Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell Chaos Theory Preview

We take a clandestine look at Sam Fisher's new N-Gage adventure.

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These days, it's fairly safe to say that military/spook impresario Tom Clancy has at least some influence on any sort of media that has to do with war or covert operations, be it written, visual, or interactive in form. Sensing the inevitable, French publisher Ubisoft wisely snapped up the rights to Clancy's video game enterprises, which have developed into a source for perennial hits. Since then, Sam Fisher--Clancy's ruggedly individual, brooding superspy--has become one of the most popular video game characters around, defeating one anti-American conspiracy after another as a one-man splinter cell. Fisher's first N-Gage adventure was a 2D stealth platformer designed by Ubi's mobile arm, Gameloft. It was a competent effort, but it could only approximate Splinter Cell's detailed, multiple-path environments. After another year of learning the N-Gage development ropes, Gameloft has deemed itself ready to try transferring 3D camera dynamics and complex third-person gameplay to the mobile console. Its early version of Splinter Cell Chaos Theory, which we had a chance to demo recently, suggests that such ambitions aren't at all unrealistic.

Sam Fisher brings a few new tricks to the spy trade.
Sam Fisher brings a few new tricks to the spy trade.

In Splinter Cell Chaos Theory, Fisher's services have been retained to defeat yet another conspiracy, this one kicking off in Peru. According to the producer of the game, Fisher will have to make it through eight large missions to complete the single-player campaign, and while the story will follow the console game's lead, it will also provide some complementary information. Each mission contains primary and secondary objectives that can include anything from assassinating a certain target to conducting general acts of espionage. Fisher has a number of new tricks in his bag for this expedition, too. For instance, there's the much-discussed combat knife, which you can use to silently give guards a second smile. A more-impressive addition is the so-called "sticky" camera--you launch this device at a wall or ceiling, where it sticks and provides you with a remotely controlled eye in the sky. If a bad guy passes close enough to the camera, you can even make it release a cloud of knockout gas. The producer also told us that other types of nonlethal weaponry like stun guns will make it into the final product, but we didn't witness their use in the demo.

The game's 3D graphics and controls boggle the mind, even at this early stage of development. The camera can be effortlessly rotated around Fisher using the 4 and 6 keys, and tilted up and down with the 2 and 8 keys. Conversely, all actual movement is assigned to the D pad, so it's easy to keep the two straight. Chaos Theory has been tricked out with a bunch of console-style graphical features, including dynamic lighting, and Ubisoft's console-game animation team has been assigned to the N-Gage title. The developers have even managed to include all of Fisher's visor options, including magnification, infrared, and night vision--and in case you're wondering, the optic cable makes an appearance, too. This game already looks like a legitimate member of the Splinter Cell family, given its smooth textures and excellent character models. We're hoping that Gameloft will optimize the run speed a little before release, but the alpha seems to run at a little under 20fps, which is a promising sign.

Two spies are better than one in cooperative multiplayer.
Two spies are better than one in cooperative multiplayer.

One area in which Splinter Cell Chaos Theory may deviate from the console game is in its multiplayer features. The game will support cooperative and deathmatch games for two to four players over Bluetooth. The producer told us that the number of unique multiplayer maps hasn't been firmed up yet, but it's likely to fall between three and six. We played a bit of the cooperative mode, and enjoyed the fact that your partner moves around on your screen in real time, with little to no lag. Chaos Theory will have some N-Gage Arena features as well, which may include global rankings based on "spying efficiency" and downloadable level walk-throughs.

In all, Splinter Cell Chaos Theory appears to be one of the most exciting N-Gage games currently in development. The game is scheduled for a late March release, in conjunction with the console offerings. We'll bring you more info on Chaos Theory as soon as we can get it.

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