Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell Chaos Theory Hands-On

We sneak our way through the early part of Sam Fisher's latest mission, now appearing on the Nintendo DS.

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Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory
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Earlier this year, Ubisoft released Splinter Cell Chaos Theory, the latest entry in Tom Clancy's highly popular stealth action franchise, across all platforms. The game even made its way to Nokia's N-Gage, and now Ubi is bringing another portable version of Chaos Theory to retail, this time on the Nintendo DS. We spent some time with a nearly final build of the game to find out how the translation to a 3D-capable handheld with unique control features has progressed.

Sam Fisher makes his way to another handheld, this time the Nintendo DS.
Sam Fisher makes his way to another handheld, this time the Nintendo DS.

For starters, if you played Chaos Theory on any of the major consoles, you won't be too surprised by the story or mission arc in the DS version. The game again follows Sam Fisher as he tries to track down some wily data thieves-cum-international terrorists who want to do bad things to the world. As usual, it seems only Fisher can stop them. Like the N-Gage version, the DS version of the game understandably reduces story presentation to text-based dialogue cutscenes, though you'll get some rudimentary cinematic scenes as well thanks to the 3D engine.

Control and gameplay have necessarily been simplified in getting Chaos Theory to play on the DS, but it's surprising how much of the original game has been retained. You control Fisher from a third-person perspective, and like on the consoles you can go to an over-the-shoulder aiming mode at the touch of a button. Since the DS's D pad is digital, sneaking around is handled simply by hitting a button to make Fisher crouch and then, well, making sure you're not seen. The light indicator from past games makes a return, so keeping hidden is an easier affair than it otherwise might be.

The primary function of the DS's touch screen in Chaos Theory is camera control. The screen displays four arrows that you can hit to move the camera around linearly, which can be a little awkward at first but can be adapted to after some time. You can also activate the old standby night and thermal vision modes by hitting icons on the touch screen that are located near these arrows.

The DS version of Chaos Theory takes advantage of the system's touch screen in a couple of other fairly interesting ways. For one, when you bring up your inventory you're presented with icons representing your available equipment, so you can just tap whatever item you want to equip with your thumb to switch to it immediately. The included minigames have also been revised to take advantage of the touch-screen functionality. This is embodied primarily in the lock-picking, which now has you using the stylus to control the hooks of your pick manually as you try to make all the lock's pins line up and gain access to the door.

Chaos Theory uses the DS's touch screen in some fairly nifty ways.
Chaos Theory uses the DS's touch screen in some fairly nifty ways.

Chaos Theory DS will have multiplayer modes, though sadly, downloadable multiplayer isn't supported--everyone will need a copy of the game to join. The cooperative missions will let you and your partner choose from assault or hacker specializations, which determine what kind of weapons and abilities you'll have, and then tackle levels that require you to work together to succeed. The versus mode is similar to that found in Pandora Tomorrow and Chaos Theory on the consoles--it puts you in a spies-against-mercenaries competitive match to see who can complete their objectives fastest.

Of course, don't expect the full graphical prowess of Chaos Theory's console iterations. This version looks very similar to the N-Gage one, and while the frame rate could stand some improvement in spots, it's quite playable overall. If you're looking to get your stealth on, on the go, you won't have to wait much longer. Chaos Theory is scheduled to hit the DS on the 28th of this month. Stay tuned for a full review.

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