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Splinter Cell Chaos Theory: Best stealth game ever?

Why Sam Fisher's third mission was his best

Chaos Theory begins on a beach. It's dark. You're near blind. And there's no tutorial.

Through a cave there's a slim rope bridge and two guys who can kill you with a single burst from their guns. They don't make 'em like this any more.

Times have changed. The best part of Conviction is the moment that all your Marks are in place and in a sudden flurry of action you take down an entire room full of bastards.

In Chaos Theory, the best part is when you're lurking in the shadows with your back pressed up against the wall while a guard peers into the darkness.

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You draw your pistol and square your sights on his forehead and wait. In that moment you hold a pretend man's life in your hands; if he comes any closer you'll take the shot but that's not what you want.

For a perfect mission rating you need zero fatalities. Chaos Theory isn't a game full of bastards and not every man you fire on will deserve to die, so you keep your pistol holstered and lurk in shadow.

You'll hide, you'll aim, and you might just hold your breath. Don't come any closer, baddy...

Classic stealth gaming hit its peak with Splinter Cell Chaos Theory. Between Metal Gear Solid 4, Conviction and Arkham Asylum games have begun pushing towards a more action oriented stealth in the years since but the first three Splinter Cells were about fear.

Without Batman's eject button or Metal Gear's colossal arsenal, getting caught in the open was a death sentence and so you'd hide and sneak and interrogate enemies and hide their unconscious bodies.

Every move you made was a move you'd have to plan carefully and every level was so meticulously designed that the game constantly forced you to make moves which would take you to the very edge of being seen.

From afar it may look slow, but with the controller in your hands it's a white knuckle ride where the smallest of mistakes will cost you your life.

THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING
It was a beautiful game, too - the first Splinter Cell to be powered by Unreal 2 and a game which genuinely looks brilliant running on a 360 today in full widescreen - but the Unreal 2-powered campaign was only one third of a faultless package.

The original Live servers were turned off earlier this year but anyone who played Spies vs Mercs before the shutdown knows there's never been a better multiplayer game.

Mercs played in first-person, armed to the teeth with their feet firmly on the ground; Spies played in third-person, unarmed but acrobatic and able to climb like monkeys.

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You can't play the two-on-two game developed by Ubisoft Annecy any more but with a split screen or two Xboxes and an ethernet cable it's still possible to play Ubisoft Montreal's massive co-op campaign.

Whether you play alone or with friends Chaos Theory is a game about tension. In the same way that modern horror games aren't as scary as Mikami's Gamecube Resident Evil remake and modern strategy games aren't as smart as X-Com, today's stealth games aren't as intense as Chaos Theory.

Today you're an unstoppable hero, vastly more powerful than your enemies even when caught in the open.

The divide between action and stealth, like the divide between action and horror, has never been so slim.

Chaos Theory was the last great game of its kind. So good, in fact, that nobody has so far even attempted to better it.

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