Sunday, 30 January 2005
James stealthily hides in the shadows, ready to pounce on his unsuspecting victim. That's Spinter Cell: Chaos Theory, folks. More metaphors that you can shake a stick at.
The Splinter Cell franchise is an almost perfect example of videogame Marmite. Perhaps you’re the sort of player who loathes the deliberate, calculated, trial-and-error gameplay that makes up the levels. Maybe you’re the variety of gamer who takes pleasure in the highs and the exhilarating thrills that come with taking out your foes undetected in the shadows; utilising the wealth of spy gadgets available to the game’s protagonist, Sam Fisher. While the last two games have divided these two types of gamer into their separate camps, the return of Third Echelon’s stealthiest black-ops agent has the ability to bring these gamers together again. A potential ‘make or break’ for the Splinter Cell franchise, then? It could well be so.
Anyhow, what does Chaos Theory (as the third Splinter Cell game has been dubbed) do to change the basic formula of the previous games?
You may remember that in previous versions of the game, the path you were forced down was very linear. There was no two ways about it – you must achieve the objective, you can only do it this way, and if you don’t do it exactly right, you fail. It’s fair to say that this particular aspect of the gameplay didn’t win the franchise all that many fans, but for Chaos Theory we have been promised open-ended gameplay and the freedom to play through the levels more or less as we please. So, if you get spotted by a guard, it won’t always be the end of the world. You have the freedom to achieve your objective by almost any means, and the game will offer numerous pathways through the levels. Don’t like the hidden back entrance? Go in through the roof! These multiple pathways through the levels suggest that there could be a certain degree of replayability – something that Sam Fisher forgot to pack in with the rest of his little gadgets on his previous escapades.
Now, this is where Ubi Soft have become a little adventurous, a little rebellious, a little innovative – here comes the big breakthrough in stealth gaming. Close combat. Amazing, no? I don’t know how they managed to come up with that – the creative department at Ubi Soft Montreal must have been working their little socks off. The inclusion of – get ready for a shock - a knife (okay, enough sarcasm for now) in Chaos Theory opens up a whole new array of attacks that Sam can employ when in close proximity to enemy soldiers. Not only can the knife (described by Ubi Soft in the press release as a ‘weapon of tomorrow’…hmm) be used to ruthlessly murder any foes who stand in your way, but Mr Fisher now has a set of hand-to-hand techniques that include hurling unsuspecting foes over balconies into whatever lies in the abyss below, or silently breaking the necks in the name of saving the world from disaster. As you do. These close combat moves will have to be put to good use throughout the course of the game, as we’ve been told that the enemy AI is smarter than ever – whether that particular statement stands up to close scrutiny will be revealed come AltGaming’s in-depth review in a couple of month’s time. The more intelligent AI are used in tandem with more challenging, interesting missions including the theft of important papers under the noses of your foes (the cheek…) and assassinating important terrorists while they’re surrounded by a large group of bodyguards. The added challenge that we’ve been promised will be a suitable counter for the freedom of gameplay being offered to us, and help to balance the game’s difficulty.
We may have been joking about the importance of close combat in Chaos Theory, but one aspect of the game that the AltGaming team is genuinely excited about is the multiplayer modes – namely, a huge improvement on the admittedly ground-breaking online modes that pioneered ‘stealth multiplayer’ in Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow.
Aside from an improved version of the original multiplayer modes, Chaos Theory introduces us to what looks to us as a whole new level of co-operative gameplay. Aside from the single player game, the developers have been generous enough to include a separate co-op campaign, the events of which link directly to those in the single player missions. Your fellow agent (be they halfway across the globe via Xbox Live, in the next room via System Link, or on the other side of the sofa with the inclusion of split-screen) has to be able to work side by side with you in order to achieve objectives and accomplish manoeuvres that are impossible to do with Sam Fisher alone. With their own set of gadgets and wealth of special moves, it is their task to help Fisher achieve his objectives. In doing so, you and your partner work in sync to make your way across the levels – for example, you can have your partner give you a boost in order to climb a wall too high for a normal person to reach – and once there, you can reach down to collect your partner. Your partner can also keep watch on doors and hallways while you collect an important item, diffuse a bomb, or hack a computer. The potential for this kind of co-operative play is enormous, and we pray that Ubi Soft put this to good use come the final release of the game. From what we’ve seen, they don’t intend to disappoint.
So, we’ve been promised increased strategy, replayability, freedom, innovation and enjoyment – it is Sam Fisher’s (and Ubi Soft’s) most important mission to date. Can he win over the leagues of gamers who disliked the first two games? Can he put an end to the hatred and frustration that many players felt after even the first ten minutes of the previous games? If he can’t add a little bit of Chaos Theory to the linear, trial and error gameplay of the first two games, there might be no tomorrow for Sam Fisher – Pandora or otherwise.