UK REVIEW--Well-regarded stealth-em-up Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory was ported to the original DS back in 2005 with little success. Splinter Cell 3D is another attempt at a handheld version of Chaos Theory, and though this reworking benefits from the 3DS's new controls and, to some extent, from its extra graphical oomph, it is an insubstantial offering: the original game's single-player campaign re-created in 3D, with a couple of forgettable minigames. Beyond the 3D visuals, there's no big innovation for the 3DS. You can control the optic cable used for peering under doors by tilting the console from side to side, but there are no multiplayer modes. (Even the critically panned 2005 DS port had co-op and versus modes.) The most adventurous it gets is to project mission objective text into the environment, as lifted from the recent Splinter Cell: Conviction, which looks smart, but that's all. There's nothing as exciting as that game's mark and execute feature, making this a disappointingly timid first sortie into the third dimension for the Splinter Cell series.
As in the 2005 game, you sneak through a series of levels as Third Echelon agent Sam Fisher, taking in such locations as Manhattan offices, a Panamanian bank, and bombed Korean streets, trying to keep World War III from erupting in the Far East. Splinter Cell regulars Colonel Irving and hacker Anna Grimsdottir radio in new objectives as you go, asking you to hack computers for information, take out bad guys, not kill civilians, and the like. Staying undetected means you have to stick to the shadows and keep quiet, with your visibility and noise levels monitored by separate gauges. The action takes place on the upper screen, with the touch screen below given over to the inventory. The circle pad moves Fisher around; the directional pad is used for jumping and crouching; and the camera view is positioned with the face buttons. The circle pad produces pleasingly fluid control, particularly in shifting Fisher from a slow creep into a brisk trot, though it can be a bit fiddly reaching for the directional pad to toggle crouch at the same time. In contrast to character movement with the circle pad, fluid camera movement with the face buttons is tricky, but not off-puttingly so.
With Splinter Cell 3D hitched to the 3DS's greater graphical horsepower, it's not so plagued by juddering frame rates as the original DS's Chaos Theory, but visually speaking, it's hardly slick. Other 3DS launch titles have higher frame rates, though rates here are at least steady with the 3D slider up or down. Models and environments are suitably detailed, but it's hard to be wowed by them in the dark, when you have to flip Fisher's high-contrast, black-and-white fusion vision goggles on to see. Darkness is fundamental to the game's stealth gameplay, of course, but even the well-lit areas are mostly gloomy, so much so that you'll be tempted to leave the night vision on to keep enemy silhouettes brightly highlighted.
The 3D adds pleasing depth to the third-person, over-the-shoulder view. The Conviction-style mission objective text that occasionally looms large in the environment also looks good. But the 3D is only really useful in two places: the large, translucent level maps, in which 3D helps distinguish one floor from another; and in the hacking minigame, in which you have to rotate a set of blocky, cube-based shapes and pick which one completes a larger cube with a missing section. The hacking is challenging, but lock-picking, the second minigame, is trivially easy--rotate the circle pad until you hear a clicking sound and then repeat. Though packed with detail on the relatively small screen of a handheld console, the 3D maps are invaluable in navigating the sometimes complex, though well thought-out, levels, which largely replicate the originals in Chaos Theory.
Fisher has a bunch of gadgets for evading enemies, as well as another bunch for ending confrontations, with or without lethal force. The former set includes a pistol attachment for disabling lights and security cameras, and your arsenal includes various adapters for Fisher's assault rifle, such as a shotgun and a sniper attachment. The latter also includes the Taser-like sticky shocker, knock-out aerofoil rounds, and a handful of grenade types. It's a nice selection of toys, but at the normal difficulty setting (there's also a hard and an expert setting), you can get by without much creativity, mostly trusting the pistol and the one-button, up-close melee takedowns. Except for toward the end of the game, these goons aren't too clever; they might not walk straight into a wall mine trap, but they don't try too hard to seek you out when they suspect you're nearby. Also, their accents are among the dodgiest ever committed to game audio, with Fisher's round-the-world tour providing a broad, international sample (the Japanese accents just about clinch it for worst in the game).
Splinter Cell 3D offers a reasonably long single-player campaign, with multiple secondary mission objectives for completionists to chase. The total absence of multiplayer, though, is a huge letdown. There's no online functionality at all--no leaderboards, let alone any kind of asynchronous, StreetPass-enabled trimmings. That's a disappointing show from a 3DS launch title, and though the controls are admirably tight and the visuals are adequate to fair, it leaves Splinter Cell 3D as a slight, low-value addition to the lineup.