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'CHAOS THEORY' IS A GAME OF STEALTH AND PERSEVERANCE

Video Game Review

Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory *** (out of four)

Rated: M (for Mature)

Platform: PlayStation 2
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal

Publisher: Ubisoft Entertainment

My main complaints with the PlayStation 2 version of "Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory" weren't so much the graphics, the downsizing of certain areas (and thus potential routes) or the fact that it lacks features present in the superior Xbox and PC versions of the game. Rather, it was the goofy artificial intelligence and the painfully slow load times that initially made "Chaos Theory" such a chore to play. But, as I began to understand the former, I found the latter to be less of an issue, and wound up enjoying the game, if not in the exact way it was probably intended.

"Chaos Theory" is a stealth game. The protagonist, Sam Fisher, is a secret agent who's sent out on various missions pertaining to the threat of information warfare -- collecting data, silencing people who know too much, etc. For the most part, the game seemed to take itself fairly seriously, so I played it seriously. I crept around carefully, I shut any doors I entered through, I hid bodies in the shadows, I employed my various gadgets whenever the opportunity arose. I saw the enemy as a real threat, and I saved often.

And again: the load times in the PS2 version are utterly brutal. There are literally loading screens that bring you to other loading screens. Saving takes about 30 seconds, and figure on a good 25-second wait to get going again after dying. That last part can be especially irritating considering that sometimes a full health meter can be wiped out in a second or two.

Thankfully, the game does leave some room for improvisation. Very often I found I had more luck running around like a madman and shooting anything that moved than I did trying to be subtle.

Then again, sometimes even being subtle isn't very subtle in this game. In one scene, I popped out of an air vent in a brightly illuminated office with two enemy soldiers in it. One was three feet away from me, looking at a map on a table facing the same wall I came out of. He didn't see me. Even as I crept up to him, he kept looking at his map. I hesitated to render him unconscious after I grabbed him, figuring that the other soldier - who was sitting at a computer about three feet away - might be alerted by either the "uaugh..." or the sound of a body slumping over - but no. In fact, even if headquarters decided to radio in as I stood inches behind him, and Sam decided to answer the call and engage in a short chat, he still wouldn't have heard it.

But walking too loudly tips them off.

In other words, they're not so much deadly soldiers as they are incompetent video game enemies. But at least teasing them is fun.

e-mail: mgovenettio@hotmail.com