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Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory DS Package Art
UbiSoft, GameLoft

Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory DS

Splinter Cell reaches the DS in the form of Chaos Theory! Unlike the previous two Game Boy Advance incarnations, UbiSoft has a coup de tat up their proverbial sleeves. Mr. Sam Fisher has been rendered in the third dimension, for the first time ever on a portable machine. If you’ve played Metal Gear Solid for the PlayStation One, despite being an avid Nintendo fan, than you’re already familiar with Chaos Theory DS’s ocular powers. And, although this development is exciting when juxtaposed amongst the shallow pre-June DS software selection, Splinter Cell still doesn’t tap into the raw potential of Project Nitro. I am ever amazed by the breathtaking visual quality of a pack-in demo and a Mario port derived from a game that is now almost nine years old. You see, while there’s no “slow down” per say, the DS version of Chaos Theory carries the burden of overt frame rate shortcomings.

Furthermore, although I am quite happy that the DS is beginning to get a nice mix of both 2D and 3D titles, it’s saddening to see the more ambitious three-dimensional projects (that actually run desirably) being developed exclusively for the PSP. Likewise, I applaud UbiSoft for their stilted (but still somewhat admirable) DS efforts with Rayman, and now Splinter Cell. Like most espionage narratives, Chaos Theory pits Sam Fisher in dull, stagnant environments that only serve to excite when an object is deliberately placed for player interaction. I was struck by one such moment, in which the only way to progress without getting caught was to climb atop a series of crates and pick off an enemy in from afar via a small hole in the wall.

While the game often waxes similar to Metal Gear Solid for the PlayStation One, the visuals are usually less grainy and more reminiscent of an early-to-mid generation Nintendo 64 title. Being an early portable IP, Splinter Cell for the DS is nonetheless stricken with a bad case of pseudo-slowdown, which doesn’t really effect gameplay as much as it is just annoying to watch. It seems as if our espionage extraordinaire is always a half-footstep behind his console brethren.

Following a somewhat claustrophobic training session (optional), which is layered with those muted brown and gray tones I (don’t) love so much, the player is thrown right into the thick of the action. The interface, like many DS games, is controlled entirely by the touch screen. The only body of information that actually appears on the top screen is written dialogue, which substitutes for the lack of voice acting. Even this text craws at a somewhat sluggish, and sometimes frustrating pace, though it is easy to bypass with the press of a few buttons—a good way to miss important instructions or plot pieces.

When paused, players can change game settings, view mission objectives, view data collected while on assignment, and switch weapons. The “on-the-fly” touch screen abilities include camera rotation, a constant radar system, and toggling different visual perspectives, such as “night vision” and a “heat sensor”. One of the cooler uses of the lower screen is a graphic that appears when Sam Fisher is required to pick a lock or punch a code in. Preferably with the aid of the stylus, players can guide prongs into corresponding holes to get by with ease, although some passages require a password.

Physics are realistic where most players don’t want them to be, as Sam can quite easily set off an alarm, fall to his death, or keel over in a hail of gunfire. These aspects, to me, were a major plus. It is frustrating, however, when levels are built in such a way that it is almost impossible to avoid direct contact with some sort of obstructionist being, civilian or revolutionary alike. Consider the second level, in which you immediately fail your mission if you kill any security guard of the Panamanian bank. The atmospheric background track quickly became monotonous when I had to constantly restart from the previous save point. Most frustrating, however, is a major design flaw that was also present in Free Radical’s Second Sight; as soon as a guard spots Fisher and initiates an unavoidable execution (unless you can manage to dash out of the room and into a hole), the alarms automatically sound off and alert every other person in the building. Apparently all the personnel that Sam encounters are telekinetic and telepathic (a fact unbeknownst to all, even UbiSoft), throwing the player into a tedious routine of trial and error until he or she succeeds.

Indeed, the artificial intelligence of the computer-controlled characters is ridiculously uneven. You can kick a door and send it flying open, and their first reaction is to ask the empty air if “someone is there”. Even though you are indoors, they must have assumed that a gust of wind or a very strong rat must have nudged the bulky door open, for after you’ve “hidden” for a short while they proclaim that it “must have been nothing”. Compare this to their uncanny knack at avoiding capture, since you cannot actually grab them unless you manage to successfully sneak up behind one.

Finally, due to a massive amount of invisible walls and fake doorways, the game is (excruciatingly) linear. I navigated more nooks and shafts then I care to dwell back on, in the same crouching position that Sam Fisher automatically assimilates when his off-screen player moves him past the edge of any small ledge.


Dark, metallic and wood-based materials formulate Sam’s (and the player’s) sight throughout the game. Aside from actual people, the world is pretty lifeless, devoid of subtle rustling or motion from afar. This very disappointing reality aside, textures are often an improvement over the 3D games of the early PSOne era, if you can consider that something to be proud of. Certain sections are excessively spotted-- individual square pixels and texture ripples are easily detected in walls, bodies of water, and Sam Fisher’s graying hair. Bullets are completely invisible, and the only indication that a shot went off successfully is a small flurry of smoke that accumulates where the weapon hit. To remove the non-existent icing from an already shallow cake, the lighting is atrocious. One must tilt the DS to the right angle, ala the original Game Boy Advance, to finally get a decent view of the screen. This is not so much a problem with the hardware itself as it is with this game’s shoddy programming.

There are a couple cinema scenes as well, though their presence is somewhat random and does nothing to make the game more appealing.


The proposed musical score is the best thing you will hear while playing Splinter Cell, though even it suffers from some inexplicable muffling. If Super Mario 64 DS could recapture the audible magic of the Nintendo 64 classic successfully, then there’s no reason why new games cannot also deliver accordingly. On the standard side, Sam’s footsteps and weapon usage emit sounds of their own. Nonetheless, the complete lack of environmental-based audio, such as the movement of water or the whisping of air, makes for much disappointment.


Using stealth and assessing Sam’s native options, players must make their way through linear levels by completing a given set of objectives, which are programmed to change at certain checkpoints within the game. A modest array of weaponry and gadgets are provided to help make the task a bit simpler, though such items are not used as often as I would have liked. Fisher can latch to walls and peak around corners while in this position, or tiptoe quietly while standing or crouched. If you manage to successfully sneak up on an enemy, they can be disposed of, carried (which is never necessary), or occasionally interrogated.


Since the game requires multiple cartridges to utilize the multiplayer abilities, we were unable to test the two options out. For your own edification, these included multiplayer possibilities are a two-player co-op mode and a “spies versus mercenaries” free-for-all that supports up to four players, though I doubt they’re much fun.


A castrate of its GameCube counterpart, Splinter Cell for the DS lacks many of the levels, abilities, features, pathways, and audio enjoyed in said console version. Bungled load times and inherent slowdown (in simple menu navigation!) is completely unacceptable on such a powerful handheld. Even the script suffers, as the story and text is radically altered from the “set-top-boxed” versions that released in March. Worst of all, perhaps, is the overly static nature of this product. In-game environments are completely lifeless, and rarely ever change. Alas, I did not have fun playing Splinter Cell, and neither will you.

final score 4.4/10

Staff Avatar William Jacques
Staff Profile | Email
"Oh oblivious, naïve Humanity... How ignorant we really are - safe only in our blind "superior" view of the world."

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