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Review: Latest 'Splinter Cell' thrilling, intense

By Marc Saltzman
Gannett News Service

Sam Fisher must infiltrate enemy ground, gather evidence, snuff out enemies and exit undetected.
Video Games
Tom Clancy

If you're bored with mindless 3-D shooters, then you will want to slip into the boots of super spy Sam Fisher in "Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory," a deliciously tense stealth action sequel in which you must protect the world from evil and destruction.

Not only is "Chaos Theory" the finest "Splinter Cell" game in the popular 3-year-old series, but it also may be one of the best games of the year if the Xbox version is any indication.

Rather than focus on clear-cut acts of terrorism such as the original "Splinter Cell" and its sequel, "Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow," this new techno-thriller focuses on information warfare.

Without giving away too much of the story, the Tom Clancy-inspired tale involves rising tensions between Japan, China and North Korea.

Computer attacks have disabled the Japanese stock market, city power grids and the country's defense systems. A U.S.-led investigation exposes the source and brings the region to a boiling point. That's where your character, Sam Fisher, comes in.

Fisher is commissioned to infiltrate enemy ground, gather evidence, snuff out enemies and exit undetected. He begins his mission in Asia where he must locate a hostage and scan crates for important mission data.

How Fisher goes about completing his missions is largely up to you. More so than in previous "Splinter Cell" games or other third-person stealth action titles such as "Metal Gear Solid" -- "Chaos Theory" is refreshingly open-ended.

For instance, when you reach a torture room, you can pick up an object such as a pop can and throw it to distract the enemies. Or you can snipe a bad guy from afar. Or you can don your night-vision goggles and shoot out the lights. Or perhaps you'd like to sneak up from behind to slit an enemy's throat and then hide the body behind a tree. You can choose your gear before each mission or go with the default suggestion of weapons and gadgets.

Sneaking through enemy territory, picking locks, shimmying across ledges and placing "sticky" surveillance cameras that can release poison gas all add to the tension and suspense that is synonymous with the "Splinter Cell" series.

The stealthy action is complemented by graphics so realistic that they look almost like they were taken from a Hollywood blockbuster.

In order to complete his assignment, uber-spy Fisher must travel the globe for 10 single-player missions. The lengthy and increasingly challenging solo campaign is well worth the price of the game, but Ubisoft also has included a co-operative mode for two gamers to play on the same television (split-screen) or over the Internet (Xbox and PC versions only).

Special maps let two spies tackle the missions together, including the ability to pull off special moves such as boosting your teammate on to ledges, standing on his or her shoulders or healing each other.

The online version lets players chat using Xbox Communicator headsets. Versus modes are head-to-head missions divided into three game-play types: Story (plant bombs or extract data from computers), Disk Hunt (pursue data disks spread throughout the level) and Deathmatch (eliminate opposing characters).

"Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory" is a near-perfect adventure. The lack of a robust tutorial might disappoint less experienced gamers, but some video help is available and you can save the game at any time, making it easier to learn from your mistakes.

Whether or not you've ever played one of the tense and mature "Splinter Cell" games in the past, "Chaos Theory" is an extraordinary title that is well worth your time and money -- it retails for $49.99 to $54.99.

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