There are many impressive new weapons in Sam Fisher's arsenal, but the most impressive displayed in Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory is the humour. Much has been made by lesser commentators than myself about this second sequel's snazzy new attack moves, sneaky-about skills and knife-usage, but what's been overlooked
by almost everyone is just how well-scripted the game has now become.
The plot bounces along with plenty of zip and dramatic pacing and the dialogue is genuinely amusing. Plenty of wisecracks about Sam's advancing years, much comic banter between nervous guards and even a fair few in-jokes about the shortcomings of Fisher's previous gaming outings.
For example, at the start of one ship-bound homage to Metal Gear Solid 2, Sam assumes, in the traditional world-weary tones that has come to characterise Michael Ironside's take on the role, that should he trigger the standard three alarms the mission will be over. "Of course not," barks his boss's reply, "what do you think this is, a videogame?"
Or if you shoot out a light bulb, you hear the traditional: "Why's that light bulb broken? Something's not right here," from one guard, only for his compadre to reply: "What are you talking about? Light bulbs do break on their own you know. Relax..."
Talking of Ironside, much as people started to claim Brosnan was really secure in the part of James Bond by The World Is Not Enough, so the gravelly-voiced actor best known for playing Ham Tyler in V really seems to have settled comfortably into the role of Fisher's voice. More's the pity that should the aforementioned Splinter Cell motion picture come to fruition, it's unlikely that the star of Starship Troopers, Total Recall and, er, SeaQuest 2032 will be considered for the lead role due to his advancing years.
Still, as far as the game's concerned, the dialogue crackles and sparks
nicely, the acting is as un-wooden as a plastic tree and everyone seems
to be living their parts to the full. It helps that the plot is lively and full
of the necessary twists, turns and intrigue that has come to define the modern-day espionage thriller. A slightly pat Scooby-Doo ending perhaps, but one that's forgivable since the ride to get there appears to be shaping up nicely.
A lot of this is down to the inclusion not only of top-draw Hollywood acting 'talent' (ie Ironside and the bloke who plays President Palmer in 24), but also Andy Davis, the director of such action classics as Under Siege, The Fugitive and Collateral Damage. Davis has leant his hand to the pacing of the game and the direction of cut-scenes, which are looking mightily impressive.
Very little of the traditional 'stiff' character rendering is on display, editing is practically identical to any top-notch motion picture, although there's perhaps a little too much reliance on the CNN-style news broadcast presentation gimmick for our liking. Still, it's absorbing enough to have made us dig out our semi-legal video file decompression programs in order to view the rest of the scenes before we take delivery of the actual levels that surround them.
Of those levels, we were given the first four to play with and if they're anything to go by, the whole game is living up to the promises that have been made over the past half a year. Complaints of linearity that plagued the first two games appear to have
been addressed, with each map seeming to borrow more from the Thief school of level design - here's your objective, here are your tools, work the rest out for yourself.