Sam Fisher is back again and this time he really means business. The franchise exploded onto the scene in late 2002 and has grown to become on the level of Rainbow Six, a franchise which Ubisoft has worked many years to build up to what it is today. Splinter Cell Chaos Theory, the third in the series, but most definitely not the swansong is the latest game in the series. Ubisoft is promising a raft of new features, incredible graphics and a more open game rather then the linear previous two. We recently had a build demonstrated to us by Ubisoft to see how they are delivering on these features.
Splinter Cell Chaos Theory is the second game from Ubisoft Montreal and with this as a fact it's not hard to see why the game integrates fairly closely with the original game in terms of its storyline. If you have played through the original game you will recognize one facet of the storyline instantly and it is this cohesion between the games that will really make this feel like an ongoing story. It revolves around Information Warfare, something which is briefly touched upon during the original game. We only saw segments of each level so didn't really pick up the story much.
The game will be once again played from the third person perspective but Sam has a lot more things he can do this time around. How Sam interacts with enemies will be context sensitive and not just in terms of what he can say to capture enemies. If Sam has to use hand to hand combat, he can knee them, punch them, use a sleeper hold or just plain hurt them. Hand to hand combat is also enhanced by the fact Sam has a knife which is also used in other facets.
For the most part the game remains the same as the previous two. Sam is dropped into a level not knowing much, completes tasks and is updated as the game goes on. There is a difference this time around though, and that is more objectives exist - Critical missions, optional and bonus objectives. The critical style missions are the goals to complete the game, the optional missions can give bonuses and enhances the backstory and the bonus objectives are completed by using great stealth. How you go about finishing the bonus ones is not told by the game, you must discover them yourself.
Sam also has a wide variety of new moves such as hanging from the roof and snapping necks or busting down a door and opening fire. You can choose to open doors slow, break them with the knife or just burst in. We saw demonstrations of each style and it really does change the way the game is played. Along with this Sam now also has to choose a loadout before each mission; redding, stealth or assault. Redding is pretty much the autopick via the game, assault is for those who want to shoot lots with minimal gadgets with stealth the opposite. You only have a limited amount of slots for gadgets this time around and also using the gadgets can take time. Switching to the sticky shocker requires Sam to change the cartridge of the gun. Running also no longer works because the AI features improved brains and powerful weapons.
The new gadgets include the ability to remotely hack machines and electromagnetic vision (from multiplayer Pandora) amongst others. The game has also been toned down in terms of difficulty. Ubisoft have pretty much removed the ability to get stuck. Killing someone may make the game very much harder, but doesn't mean a brick wall anymore. For instance if you kill someone required to use the eye sensor, you can now just hack it but that leaves evidence for enemies to find. They are a lot smarter, but the game is generally less smart. Bodies will only be discovered if an enemy walks near them, not by you reaching a particular point in the game.
We were shown a number of levels from the game. The first level, the lighthouse, really shows some great diversity with the level design. You begin on a beach and move through a series of underground caves before reaching a torture area. The detail of the levels is also quite astounding. If you want to kill the lights, you have three options - Shoot them (leaving glass for enemies to find), use the electromagnetic gun (takes out electromagnetic objects for a short period of time) or knife the generator to kill the power overall. This is where the non-linear gameplay will shine through. Other levels included a penthouse and bank. The graphics, as Ubisoft wanted, are some of the best you will see. On the beach for the lighthouse you will see shiny rocks from the water and reflections, glistening rocks in the caves, highly detailed textures and levels and Sam himself looks more refined as do the enemy characters.
Michael Ironside again looks like he has provided a game academy award winning performance. One of the more interesting aspects of the games is the AI progressively becomes more stressed as you whistle or move about. As they become more stressed they begin to do irrational things which can make them easier for Sam but also more deadly at times. During the demo we saw Sam crouched behind a door, only to have the AI bust through the door, sending Sam flying.
Splinter Cell Chaos Theory adds quite a bit to the already excellent franchise. New moves for Sam, new levels and generally a better game should see it as one of the premiere titles for the first half of 2005. The game does have multiplayer but our focus was single player for this demo.