Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory GameCube Review

Normally we see Sam Fisher taking down terrorists bent on destroying some part of the world with ballistic missile warfare. But in Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory, a mere computer programming algorithm has the power to rip any nation’s infrastructure to shreds. With Chaos Theory, there is no need for ICBMs (intercontinental ballistic missiles), nuclear warheads, or cowardly suicide bombing. With a series of complex computer algorithms, someone seems bent on causing conflict between Japan, Korea and the United States of America.

Japan now has an I-SDF. That stands for Information Self Defense Force. This has been deemed a blatant violation of both international law as well as the country’s own constitution. This causes heightened tension between Japan, China and North Korea. Facing possible blockades of critical shipping routes by China and North Korea, Japan requests help from the U.S. This is in accordance with American obligations under Article 9 of the Postwar Constitution.

Now continued gathering of evidence by Japan’s I-SDF has led them to believe on the day of Japan’s “Black Gold Day” economic devastation, information warfare may have been used. All the nations have begun to mobilize, with the U.S. activating the U.S.S. Walsh, a premiere electronic and information warfare platform. Third Echelon, Fisher’s organization, has caught wind of a very small and seemingly unrelated event that may cause a disaster of global proportions.

When you first fire up Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory, you have the option of either heading straight into the game’s main campaign, or view a slew of training videos. If you choose to go after the videos, you will be treated to some moderately entertaining tutorial clips narrated by Sam Fisher himself telling you all the things he is able to do on the battlefield. Well, battlefield may be exaggerating, but you get the idea.

Anyway, whether or not you choose to view the training videos, the beginning of Chaos Theory’s campaign is pretty decent. You are provided with a brief cinematic cutscene that explains an overview of the game’s plot. You are then introduced to your Third Echelon team in Colonel Irving Lambert (your commander), Anna Grimsdottir (computer and signal intelligence technician) and William Redding (planning/preparation/data) who brief you on your mission objectives. Some missions will present special military guests in helping you along even further, but they don’t come until the later missions.

Your first mission takes you to an island with a giant lighthouse on it. You are to save a man by the name Bruce Morgenholt. He apparently held information of significant computer-driven algorithms that have the ability to compromise virtually any computer system in the world. He was apparently kidnapped by the men of a known terrorist by the name Hugo Lacerda. As a staunch supporter of guerilla-like tactics and revolutionary groups, he feels information warfare is one of few ways to achieve his ideals.

So you must save Morgenholt at all costs, and in doing so, hope the enemy doesn’t have a text-based weapon of mass destruction in their hands.

If you’ve played previous installments of the Splinter Cell franchise, getting used to Chaos Theory should take hardly any time. The game does run a lot of its menu arrays and such in accordance to various controller button combinations, but it’s nothing too daunting. You use the D-Pad to toggle your various goggle settings, you hold Z and use the D-Pad to scroll through your equipment. Then with other actions like grabbing people from behind, opening doors and using your optic cable; that is all done through a drop down “game interaction” menu utilized by the A button when presented with one. After the first mission, which takes an hour or so to accomplish depending on how good you really are, your familiarity with the controls will more than likely be set. One of the more pleasing aspects of Chaos Theory is the ease of jumping into it with not having to read the instruction manual first.

Perhaps one of the most disappointing aspects of Chaos Theory on the GameCube is its graphical presentation. Ubisoft definitely gave us the shaft in terms of overall polish and atmosphere when they developed our version. That doesn’t go to say the graphics are terrible, but they are nowhere near where they easily could’ve been. The XBox version without a doubt is the superior version in this case, with the PS2 version not being too far off with subpar quality in terms of the GameCube. So just what is it about this game that won’t impress you graphically? Well, virtually everything to be truthful.

Really the only pleasing parts of the game’s graphics come in terms of the cinematic cut scenes that help drive the story of the game as well as the very design of Fisher himself in missions. The cinematic cut scenes are rendered beautifully and it will really feel like you’re watching a movie when viewing them. Well, perhaps they may look something like that considering the rather strange “Splinter Cell” movie teaser trailer available for viewing in the game’s main menu. But really, the cut scenes just look awesome, with everything modeled with a realistic approach in mind. While some of them last only seconds, most of them are a good 20 seconds or more in length, and ever more satisfying to see.

