We're feeling old today. Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory was released six years ago and poor Sam Fisher is still trying valiantly to mirror his early days. Chaos Theory is considered to be the best in the franchise because of its balance between traditional stealth and realistic action. Striking that balance has never been more difficult, as seen in Sam's most recent outing, Conviction. We've missed Splinter Cell dearly, as it remains one of the only true stealth games out there. Even Metal Gear Solid would struggle to classify itself as a stealth game, instead choosing to focus on mind boggling stories over snapping necks. Now with a brand new system on the market, it's only natural that Sam Fisher emerges from the dark and into a port of his best adventure. Splinter Cell 3D is one of several remakes confirmed for Nintendo's 3DS, and it's a shambles.
We're not going to talk much about the story, follow this link if you haven't played Chaos Theory before. Splinter Cell 3D is identical and the only visible difference this time around is the presentation. Objectives are now displayed using a technique found in Conviction, whereby all necessary information is cast onto the environment. It's unobtrusive and never takes full advantage of the 3D effect. Sadly, it's one of the only new additions worth mentioning because the rest of Chaos Theory has been dumbed down and made infinitely worse. Fare thee well, happy memories. It's heartbreaking because Sam Fisher and Third Echelon have the capacity to work well together. As expected, this is not the Chaos Theory we wanted.
Nostalgia is the only reason why anyone would consider buying this 3D 'update', and even the most devout Splinter Cell fans will be upset at seeing Sam's fall from grace. Admittedly, hearing Fisher and Lambert chatting brings back fond memories, not forgetting the distinct sound of those iconic goggles. Sound has always played a big role within the Splinter Cell games, helping to create the atmosphere we yearn for; the gameplay however, is where Splinter Cell 3D becomes messy. It's hard not to feel sorry for Ubisoft; developers have very little room to manoeuvre around the 3DS. It's a cliched complaint, but a second analogue stick is a fundamental part of designing an effective control scheme. The camera is terrible, particularly is tight areas where it may as well be hovering behind Sam's ear. Chaos Theory has been shoe-horned onto the face buttons, hindering the player's ability to see. Then again, what other options are available? None.
Sam's inventory has been moved to the lower touch screen, somewhat compensating for the sluggish controls. The shoulder buttons are used for executing lethal and non-lethal attacks, while your stance and a few minor details can be accessed via the d-pad. Switching between crouching and standing is awkward; when Sam needs to use an evasive roll, you need to push the stick forward and press down at the same time. This causes the 3DS to move, so that sense of depth is replaced by a shimmer. It's also worth noting that playing Splinter Cell 3D outside in daylight is not an enjoyable experience, stay indoors if possible. All of the great scenarios from Chaos Theory are in here, they're just not suitable on a restricted platform. Sam will silently move around like his usual self with most of the famous techniques included minus the grace. Chaos Theory was wonderful in 2005, not so much here.
Splinter Cell 3D isn't much to look at either, and doesn't come close to the power of a PSP title. Textures and characters are plain, that goes for Sam and his targets. Enemy mouths don't move when you're interrogating them, and Fisher's expressions are drab. However, it's the environments that suffer the most. The gameplay is centered around darkness, creeping in the shadows unnoticed and completing the mission. Splinter Cell 3D is the opposite, bright even in corners with no natural light source. Is this a result of the 3D effect or the hardware? Probably both, because the 3DS isn't able to sustain a decent frame rate and the loading times are far too long. First of all you need to load your save file, only then will you be allowed to load into the game. The fancy 3D artwork is a sweet gimmick at first, until you realise that nothing has changed in almost a minute. Let's be honest, you're only here because you want to know about the 3D. Does it improve the gameplay and is it effective?
The effect is definitely there, but the increased depth of vision does absolutely nothing for Splinter Cell 3D. You're better off playing in standard 2D to avoid feeling nauseous or dizzy. The graphics are marginally better without 3D anyway, that's not saying much but at least you can stick with it for longer periods of time and finish it off promptly. Sections of the heads-up display benefit with 3D turned on (primarily the objective markers), the rest takes a hit and when you take the shocking frame-rate into consideration, it proves that Splinter Cell 3D is a struggling performer. Finally, the cut-scenes haven't been upgraded at all, so they look identical on any setting. This isn't a good example to showcase the hardware's potential, it's more of a counter attack, exposing the weakness and confirming that Splinter Cell 3D was rushed out with minimal effort.
Just when you thought it couldn't get worse, Splinter Cell 3D has been stripped of multiplayer. None of the modes from Chaos Theory are available, making this a strictly solo adventure. Given the wireless capabilities of the 3DS, it's big letdown to find that multiplayer has been overlooked. It probably would have been rubbish on a competitive level, but it would have been better than nothing (barely). Dedicated fans might be able to pluck ten hours from Splinter Cell 3D, at best. Your only challenging task will be to defeat the controls, otherwise you'll be able to run through the story with ease. The enemy soldiers may as well be blind-folded and have zero training, their idiocy is just another addition to a long list of faults. We would love to see Splinter Cell properly translated onto a portable device, assuming that device can handle it. The 3DS has enough on the inside to give Sam Fisher the game he deserves, but it's going to take more than a blatantly obvious rip.
Splinter Cell 3D is a bad port of a great game. It should never have been shoved onto the 3DS and it doesn't come close to the quality of the original Chaos Theory. Disregarding that and looking at it purely from a portable stealth experience, it's still poor. The 3D effect is irrelevant and you'll probably forget that it's turned on after ten minutes, the graphics are ugly, the controls are uncomfortable and the atmosphere has all but evaporated. Our advice? Forget about Splinter Cell 3D, walk down to your local retailer and buy the original for ten bucks unless you're a serious Splinter Cell fan, but even then it's hard to recommend this version.