The purest and most basic pleasure of the stealth game is without doubt the silent kill. That exquisite satisfaction of taking an enemy unawares, dispatching him with a modest splash of claret and escaping back to the refuge of darkness without the slightest hint of public disturbance. Over the years, this pleasure has been obscured by guns and gadgets and hybrid shooter atrocities with no appreciation of the ninja mentality. But fear not, because Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory is about to set things straight, taking the genre back to its roots with a renewed emphasis on silent kills and dispatches of the most devious kind.
"One of the strong focuses of Chaos Theory is proximity," says producer Mathieu Ferland. "The game is all about strong emotions from being closer to danger, and we've created a lot of new moves that translate that idea. We really like the neck snap move, where Sam is upside down, hanging with his feet and twisting the neck of an enemy below."
The game also restores the blade to its rightful prominence, enabling you to hold hostages at knifepoint (although not to kill them). What's more, with the new material properties in place, you can even slice through a tent wall or rice paper screen and dispose of an enemy where he sleeps. Beautiful.
Grand Unified Theory
Of course, this is but one triumph in a game that promises many wondrous things. Chaos Theory has been in development for over two years now - the true sequel to 2003's stealth masterpiece - and from what we've seen it's going to be utterly magnificent. As well as building an entirely new system for up-close-and-personal kills (known as Closer Than Ever mode), the game is set to overhaul and hone every conceivable area of the game. We're talking bigger levels, multiple game paths, world-beating AI, a ground-breaking co-op multiplayer mode, advanced facial animation, a more intelligent stealth meter and graphics to make your soul rejoice.
One of the biggest innovations in the game is the non-linear gameplay.
In resounding response to criticisms that the first game funnelled you down too narrow a channel, Chaos Theory is set to be one of the most cleverly
non-linear games ever attempted. Not only will there be multiple physical pathways to take through the levels, but the mission objectives will alter dynamically, shifting in response to events within the game world. So, in the first mission, your
objective is to rescue a scientist from a terrorist stronghold. Succeed in doing so and it's smiles all round, and onto the next. Fail, and it's not an automatic game over. Instead, your mission priorities simply shift - now your primary goal is to prevent the terrorists from escaping and retrieve whatever information they gleaned from the late professor.
Secondary and tertiary objectives also play a part, rising and falling in significance according to what's going in the mission. "Chaos Theory is definitively less linear than the original," says Mathieu. "We wanted to remove unexpected game-over situations and other trial and error gameplay. You'll have a great deal more freedom to play the game the way you want to."
On The Ball
A crucial prerequisite to this non-linear gameplay was building an AI system that could cope with its hefty demands. As a result, Chaos Theory's enemies promise to be among the best and most adaptive in the business, making the dumbed-down grunts of Pandora Tomorrow look like bandage-head lobotomy jobs.
NPCs now respond realistically to all manner of suspicious stimulus, be it broken glass from a light bulb, other guards disappearing, lights going out or unexpected noises. When their suspicions are aroused they'll call for back-up, use flares to illuminate shadows, initiate search patterns and set up barricades. Even the AI systems that were fudged in previous episodes - like the hiding and finding of bodies - now work in a true and honest fashion. "A lot of work has been done on the AI in order to assure the most realistic reactions possible," agrees Mathieu. "We've added new layers of awareness for NPCs, and they'll now remember when something goes wrong. Moreover, NPCs' voices will make a big difference, since their generic reactions have eight times the variety of previous titles."