In the campaign’s actual missions, Fisher was designed very well and his detail is just great. He does wear two main uniforms for his “sneaking around”, as they look very nice and just like what any Third Echelon operative may dawn. One is basically for urban environments, being completely black in color and not having too much fancy work done on it. It could really be compared to Solid Snake of MGS’s “sneaking suit”. Then you have his natural terrain uniform, which is a more camouflage-inspired design. It’s not exactly camo, but it’s pretty darn close. With the camo suit, Fisher tends to wear black face paint underneath his eyes to help keep the sun out. While in his darker suit, he either only wears his goggles, or utilizes a full head covering face mask that only allows his eyes to show. His goggles also look very realistic too, as they are always glowing that trademark green color. The last thing about Fisher that looks quite intimidating is his brand new knife. Utilized in enemy interrogations, he has that thing strapped just above his buttock region and has it ready for drawing at virtually any time. Then just seeing him hold that razor sharp blade neck to an enemy’s neck when grabbing them from behind is enough to make you cringe.

Other than those things, there isn’t too much else that is impressive about the game. The rest of the game’s presentation is either flawed in the sense of what should happen realistically, or it just plain looks bad. In the sense of what looks bad, that would probably be the rest of the game’s characters, and the attention to detail in your surroundings. Your enemies actually do move with fluid and realistic animation, but they look so bland it can make you cry. There’s really just nothing to them! Their detail is just so underdone you’ll almost wonder if you’re actually looking at people sometimes. Their uniforms can look decent , but their actual faces and such are just pitiful. To make it even worse, during interrogations, neither yours or their mouths even move. There’s definitely something wrong with that picture. Sure sometimes it’s neat to see enemies have a face of fear on them, but most of the time you aren’t even treated to that. Interrogations just don’t seem like what they should, even with Fisher’s knife at hand.

The same thing applies in dealing with your level design and detail. Just like your enemies, sometimes it just seems like there’s nothing much to your environment. Now granted, certain aspects like water and certain office equipment look rather well-designed, but even that can be a stretch. A big thing in the game is lighting, and that was actually emphasized a lot. Of course this is a stealth game, so having it dark as often and as much as possible is key for Fisher. But this is where a huge hole in the game’s logic comes into play. It doesn’t matter who you are in this world, if someone walks mere inches next to someone in the dark, there’s hardly a chance that person won’t be seen. When you have the darkness meter down the lowest possible setting in the game, you are virtually invisible to anyone around you. That doesn’t make sense on the account previously mentioned, and with the fact that Fisher has glowing goggles. Isn’t it rather odd that Fisher isn’t given the option to turn off the glowing goggles so that someone couldn’t actually see that glow? If anyone is anyone, they can see a set of glowing goggles in the dark, considering that’s what they’re for anyway. Ubisoft should’ve paid more attention to that and changed it accordingly. Splinter Cell is supposed to be a challenging franchise since it’s of the stealth genre, but when you are given an unfair advantage over your enemies, that challenge is practically null and void.

To make matters worse, your weapons just look pitiful. It’s sad enough that you only have a pistol and submachine gun available at your disposal in terms of guns. But both just look so shoddy and not even like guns it’s unreal. It almost looks as if all the textures and polygons constructed in the design of the guns were meshed together so both look like entirely one object. Sure it is nice to see both weapons have that “cocking back” in allowing you to see the fired bullet casings come out of them, but that doesn’t make up for poor overall design. They don’t always look terrible depending on the lighting around you, but more often than not they will like nothing more than run together textures.

Overall, Chaos Theory could’ve had a far better graphical presentation on the GameCube version. Ubisoft just seemed to be incredibly lazy in delivering this package to us, which begs you to wonder why they even bothered in the first place. They didn’t even seem to try to use the GameCube’s graphical capability to its fullest, so just what were they doing? The whole game doesn’t look terrible, keep that in mind, as a few missions actually have pretty good looking environments and cosmetic appeal. But in an overall sense, Chaos Theory for the GameCube just doesn’t do enough to satisfy.

Thankfully, Chaos Theory gets a little boost to the graphics presentation’s poorly delivered feel in offering some great voice acting and fairly well-done music and sound effects. Just about every character in the game is given a voice role. This includes yourself talking to Third Echelon and enemies, enemies talking to each other or enemies saying various phrases as they possibly detect your presence. No matter what the scenario, all of it was done very well. Fisher’s voice has returned yet again, and does a great job again. He has that same older aged man, gruff and intimidating voice. He can utilize that voice as he pleases to rip information out of enemies he grabs a hold of. Then hearing enemy voices and their various dialects during interrogation is another very nice touch. It is a shame to not see their mouths move, but hearing their fear and human expression through their voices helps to make up for it somewhat.

