Most developers for the N-Gage, and for mobile at large, will tell you that it's rarely a good idea to try to re-create a console experience on a phone. The controls and technical specs of modern handsets are simply inadequate. A third-person stealth action game like Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell Chaos Theory, which is heavily reliant on advanced lighting effects and intricate, context-sensitive controls, would be an example of a poor candidate for porting. That's why it's so surprising that Gameloft has managed to deliver a product with almost all the refinements of its console counterpart. Most of Sam's moves are intact, as is Chaos Theory's cooperative multiplayer mode, which works seamlessly over Bluetooth. The game's graphics engine looks fabulous in all three of Sam's visor settings and makes this latest Splinter Cell all the more immersive. Chaos Theory is one of the N-Gage's standout games, and it belongs in the hands of anyone still sticking by the embattled platform.
It's ironic that Tom Clancy, a master of counterterrorist intrigue, includes such forgettable plots in his video games. Chaos Theory's lackluster storyline, told through cinematic cutscenes, is no exception. Many of these involve banter between Fisher and his inveterate dispatcher, Irving Lambert. Unfortunately, Michael Ironside hasn't lent his basso profundo to the N-Gage version of Chaos Theory, so you'll have to content yourself with scrolling written dialogue. Chaos Theory makes the common mistake of letterboxing the N-Gage's vertical screen for these sequences, which restricts them to a paltry number of pixels.
Where Chaos Theory shines is in its gameplay. For the first time on a handheld, Sam has a near-complete move set at his disposal. A training mission (that's nearly the length of the entire Pandora Tomorrow 3D mobile game) explains each of Sam's maneuvers in detail, including his wall-jumps and swat-turns. Chaos Theory features a full complement of weapons as well, which can be used much more freely than in previous Splinter Cell games.
In fact, you'll be employing the "Fifth Freedom" much more often this time around, which tips Chaos theory slightly more to the "action" side of stealth action. You're still encouraged to avoid direct confrontations with the enemy; you can just choose to flout the conventional wisdom on that point.
The N-Gage isn't exactly known for its specular lighting effects, and that's why it's so surprising that Sam's protective chiaroscuro works so well here. Fortunately, terrorists continue to operate in intermittently lit factories, and it's easy to see what nooks and crannies the electricians have neglected. The game looks absolutely gorgeous with any of Sam's three visor filters and runs at a very playable frame rate, both in the single-player campaign and over Bluetooth multiplayer.
This latter mode is actually the most appealing of Chaos Theory's features. You and a buddy can play levels cooperatively. One of you will work as a hacker, specializing in computerized infiltration techniques, while the other is basically a tank and dominates live-fire situations. The game's occasionally labyrinthine levels are much more fun to explore with a buddy. If you can find someone to play with (and even if you can't), Chaos Theory will prove a tremendous value, with lots of longevity.
Chaos Theory also supports N-Gage Arena leaderboards, in which you are scored based on your clear times and by how deftly you complete your objectives. It's possible to download a replay of the top players' sessions, so as to improve your own performance. Finally, the N-Gage's oft-ridiculed shadow racing has a purpose.
Chaos Theory's audio is as appealing as its top-notch visuals. The game's ambient sound is easily the best on the N-Gage--you'll hear every footstep, every anxious creak of a door being stealthily opened. Bits and pieces of Amon Tobin's brilliant soundtrack have also found their way into the N-Gage version of the game. Suffice it to say, from an audiovisual standpoint, Chaos Theory is the best the N-Gage has to offer.
Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell Chaos Theory is probably the best game made thus far for the N-Gage. Considering the overall quality of the N-Gage library, that isn't exactly a difficult task, but if you're still out there on the hunt for a great game for the N-Gage, this is one game you can't afford to be without.