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Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory Preview

publisher: Ubisoft
developer: Ubisoft Montreal
genre: Sneakers

PIII 2000, 256MB RAM, 3GB HDD, 64MB video card
ESRB rating: M

release date: Mar 28, 05
» All About Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory on ActionTrip

August 13, 2004
Branka "Nikerym" Todorovic

Sam Fisher's Impossible Mission

Sam Fisher, the super spy of the Splinter Cell series, returns in the third installment of one of the most popular 3D stealth action games in recent history, in Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory. There is a million reasons why this is a damn good thing (ok, don't take this too literally). One of them would be the fact that we are getting yet another great game from Ubisoft Montreal, which developed the first installment (Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow was designed by Ubisoft's Shanghai team), so the game goes back to the team that created the whole series to begin with. The Shanghai team did a fine job, but many were dissatisfied with the number of novelties and the "insufficiently impressive single-player mode." If we consider the popularity of the multiplayer mode (which was, by the way, developed in Montreal), this is a no-brainer, but taking the whole package back to the innovative team that started it all is a damn fine thing. In any case, we're in for a new sequel, and if we are to judge by what we have been in the past, it is sure to be great. Ubisoft clearly wants to show us what a real heir to the throne of this genre should look like.

"Have you ever fallen from a terrace and lived?"

The most evident improvements are in the visual department. The new Splinter Cell employs a new engine, which renders nearly photo-realistic scenes. Ubisoft officials have already announced that this would be the game with the best graphics, regardless of the platform. Effects like advanced dynamic lighting and shading are just a start; the game features some of the most realistic weather effects ever. Rainfall will form puddles and make characters look soaking wet. This is performed by changing the textures on objects and characters. The weather is not mere eye-candy, though. Guards stuck in the rain will seek shelter, giving Sam the opportunity to sneak by unnoticed or even help the guard to enter another plane of existence (the world of the recently deceased). The demo showed a guard sticking an arm out to check whether it is still raining. He then retreats to the building where Sam is waiting for him.... which is when he shuffles off this mortal coil. (As Terry Pratchett wisely noted, being a guard is less than gratifying. You stand in the rain getting wet and waiting for someone to wring your neck.)

Speaking of graphics, I should also say that all the characters look highly detailed and realistic, which especially goes for Sam Fischer, whose model has been given a lot of attention. Sam moves around in completely interactive surroundings which opens many new possibilities for stealth (and hopefully relieves the game of old bugs). As Ubisoft Montreal has basically been working on Chaos Theory since the end of SC1, they never stopped enhancing their engine so in CT they've been implementing many graphical features such as normal mapping, per pixel specular lightning for reflections and a bit of procedural texturing (says the producer of SCCT, Mathieu Ferland), adding that they've also been developing soft shadows that contribute a lot to the graphical aspect of the game.

Apart from the improved graphics and AI (which went a long way from the AI in the original Splinter Cell, where guards would see you even when that was literally impossible), Chaos Theory also uses the RagDoll physics engine, which brings even more life (or death) to characters. Even the entire approach seems a lot more intelligent, as Sam now has to use the advantages of solitary obscure places to get closer to the guards. The developers realized that the prequels made it rather difficult for you to attract the guards' attention (if you actually wanted to) and they decided to set this straight. Sam no longer has to rely on whistling, he can now, for instance, turn the sprinkler on, which will make the guard go out to check who in the bloody hell decided to turn the bloody sprinkler on, where he receives a quick thump to the base of his skull... Another fun example was a guard going to check a TV set after Sam disrupted the signal with an electrostatic beam, without realizing who is lurking behind his back. If the going gets tough, you can always lure one guard at a time into the darkness, thus making him easy prey. You can stalk enemies from behind, knock them out and drag their bodies into some secluded corner. Sam sports some new moves; he can cling to a pipe with his legs, waiting for the guard to pass under him and then grab for the throat and squeeze. Tightly. Or, he can hang off a terrace, then suddenly shoot up, grab the guard and throw him off the terrace to his demise in a very spectacular fall, complete with realistic physics. All characters have been fantastically animated. The camera controls have also been tweaked, which should make game play more enjoyable. Oh, and one more thing, while you were sleeping, Sam became ambidextrous. This new ability is best used in gunfights, as Sam can hold his gun in either hand, thus better using cover.