It can also be rather humorous to hear the things they say as they sense you around them but can’t pinpoint your location. At first they may say things like “Did I just hear/see something?” to the more expressions of extreme fear. The most laughable line is probably something alone the lines of “Ok, I hate to admit it now, but I’m scared!” Hearing that phrase for the first time can give anyone a nice chuckle, as it’s you being the cause of it. This voice acting between you and the enemies is coupled with great sound effects. You can do one of three things when approaching an enemy from behind to grab or not grab them. One is grabbing them and then knocking them out by quickly cutting off their air supply. Another is coming up behind them, drawing your knife quickly and stabbing them in the spine. Yes, quite painful sounding. Finally, you can also knee them in the back if you don’t knock them out with a chokehold while holding onto them.

The chokehold sounds very realistic to what someone might vocalize if having that done to them. This is a rather nice relief too, since another popular stealth franchise in Metal Gear Solid has yet to nail that sound down. It really sounds like someone chocking for air when you do that to them, which can be very satisfying every time. When you stab them in the spine from behind, it just sounds cruel. Fisher’s blade is so razor sharp that the sound of his knife going into an enemy’s back just sounds so “clean”. It’s rather creepy, but ever so satisfying just like choking them. Kneeing them in the back isn’t quite is exhilarating, but it also gets the job done. Your guns also sound quite realistic too, which begs one to wonder why Ubisoft didn’t make them look so as well. Each weapon carries some kind of suppressor, and that device sounds like the job it was intended to do when it comes to firing a silenced gun. It’s not perfectly mute, but enough to keep certain distant guards away from you.

Finally we have the game’s music. This was an unfortunate disappointment. All the scores composed for the game just don’t sound entirely interesting. Sure hearing the theme for almost being detected sounds very dramatic and heart pounding, but after so long it begins to wear thin on you. There also isn’t a whole lot of music to the game either, at least in terms of variety. It’s normally the same stuff for every mission, and that obviously doesn’t help keep the excitement in you all the time. Some of the missions actually do carry a nice collection of immersive music, but more often than not you will end up disregarding it to focus on the actual play because it just doesn’t really do much. Sure the music you do hear can have dramatic effects like it should, but it wasn’t delivered well.

How would you like a game that is extremely repetitive in terms of the overall gameplay? Well if you do, look no further than Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory. Now while the objectives you have for each mission help keep the gameplay fun for the most part, you pretty much end up doing the same thing every mission. You sneak up on people to “relieve” them of their presence, or simply sneak around them if possible. Then you have your lights to worry about busting or disabling, your cameras to blind and your claustrophobic passages to utilize. Computers are also a big thing in this game, but interacting with them isn’t exactly interesting either.

Let’s start with the actual stealth aspects of the game. Fisher is given darkness, sound and ambient noise meters. The darkness meter allows you to determine just how visible Fisher is to the enemy. Sound obviously helps you to know how much noise you are making that would be detectable by nearby guards. Ambient noise is sound produced by your surrounding environment that can actually help “mask” the noise you may be making. That can help you if you want to walk a little faster than you would be otherwise, or to sneak up on guards quicker. Overall, these meters prove their use, but the sound feature does moreso than the darkness.

If you do anything from walk too hard on the ground, whistle to catch a guard’s attention or fire off one of your weapons, chances are you will be heard. The darkness meter can give you an unfair advantage because the enemy AI apparently isn’t smart enough to see someone in ‘the dark’ that is two feet in front of them. Since you have this unfair advantage, this can almost make the whole stealth aspect pointless, because just as long as you never make too much noise, you can keep yourself hidden at all times. Now granted you do have to strategize at times to keep yourself in the dark in terms of the lighting in your mission. However, most of the time that will hardly be a problem, so being caught will either happen because of your own stupidity, or because a guard somehow “miraculously” detecting your presence. Now if you aren’t that great playing stealth games that may be a different story, but even then it shouldn’t be entirely difficult. It just seems too unbalanced to make the stealth be as realistic as it could’ve been, so let’s just hope the next console generation warrants a better system for this.

