There’s been a lot of water under the bridge in the eight and a half years since Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory shipped back in 2005. We’ve seen the sunset of an entire console generation, and we are about to sunset another. Three major titles have shipped in the series, the most recent of which effectively giving rise to an entirely new development studio. Still, every now and then I get an email or a mention on twitter from an old fan or a new player thanking me for the game. Normally I just pass the thanks along to the team, who ultimately deserve the credit, but this time I felt I’d say a little more.
A few days ago, the team over at Cane And Rinse ran a podcast that served as a kind of retrospective on the first three Splinter Cell games, with a particular focus on the role of Chaos Theory in the ‘trilogy’. I gave it a listen and it brought back a lot of good memories. For the most part, James, Darren and Karl all have a deep and nuanced appreciation for the game, so the podcast itself is somewhat biased – though they do level their fair share of valid criticism toward the many areas where we stumbled (or outright failed… remember the UAVs in Seoul?).
To even them out further there is a short (pre-recorded) segment toward the end where James Batchelor of GameBurst levels some fair criticism at the game from the (probably more common) perspective of a player who came to the series (mostly) for the first time with Conviction.
Anyway, if you’re a Splinter Cell fan, or a Chaos Theory fan, or if you’re curious about why this game in particular is so often called out as the benchmark for the franchise, I think this podcast does a pretty good job of illuminating where that perspective comes from. My interpretation of the main point they make in this regard is that the game is respectful of the player.
They seem to be saying that they felt the game gave them the freedom and the capability to decide how they wanted to play without forcing them to jump through arbitrary hoops, and without hand-holding them through every little challenge. To this end, they extensively praise the level design – talking at length about what makes missions such as the Lighthouse and the Bank so strong, and exploring also, to some extent, the mixed success we had with some other levels – such parts of Seoul or the Bathhouse. They specifically praise the high density of meaningful interaction and the richness and broad applicability of the player tools – which in my mind (and with the benefit of hindsight) – are the main factors that made the game both highly appealing to a very specific set of players, and somewhat intimidating and inaccessible for a much broader audience. In this sense, I feel that Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory was very much a game of its era.
The main thing I would disagree with in the podcast is a comment James makes at about the 35 minute mark where he says “Clint Hocking is the man you point to if you like or dislike Chaos Theory.” Once again, please point your accusatory fingers at me for the UAVs, for that last almost unbeatable room in the Bath House, for those inexplicably-missed point-blank headshots, for the lack of the SWAT turn, (and on and on and on) – but you’ll need to grow about a hundred and fifty more fingers if you want to point at all the people who deserve the credit.
Congratulations again to the entire Chaos Theory team for delivering a game still worthy of consideration almost a decade later, and thanks to James, Darren and Karl for bringing back the memories.