, and the control scheme tightened then this would certainly have impacted the game for the better. As it stands though you may want to wait for the Splinter Cell Trilogy.