Even though Sam always had a nice collection of handy gadgets on his person, the developers decided that he didn't have quite enough. So they decided to further expand the tools of his trade. The new item I best liked is the knife. Introducing the knife in Splinter Cell is significant for several reasons. First, there is its classical use - slaying enemies, and second, it can be used to interact with the surroundings. We should also mention the electrostatic beam, used to disrupt the functioning of electrical appliances, and a highly realistic night vision binoculars. There's also the old camera and shocker, Sam's experimental rifle (SC20K), and the extremely useful optical cord. When Sam approaches a door, he can use the cord to detect thermal radiation, thus finding out whether there is anyone on the other side. After this you can decide to sneak or burst in. If there is a guard right behind the door and you slam the doors open, you will render the guard unconscious. An enemy can be subdued in more ways than before. Electronically controlled doors can be unlocked using the electrostatic beam, but this will disrupt surrounding cameras, computers, TV sets and radios, thereby alerting the guards.

"What do you mean Ubisoft's stock went down again?"

A couple of words on the game and the missions: The levels are no longer linear - they will allow you more freedom of movement and choice. Every mission can be completed in several ways, according to the player's taste. In each mission, Sam will have a primary goal and secondary goals, which are not obligatory. However, as optional as they might be, performing or ignoring secondary goals can affect a later mission. Missions also contain interesting twists, and you can find yourself doing something totally different than what you came to do in the first place. Another new feature is that you do not lose the game only by getting killed. It is, for instance, impossible to leave a body lying in the middle of a corridor, hoping that no one will notice. Everything you do has consequences. People in Ubisoft believe that SCCT will be more balanced than the previous games especially because of the freedom given to the player and the removal of trial-and-error game play.

Game play is also enhanced by the fact that Sam no longer relies that much on generic data from his PDA, but rather on the information he manages to gather in the field. In one scene, for instance, you can see a guard accidentally dropping some change, which makes the guards start speaking of the recent stock-market developments. This is a way more interesting way of finding out about the in-game world than dry text. As for the noise, now it is no longer only important not to be heard, but rather to use the noise for your own ends. If Sam happens to be in noisy surroundings, he will be able to walk or run without being heard. Too much noise will alert the guards, so Sam should try and keep his Sound Meter lower than the Ambient Sound in the area. There is also a feature called the Sound Masking, which can help Sam trick the NPCs in looking in the wrong direction or cover up his own sounds.

The developers also announced a new and even more impressive multiplayer mode than in Pandora Tomorrow. This may even be the greatest difference in comparison to other games - the fact that teamwork plays a huge role, and may prove crucial for successfully completing a mission. One of the game demos contained scenes where one player helps another scale a wall, or guides him using his camera, or even holds his legs while he's hanging through a hole in the ceiling. Quite authentic. The multiplayer mode also supports voice communication, in-game, so you don't have to download TeamSpeak to perform well. Ubisoft hopes that this multiplayer mode surpasses the glory of the multiplayer in Pandora Tomorrow, as it even contains a cooperative on-line campaign which should last several hours.

The new Splinter Cell takes place in near future in the year 2008. The plot is typical Tom Clancy stuff - sabotage on the stock market, breaking into the US National Defense system, an international conspiracy... This time, Sam Fisher has to infiltrate enemy territory, gather info in the field and destroy the threat to global stability. Nothing we haven't seen many, many, many times before.

The last thing to add is that this Splinter Cell will surely bring many new fans to the serial. Hardware requirements are not yet known, and the game will be published for PC, Xbox and N-Gage (which, by default, will suck. - Six). Splinter Cell Chaos Theory should appear before the end of this year.



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