Now enemy AI actually has been improved from previous versions on a certain level. This is in the sense that they think and function more like humans naturally would. This basically means anytime a guard may catch a glimpse of you or hear you walking (or whistling) nearby, they will become “suspicious”. No longer will they immediately assume that something is wrong and signal for backup or an alarm to go off, so that’s a good thing. Instead, they will first investigate the situation to see if they can confirm their suspicions, and if you keep yourself hidden well-enough during such, they will disregard what happened. However, if this continues to happen, they will discover at least someone is there, even if they don’t necessarily know it’s you. This can cause them to call for help or simply begin firing off their weapon randomly towards your direction in hopes of eliminating the threat they know is there.

You will also find yourself interrogating a lot of your enemies in missions. This is done by simply grabbing them from behind and choosing the ‘Interrogate’ option from the in-game interaction menu. This will simply start a nice conversation between Fisher and his captive. In it, most of the time the enemy will reveal useful information to you such as door codes, or how you can accomplish your objective more easily. Sometimes the conversation is for nothing more than intimidation and you get nothing out of it, but it is a nice tough to the game at least.

To help with all this, Sam can utilize his goggles in three different ways. One is thermal vision, another is night vision and the third is IMF. In the game’s campaign, thermal and night vision will probably the only ones you actually need to use. Thermal vision can help you see any nearby guards and how many there may be in the current area. Night vision obviously allows you to see better in the dark, which can help you see darkened guards and the infrared beams that certain cameras may carry. You also have your EEV (electronically enhanced vision) at your disposal. There are actually many uses for this nifty gadget. You can use it to scope out distant areas ahead with its zoom capability. You can toggle your goggle settings while using it. You can record conversations with its integrated microphone feature and you also use it as a laser designator for certain missions. To top it off, you can also receive information about scannable electronic devices. This can be anything from whether it’s affected by your OCP (optically channeled potentiator, explained shortly), or whether you can hack it through the EEV. A very nifty device that you’ll end up using quite frequently in your missions.

Next we have your main gun weapons. These include your S-7 pistol and SC-20k rifle. Your S-7 pistol always carries a silencer for obvious reasons and can also be used as your OCP to disable electronic equipment temporarily. This is especially useful when you don’t want to actually shoot out a light to make darkness your weapon to take an enemy guard down, and can also be used to blind a camera for a short period of time so you can sneak past it. The strange thing about cameras in Chaos Theory though, is that you can’t actually destroy them by shooting them. Since when were cameras invulnerable to gun fire?

In terms of your SC-20k rifle, you actually have a lot of customization options. You have two attachments for it, a force-grip and launcher. The force-grip allows Sam to use the weapon with better accuracy and the launcher attachment allows him to fire various goodies from it. Two of these goodies happen to be a Sticky Shocker and Sticky Camera. The Sticky Shocker releases an electric charge upon impact when it lands on a target. It can also be fired into the water to electrocute any unknowing enemy guards that are walking in it. The Sticky Camera is obviously used for your own personal surveillance and your view in the game will automatically switch to it when you launch one. In this mode, you can shift its point of view to get a better look at your surroundings. It also has zoom capability along with thermal and night vision lenses. To make it even more interesting, you can also use it to trigger noise for distracting nearby NPCs, or releasing a poisonous gas that will render anyone caught in it unconscious. The rifle itself also carries sniper and shotgun attachments, which will obviously in turn convert it into a sniper rifle or shotgun.

One feature that has made yet another return is lock picking. It also works the same way as it has been. You choose the option at a door, and on the screen you are presented with the inner workings of the door lock you are trying to pick. You simply tilt the analog stick until you see the pick doing its work or feel a rumble in the controller and you move from peon to peon until finished. However, a new feature that was added specifically to Chaos Theory is hacking. This can be done to computers, keypads and retinal scanners. When choosing to do this, you are presenting with a huge list of number sequences which have four numbers in each. At the bottom you will see scrolling of random numbers, and that is what you have to pay attention to in order to discover what sequence to choose. At random, a number position will highlight white for a few brief seconds and show you the number. This can be the first, second, third or fourth number, but you eventually have to figure it out before triggering an alarm. However, it isn’t hard at all, because you basically use process of elimination as you are presented with more numbers. Many times you only need two or three numbers to guess which one it is. The first number basically runs from 191-194, the second from 66-69, with the third and fourth running in various “tens” digits. That may sound confusing at first, but experiencing it first hand will easily help you understand it.

