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Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory review: Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory Xbox review

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The Good Better mix of stealth with action. Less linear than previous Splinter Cells. Looks and sounds great.

The Bad Camera doesn’t track Sam Fisher’s movements accurately – you’ll be constantly manually adjusting it to find the best view.

The Bottom Line Splinter Cell veterans won’t find too many new additions in Chaos Theory, but newbies and vets should snap it up as it’s the best game in the series so far.

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Sam Fisher, the gruff voiced protagonist of the Splinter Cell games, has always been a tough nut that preferred the shadows to the spotlight. But in Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory, Sam has been given a new direction in life. Chaos Theory allows gamers to become more action orientated, meaning Sam can step into the light occasionally and mix it up with his foes. While stealth is still the order of the day, this action addition makes Chaos Theory the most accessible Splinter Cell game to date.

Chaos Theory sees you once again in the steel-capped boots of uber agent Sam Fisher, employed by the US Government to do all those nasty covert operations conspiracy nuts have been accusing Uncle Sam of for decades. The plot, as befitting a Tom Clancy title, is a baffling mix of high tech hijinks mixed with global politics, which will see Sam jetting off to such exotic locations as a remote Peruvian lighthouse, a cargo ship at sea, the streets of Seoul and more. Whatever the location, the gameplay is the same - sneak around in the shadows, quietly (or not) dispose of patrolling guards and get past elaborate security systems.

If you've played Splinter Cell in the past then you should be instantly familiar with how Chaos Theory works. Players control Fisher in third person perspective, with the right joystick used to easily swing the camera in whatever direction is needed. The emphasis once again is on stealth - players need to ensure Sam stays hidden for the most part, using shadows to hide, taking out obtrusive lights to create even more darkness, and sneaking up behind enemies to catch them off-guard.

Action stations
But while Chaos Theory remains essentially about ninja-style stealth, this latest Splinter Cell game gives you the option of becoming slightly more action orientated. In previous Splinter Cells, setting off alarms too many times would automatically result in a failed mission, forcing gamers to minimise confrontations with guards and other enemies. Chaos Theory makes some significant concessions for those who prefer a more 'straightfoward' approach to their espionage. Gone is the 'three alarms and you're out' rule, and Sam has been made generally hardier and is now able to take quite a few hits before he drops. His offensive effectiveness has also been upped, particularly when it comes to hand to hand combat. In fact, this more action focused aspect is highlighted at the start of each mission, where players are given the option of three different types of inventory list to choose from - one that is focused on stealth (more spy cameras, etc), one on action (more bullets, grenades etc) and one balanced between the two.

This makes the game more forgiving of player mistakes - great for newbies to the series, but Splinter Cell vets may find it makes gameplay too easy. But don't think Sam is suddenly Schwarzenegger, however. While a little more direct action is manageable, sneaking is still the best course of play, as confrontations with more than two guards at a time usually means game over for Sam.

The action orientation also contributes to making Chaos Theory, to its credit, less linear than its predecessors. There is usually more than one way to approach every aspect of your missions. One particular mission about breaking into a bank vault, for example, sees Sam needing to sneak into the manager's office and activate a passkey. You can either take out a security camera at the side of the building to gain entrance, or go to the roof and abseil down into the bank below. Once inside, you're faced with a locked security door with a sleeping guard nearby. You can either quietly hack into the security door to open it, or force the guard out of his slumber and use his retina scan to gain access.

Sam Fisher's arsenal of moves and equipment has been upped from previous games, although there's no real outstanding addition that significantly affects gameplay. Sam still sports an impressive variety of moves, with some new context sensitive actions included in Chaos Theory. On the ship level, for example, Sam can flip guards overboard when standing next to a railing. On the lighthouse level, Sam can hang off a walkway and reach up to patrolling guards before throwing them over. The most apparent change is that Sam now carries a large knife with which to oppress and intimidate enemies. As is a given for the Splinter Cell series, Sam is animated fluidly, with all of his actions looking extremely realistic. On the equipment side, Sam still has his trusty pistol and SC-20K multipurpose assault rifle, as well as carrying gear to pick open locks and hack into security systems (which can now be done remotely).

Take it on-line
The last Splinter Cell game, Pandora Tomorrow, introduced an innovative on-line mode which saw players teaming up to take on other two player groups. Chaos Theory resurrects the on-line spies vs guards gameplay, as well as introducing an off-line co-op mode. The co-op mode allows you and a friend to play the game together, although there are only a few missions where this is possible.

Chaos Theory's version of multiplayer mode includes a few key differences to Pandora Tomorrow's, but it's basically the same thing, so fans will be able to dive right in while new players will have a lot to learn. Interestingly, before you can get online, Chaos Theory actually forces you to complete a brief "exam" by going through a quick scenario as a spy. It's a nice gesture, designed to help ensure that those playing Chaos Theory online basically know what they're doing. But Chaos Theory's competitive multiplayer mode is much more complex than this little exam map implies. The spies resemble Sam Fisher, but they have a distinctly different feel and some of their own unique moves, while the mercenaries are controlled from a first-person viewpoint yet are slower and more complicated to control than your typical FPS character. In addition, there's the fact that you need to learn the game's big, rather intimidating levels, about half of which are new and half of which are updated versions of Pandora Tomorrow maps.

Such is the history of the Splinter Cell games that it almost goes without saying that Chaos theory looks absolutely fantastic. Sam, his enemies and the world locales they're found in look more realistic than ever, with all of the in-game characters moving in a lifelike fashion. If you ever wanted a game to show off the Xbox's processing punch to initiates, then Chaos theory is the one to spin.

All up, Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory takes the best aspects of the previous games and makes them shine even more. Splinter Cell veterans won't find too many new additions, but newbies and vets alike should snap it up as it's the best game in the series so far.

Additional reporting by Gamespot.com

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