When Splinter Cell was released in 2001, it received many accolades. It was considered one of the best games of that year, and quickly became the reason to own an Xbox. Sam Fisher's other two Splinter Cell console outings were just as good, if not better, and even the 2D handheld Game Boy Advance and N-Gage versions were of a respectable calibre. It seemed that no matter where Sam Fisher infiltrated he couldn't do wrong.
When we heard that Sam would be making the transition to the Nintendo DS, we couldn't help but feel excited. Surely with the added power of the Nintendo DS, we would finally be treated to a 3D portable Sam Fisher title, right?
Well, right: Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory for the Nintendo DS is a port of the console versions which were released in March. The DS version is the first time the game has gone 3D on a handheld and it's brought mixed results. For those new to the series, in Splinter Cell, players take on the role of Sam Fisher. Rather than go into a mission all guns blazing, the emphasis is on stealth, and whilst it has been implemented very successfully into the console versions, the DS version fails to capture the intensity of its bigger brothers.
Ubisoft has added some exclusive features for the Nintendo DS rendition. All the moves from the console versions have been included, as well as an exclusive Swat Turn. This isn't utilised much, though, as the levels from the home consoles were designed without this move in mind. A few tweaks to levels have also been made, but aside from that the adventure is relatively unchanged.
In the past we've criticised developers for not using the second screen of the DS to their advantage. Splinter Cell is the complete opposite of this. The touch screen is essential to the game, allowing players to manage the inventory, change the vision modes and maneuver the camera. The bottom screen even contains a map that warns players of upcoming enemies. If anything, the second screen is over utilised and, quickly becomes cluttered.
Some of the missions in the game require quick fire controls, and when cycling through your inventory, it is too fiddly. The game doesn't pause and Fisher can quickly end up dead as youâ€™re trying to pinpoint the weapon you're after.
The entire game feels clunky. From the very beginning even the main menus are slow to respond, which doesn't give a good first impression. For some reason the game also features an extensive amount of loading - getting into a new game will induce loading, as will the start of a mission. We were always under the impression that cartridges minimised loading times, so the last thing we wanted was to take a minute actually getting into the game.
When in the 'fire' viewpoint, the only way to move Fisher is with the stylus. Most players won't be able to hold the stylus and navigate Sam so they will have to carefully use their finger to move him around. Aiming is a chore. The game doesn't auto-aim for you, so before firing it is often essential to scroll down a little, or move to the left to hit your enemy.
The transition to 3D for Sam Fisher on a handheld hasn't turned out as well as we would have hoped. To accomodate the 3D graphics, the action is extremely dark. We're used to Splinter Cell titles leaving the player in the dark, but not so much that it's impossible at times to actually see the main protaganist. The back-lit screen simply does not work. To counter this, players can choose to turn on the night vision, but once activated the frame-rate is so sluggish that you will quickly turn it off.
It is not only when the night vision is on that the game will run slowly. During high intensity battles, or when quickly trying to scroll through the weapon selection screen, the game will move at an ultra slow rate. Why? The graphics aren't the best we've seen in a DS game, so the frame-rate should be a lot more sturdy than it is.
If you can ignore the technical faults of the game it is quite a long campaign, featuring just about everything the console versions did, as well as a multiplayer option. There are many modes to choose from in multiplayer, such as a Co-operative mode for two players, with five levels. Each player is able to choose between two shadownet expertis, assault or hacker. There is also a versus mode which allows support for up to four players.
One of the downfalls of the game is that it is very linear. Whilst it appears that it is open-ended, there really is only one way to complete each mission. Going the wrong way is likely to end up in a quick death thanks to triggering an alarm, so the choice is in fact an illusion. Because of this, it's hard to see why anybody will come back to the game. Chaos Theory will take a significant amount of time to complete fully the first time, though, plus some unlockables. The missions are lengthy enough, but overall the replay value is low.
The sound has made the transition to the DS successfully. It is very vital in helping to create the atmosphere in Splinter Cell, and this is no different in the DS version. We're pleased that Ubisoft didn't have to scale back for this aspect of the game.
But as it is, Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory is overly ambitious. Ubisoft has tried to port everything from the console version over to the Nintendo DS version and it just hasn't worked. There are far too many controls, the touch screen is actually over utilised and the adventure is slow. There is a distinct difference between stealth gameplay and slow gameplay - unfortunately Splinter Cell borders on the latter. Only truly forgiving fans of Sam Fisher will enjoy this game. It's such a shame that after such a high quantity of quality titles, Sam Fisher has finally taken on a challenge he cannot fulfill. A huge disappointment.