Finally, we have just what Fisher can actually do in order to be stealthy. He can of course walk along walls, climb into air vents and climb pipes or ladders. But he can also do a split wall jump, which means he holds himself above the floor with his feet against the walls on the sides of him. Unfortunately I only saw one point in the game to actually do this, so it seems like a rather pointless maneuver for Fisher. However, Sam can also do some nifty things while hanging from pipes or being in the water. While in the water, if Sam catches a nearby walking guard, he will grab him and snap his neck underwater. While hanging on a pole near the ceiling, Fisher can do an inverted neck break to passing guards. He can also fire his gun while hanging upside down, which is a pretty cool but rather pointless feature since that too won’t happen often in the game. Then he also has his trust optic cable that he can stick underneath just about any door to see what’s on the other side without actually opening it.

So overall, it’s easy to say the gameplay in Chaos Theory is fairly entertaining over the duration of the game, which features ten missions, but it gets awfully repetitive. Thankfully each mission brings something new for you to do, even if the means of accomplishing your objectives tends to be the same thing you may have done in the previous mission or any other mission for that matter. It really all depends on your tastes to determine how much you will like the game. It is pretty fun for the most part, but not exactly exciting, which is where it’s hurt a lot. Once again, just like the graphics, it seems like the gameplay was dumbed down just for the sake of the GameCube version being that way.

Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory also has got to have one of the most uninteresting and uninspired endings of all time this generation. The very last thing you do in the last mission just seems so corny and will make you say, “That was it?” Then the final cutscene is nothing more than a brief showing of things returning back to normal and peace being restored. Sure the short conversation between Fisher, Lambert and Grimsdottir is rather comical because of the blatant sarcasm, but even that isn’t enough to help the actual ending out. It just wasn’t anything interesting to watch, and even though it did end the game just fine, it really makes you feel gypped.

It also doesn’t help that the credits seem to run five minutes from beginning to end. Perhaps even longer than that, and there’s no music with it! That’s the first time I’ve ever played a game that didn’t feature any kind of music in the ending credits, so that was even more of a slap to the face than the ending cutscene was. Honestly, what in the world was Ubisoft thinking when designing the end of the game? It’s pitiful and downright inexcusable. There’s no reason for Ubisoft to have made the game’s ending this poor, just none.

There are only two minute reasons for why someone would want to come back to this game after going through it once. One is to return to every mission to achieve a 100% mission rating. To achieve that, you have to complete the daunting tasks of completing all mission objectives (primary and opportunity), not get identified as an intruder one time, not set off any alarms and not have any bodies be discovered. Now while some missions are quite worth it to try to achieve that rating because it is very possible, some are just laughable in those terms because of how restrictive the level design of the missions can be in that regard. It is indeed possible to achieve 100% for each mission, but since there are no in-game unlockables, there’s almost no real concrete point to it.

There also is a two player co-op mode. This is comprised of six missions in which two players help each other complete mission objectives, take out guards and navigate the mission levels. Not exactly interesting or entertaining, but it can be something for two people to go through together. GameCube owners are again gypped in this regard because supposedly the XBox version of the game is much better because of the online option.

Ubisoft definitely made a decent effort in developing the GameCube version of their latest Splinter Cell franchise iteration, but they just didn’t do enough. They really gave us a poor delivery in almost every aspect, which is very disappointing because Ubisoft tends to have such a high reputation for this. Who knows what really made the GameCube version end up being so underdeveloped in the end. Perhaps they just weren’t expecting high sales of the game on the system, but even that shouldn’t warrant laziness in overall game design. If you want your games to sell well no matter what console, you should make the effort to utilize the system’s capabilities to their fullest. However, Ubisoft truly failed in this regard, in giving GameCube owners something they can hardly be proud of. The graphics are hardly impressive, the gameplay is fairly good at best, the replay value just isn’t really there and the great music and sound effects aren’t enough to make up for all the shortcomings. If you find this game around $20 in stores, it’s probably worth the pickup, but anything else above that just isn’t worth it. If you can’t find it cheap, stay away from this game. However, if you are a hardcore stealth genre fan, this may be more worth your while than otherwise.

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