Splinter Cell Chaos Theory Updated Hands-On

We play around with the spies-versus-mercenaries multiplayer mode to see how the game is shaping up on the Xbox.

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The high-tech game of cat and mouse featured in Splinter Cell Pandora Tomorrow's revolutionary multiplayer mode will continue in Splinter Cell Chaos Theory, the highly anticipated third game in the stealth-action franchise. Chaos Theory will actually ship with two multiplayer modes. There's the familiar versus mode that was featured in Pandora Tomorrow, as well as an innovative and exciting cooperative mode that's new to the franchise. While we haven't had a chance to test out the new coop mode, we have been playing around a bit with versus mode on the Xbox to see how it's shaping up.

Night vision lets the spy see in the dark, as well as turn everything a cool shade of green.
Night vision lets the spy see in the dark, as well as turn everything a cool shade of green.

Versus mode sets up the spy-versus-mercenary gameplay mechanic that was featured in Pandora Tomorrow. Basically, in versus mode, up to four players can play on two sides. One side plays as Shadownet spies out to infiltrate an extremely defended area, while the other side plays as the heavily armed mercenaries out to stop the spies. As such, each side plays completely differently, as the spies are played from the third-person perspective, much like you play as Sam Fisher in the single-player game, whereas the mercenaries are played from the first-person perspective, like in Counter-Strike.

Playing as the spy can be a rewarding experience, but it's certainly a different experience than what you're probably used to, especially if you're new to the franchise. Since incompetent spies would probably result in some lame multiplayer matches, Ubisoft is having you prove that you know what you're doing before you go online. To do so, the first time you go online with a new player profile, the game will require you to pass an exam course as the spy. Don't worry, though, because the exam is fairly basic. If it's your first time playing the game, you'll find a series of tutorial missions that will quickly acclimate you to the spy's special equipment and abilities. Meanwhile, if you've already played the game before and you're just starting a new profile, you can skip the tutorial and go straight to the exam.

The spy has many of the same athletic and acrobatic moves and abilities of Splinter Cell agent Sam Fisher. In the opening tutorials, you'll learn how to leap over gaps, climb up to higher ledges, traverse along an overhanging pipe, and slide down a wire. To jump or leap, press the Y button, to crouch or rise, press the B button. You'll also learn how to use many of the cool gadgets at your disposal. Pressing left on the directional pad will activate your night vision, allowing you to see in the dark. Pressing right on the D pad activates thermal vision, which can be used to detect warm objects and people. The X button will cause your spy to draw his shocker gun. The right trigger fires the gun, which shoots an electrical discharge that can temporarily knock out cameras and other surveillance equipment, as well as briefly stun opponents. As a nonlethal weapon, the shocker gun doesn't require any ammunition. However, it does need time to recharge between heavy firing.

James Bond doesn't have gadgets as cool as these.
James Bond doesn't have gadgets as cool as these.

Clicking down on the left thumbstick will call up your inventory of equipment. During the setup for each match, you can equip yourself with up to four different items, including smoke grenades, flashbang grenades, and chaff grenades. Smoke grenades are fairly explanatory, but flashbang grenades cause an extremely bright flash, which is useful for blinding your opponents. Chaff grenades disrupt electrical equipment, such as cameras and laser trip wires. In addition to grenades, there is other equipment that you can outfit your spy with, including spy bullets, which attach themselves to the target, allowing you to track them; a heartbeat sensor to detect the location of human beings; a sticky cam that lets you shoot a remote control camera; and an alarm snare, which creates a distraction and disrupts any alarms in the area. To use an item, equip it by calling up the inventory, clicking on the appropriate button, and then pulling the left trigger. The spy can also use a camo suit, which can temporarily make him invisible. However, if the spy moves or shoots, the invisibility effect fades away.

Cat and Mouse

Though you won't be required to pass an exam as a mercenary, the game will come with mission tutorials that will get you acquainted with the merc's hardware and style of fighting. Unlike spies, mercenaries are given lethal weapons and can choose from three different firearms, including a shotgun, submachine gun, and an assault rifle. As you'd expect, the shotgun is powerful up close but has a short range; the submachine gun has less punch but a rapid rate of fire; and the assault rifle is powerful but bulky. No matter what gun you choose, it comes equipped with a grenade launcher, which is used to fire fragmentation grenades.

Be careful of letting your shadow give you away.
Be careful of letting your shadow give you away.

The controls for the mercenary are similar to those of the spy. Pressing left on the D pad calls up the mercenary's motion-tracking vision, which highlights moving objects in a gray box against a red background. Pressing right on the D pad toggles electromagnetic vision, which can cut through the spy's high-tech defenses, like the camo suit. Meanwhile, pressing up on the D pad toggles the weapon-mounted flashlight. Clicking down on the left thumbstick calls up the mercenary's inventory. Once again, during the game-setup screen you can outfit your merc with up to four pieces of equipment, such as a Taser, flares, frag grenades, a gas mask, and sticky mines. The left trigger uses whatever piece of equipment you have equipped. If it's a grenade, the longer you hold the trigger before releasing it will determine how far the grenade is flung. The right trigger fires the mercenary's weapon and the X button reloads. The merc can launch a melee attack if a spy is close enough if you hit the A button, and the Y button is to jump.

We played around with the Club House level that will ship with the game. The Club House is a high-end business club located in the heart of downtown Tokyo, and it has plenty of places for spies to hide, including steam-filled saunas, a small indoor garden, and plenty of rooms, hallways, and air ducts. In versus mode, the spy can have several objectives. You may have to hack into a certain number of guarded terminals, and in other cases, you may have to plant explosives on key pieces of equipment. (If you're playing as a mercenary, you can disarm the explosive by shooting it.) Finally, a spy may have to remove a hard drive from a computer and then transport it to a safe box located elsewhere in the level.

The Xbox version of the Club House is virtually identical to that of the PC version, as it appears that Ubisoft Montreal didn't have to modify it for the Xbox. The controls feel a bit different on the Xbox, but that's to be expected. For example, the aiming reticule seems a bit bigger than that found in the PC version, and this is to compensate for the Xbox controller's relative lack of precision compared to a mouse. The Xbox version of the game also looks quite good for the platform, though it lacks the high resolution and razor-sharp detail of the PC version. Most importantly, the gameplay is still a taut cat-and-mouse game between the hunter and the hunted, and where the hunter can become the hunted in a moment's notice.

Frag grenades are great for clearing out air ducts.
Frag grenades are great for clearing out air ducts.

Finding a game will be fairly easy on Xbox Live, just as you'd expect. To get in a game fast, quick match will find one that's available, and you can hit the X button to search for a different game if you want another choice. Optimatch will let you search for a game based on different criteria. For example, if you want to play only on aquarium levels, you can search only for those. And, of course, you can create a game of your own. There are also community options so you can find your buddies easily, and the game will support downloadable content. Splinter Cell Chaos Theory's multiplayer is looking good so far on the Xbox, and we're certainly looking forward to checking out the rest of the game when it ships this spring.

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