Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell Chaos Theory Hands-On

Sam Fisher is back. He's got a knife. And we got to play the game for the very first time.

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One of the biggest surprises at this year's E3 was Ubisoft's unveiling of Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell Chaos Theory for the PC. And one of the biggest surprises at the Game Stars Live show going on in London is that Chaos Theory for the Xbox is here, playable, on the show floor. Given that we named Chaos Theory as our Game of the Show back at E3, we dropped what we were doing and grabbed the first Xbox controller that became available for our first hands-on time with the game.

The demo itself is fairly simple, but it features more of the Splinter Cell gameplay that we know and love, which consists mainly of NSA superspy Sam Fisher lurking along in dark shadows, getting commands from Lambert over the radio, and sneaking up on lots of bad guys. It's an indoor demo, so we didn't get to see any of the new atmospheric weather effects in action, nor did we see any of the larger exterior environments.

We raved about the gorgeous graphics in the PC version of Chaos Theory, and Ubisoft has done its best to translate those visuals to the Xbox fairly well. For example, there is much more bump-mapping in the environment, and there are noticeable graphical improvements from both Splinter Cell and Pandora Tomorrow. And, as always, the lighting and shadowing effects are nothing less than top-notch.

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the demo is the artificial intelligence. For example, while skulking around early in the level, we were detected by a guard who immediately opened fire on us. While we pulled Sam back around the corner to unsling his rifle, the guard kept firing. When we swung around the corner to open fire, the guard pulled back around his corner and disappeared from view. He then popped out and fired a burst in our direction. We steadied our rifle on the spot where the guard's head would appear should he poke it out a second time to fire, but instead of doing that, he unexpectedly darted into the room faster than we could react. Being a locker room, there were several rows of lockers, and the guard disappeared down the middle row only to reappear in the farthest row, not quite where we expected him to be. After he fired another burst, he ran out of the room and back to where he had been shooting at us originally. It was only from a lucky burst when he popped out again that we finally managed to nail him. But from that encounter, it's clear that the enemy will be a much more difficult and tenacious foe to deal with in the game. Indeed, we were on the receiving end of some intense gunfire on a number of occasions and we had to restart the level several times.

Ubisoft Montreal, which is developing the game, has also beefed up the interaction that Sam can have with the environment. An example of this is when Sam approaches a door, he can now choose to open it stealthily or he can just bash it in. To open it stealthily, he'll place his hand on the doorknob and twist it open, and then you use the left analog stick to control how fast and how far the door opens. And, of course, Sam finally gets a knife in Chaos Theory, and there are definitely places in the environment where you can use it. For example, there's a lot of plastic insulation that you can slit through in order to let Sam into an area. Sadly, due to the tougher AI, we didn't get a chance to use the knife for throat-slitting purposes, nor did we get to see any other of the gruesome new kill moves that Sam can now do, such as snapping necks and shoving guys off cliffs.

Only the single-player version of the game is on display at Game Stars Live, which means that we didn't get to see any of the promising new multiplayer gameplay that practically stole the show at E3. Still, what we did get to play has whetted our appetites for more, as the gameplay in Splinter Cell has always been taut and exciting, and Chaos Theory promises to raise the bar even more. We'll keep you up to date with all the latest on the game as it winds its way through development, but it's certainly looking good so far.

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