Though I don’t agree with it, I do understand why there are many Splinter Cell diehards that want nothing to do with Blacklist. Michael Ironside is gone, there is a hell of a lot more explosions, and shooting your way through the game is more an option now than it ever has been before. There aren’t really any options this generation for those that want to continue their adventures with Sam Fisher, unless you are willing to look back, back to last generation and a little game called Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory.
Chaos Theory was critically heralded upon its release for its incredible graphics, highly refined stealth gameplay mechanics, and quality story. Though the graphics can’t stack up to today’s gaming environs, the visuals are actually still pretty easy on the eyes. The art direction still works, and this is probably thanks to the levels that take you all over the world, from the Coast of Peru to Japan’s Ministry of Defense, Kokubo Sosho. The lighting is as stark as it ever was for the series, and Sam’s character model is highly detailed. For a game that came out almost a decade ago on inferior hardware, I’ve gotta give the developers credit for squeezing everything they could out of the original Xbox.
As for the gameplay, there really isn’t a better third-person stealth game that can hold a candle to the level of detail and nuance that Chaos Theory struck. This starts with things that the player is not even in control of. Sam will automatically shift his weight as a guard passes by just a little too close so to keep himself distanced from the enemy. As you’re sneaking up behind a guard, Sam will automatically reach for his knife. The game does a spectacular job of convincing you that you’re not just playing a guy dressed up as a high-level stealth operative, but a guy that is a high-level stealth operative.
What you are in control only serves to convince you of this further. You can hang from pipes, navigate ventilation systems, do split jumps in narrow hallways to conceal yourself just out of a guards peripherals, and you can scale walls. I was never left wishing that I could do more.
The availability of these actions would be meaningless, however, without levels that made doing them possible. Through and through, the level design in Chaos Theory is both varied and designed entirely around the idea that you are going to be doing a lot of sneaking.
The levels, while generally funneling you in one direction, also allow you to approach a situation however you want. Most areas have several points of entry, all sorts of different hidey holes to dip in and out of, and, of course, plenty of lights to shoot out and disable with the pistol’s OCP, which can temporarily disable just about any electronic device and is useful for silently disabling lights, cameras, or even trip lasers.
In addition to Sam’s wide array of physical capabilities, he also has an arsenal of gadgets and weapons available to him. Your primary assault rifle can be affixed with a sniper rifle attachment or a shotgun attachment for those that don’t have a problem getting noisy and violent. If you want to keep it quiet, the underslung launcher can fire stun charges, remote cameras to lure guards with, EMP grenades, and a variety of other tech.
For those that like to stealth around with a partner, there is a separate co-op campaign that can be played through with two players over split screen. Teamwork is a must, thanks once again to levels that are designed around the game’s core design principles – in this case, two agents working together cooperatively. You can use each other as a ladder to scale otherwise out-of-reach ledges and use the OCP to shut off lasers for each other to allow passage, among other cooperative moves. Though you won’t get a whole lot of story, unlike the plot-heavy single-player campaign, the game still works on a mechanical level. Unfortunately, you can only play the adversarial Spies vs. Mercs mode online or over system link, so I wasn’t able to check this feature out to see if it’s still fun today.
When it comes down to it, what makes Chaos Theory great to this day is the constant variety the game throws at you. There is no one right way, and you aren’t punished for taking one over the other, though those looking for 100 percent ratings on all of the missions will need to go full stealth – not killing anyone or setting off alarms. Even so, I never felt restricted even when going full-stealth, because the levels offered you so many options for being stealthy that you never even really notice you’re doing things one way. Chaos Theory, amazingly, can be both very difficult and very easy, depending on your play style.
If you aren’t happy with the direction that the series has taken over the past few entries, Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory holds up spectacularly, and can easily be called the best in the series thus far. Thanks to backwards compatibility with Xbox 360 and the HD collection that was released for the PS3, you can still play this game on current consoles. Any fan of the stealth genre should do themselves a favor and pick this game up.