I best start with an apology. If you’re a regular reader of my words then you’re about to hear me once again plea with the powers that be to confirm that “Splinter Cell 7” exists. If you aren’t, congratulations and welcome; you’re about to hear it anyway.
Seven years. It’s been nearly seven years since the last Splinter Cell game, Blacklist, was released. Then, last year, came a glimmer of hope which was immediately extinguished. It was announced at E3 2019 that Sam Fisher would cameo in a new role-playing game titled Tom Clancy’s Elite Squad. It turns out that this is a game that will be released in 2020 for mobile devices only. What a gut punch that turned out to be.
Alas, while we wait, all we can do is reminisce. And it just so happens it’s been fifteen years since the best game in the series, Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory, was released. Hell, Ubisoft if we aren’t getting Splinter Cell 7 anytime soon, can we at least have a remake of Chaos Theory? Please?
I really mean it, despite the game’s age, when I say Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory is the best in the series. This is for a multitude of reasons. Firstly, the stakes felt so much bigger this time around. Chaos Theory saw the strongest and best designed set of levels to date, a personal favourite being “Cargo Ship”. Fisher was truly a globetrotting agent, travelling to New York, Panama, Japan and other locations, in a race to stop the “Masse Kernels” being used by terrorists as the next great superweapon. You may recognise the name, as you encounter Phillip Masse in the first game. He is the genius responsible for the algorithms which were so advanced they could be used to leave pretty much any network open and vulnerable to attack.
Indeed, Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory feels almost like a spiritual sequel to the original, especially as both are centred around the “Masse Kernels”. This is also the case as some of the voice actors return that were different in the second game, Pandora Tomorrow. Irving Lambert, Sam Fisher’s boss and head of Third Echelon, is one such example.
The game also looks brilliant. Despite getting released relatively shortly after Pandora Tomorrow (certainly not seven years!) the lighting effects were noticeably improved and in places the levels were designed to demonstrate this. It really hit home during sequences of play that involve fire or water.
Hand in hand with the improved visuals came improved characters. Not only did they look better, but they were extremely well fleshed out personally, and the game felt like it had more key characters than in previous outings. As I mentioned earlier, Lambert returns along with the rest of Fisher’s entourage for practical and moral support, and again to show just how high the stakes are. It all knitted together for a strong, conspiracy-driven thriller of a narrative that was gripping from start to finish.
In Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory the gameplay was more intricate and advanced than ever. Most noticeably was the addition of a sound level meter along with your visibility meter. This meant your next move had to be thought out on both fronts, especially as the enemy AI was now more alert and vigilant. The famous goggles make their return, complete with night and thermal vision modes. New to Chaos Theory were the EMP and EEV modes, which allow Fisher to identify electrified objects and scan a variety of items for extra information respectively. The drawback with the EMP mode is that it will obscure any enemies so using them was always a calculated risk.
Your SC-20K rifle also came with more attachments this time round, including the incredibly satisfying and effective shotgun. Not only this, but Fisher could use his knife in close combat situations either to kill or just to threaten. If you do kill, and bodies are discovered, the mission will no longer end but the enemy alertness will increase. You’ll also receive a ticking off from Lambert if you kill any civilians, but again you can carry on without the threat of extraction. This helped generate a greater feeling of freedom to match the more open level design. Finally, a reason why I like “Cargo Ship” so much is Fisher’s new ability to throw bodies over railings to keep the area clean of bodies and avoid detection. In a perverse and dark way, it’s very, very satisfying.
The soundtrack in Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory is also fantastic. Amon Tobin creates incidental music which ramps up the tension just when needed, with quality that makes for a premium experience. It is so good that not long after the game’s release Top Gear was using excerpts as backing music to its road test films.
Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory had no need to, but nevertheless included a separate co-operative campaign. Such a move wasn’t commonplace in games at the time, and it wasn’t just a quick afterthought either. No, it was a fully fledged seven mission campaign that encouraged players to get together to experience something new. It followed two unnamed agents in a story that ran parallel to the events concerning Sam Fisher. And not only co-op, but versus multiplayer was also available locally and online through the early incarnation of Xbox Live.
Even when writing this piece, the urge to play through Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory once again has been impossible to ignore. It didn’t simply just possess all the components needed for a great game, but combined them in such a way that made it totally irresistible to play. And then go back and play again a few months later. So if you’re yet to experience what it has to offer, well, do I really need to say it?
I will anyway – play Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory. You can grab it from the Xbox Store and play it on your Xbox One right now, even though the multiplayer elements are no longer supported.