The success of the Splinter Cell franchise is really quite a remarkable acheivement. The first game was absolutely amazing and frankly in a class all its own (Metal Gear Solid, though brilliant, is nothing like it). The graphics were mind-blowing, and the use of light, of sound, of patience and precise planning was something that was both smart and entirely refreshing.
Since then, in what seemed like the blink of an eye, the series began to grow. A sequel was announced and hit shelves in a year, with improved single-player gameplay and an online mode that in addition to being almost its own game, was just one of the best damn online experiences of all time.
And now, in 2005, the third, and on the consoles, easily the best, Splinter Cell title, Chaos Theory, is on shelves. But we’re here to talk about the DS version, which quietly hit store shelves this summer.
The surprising thing about the DS entry in the series is that it’s fairly true to its source material. It’s 3D and has the same gameplay mechanics as its console brethren. What’s more surprising is that, for the most part, this ambitious handheld title works pretty well.
The gameplay is mostly what you’ll find on the consoles. It’s slow-paced and methodical. You will still hide in the shadows, walk slowly, distract enemies, hug walls, try not to set off alarms, etc. It captures, very well, what works on the consoles. The design has been changed somewhat to work on the handheld, however. The levels are smaller, simplified, and they play faster, albeit still pretty slow. The touch screen is also put to use as a camera control, to aim while firing weapons, and for item management (and since the camera isn’t computer controlled, you will be using the stylus quite a bit.)
The graphics are very strong. The textures are sharp and the environments good looking; this has a very gritty, realistic style and pulls it off well. This is one of the best looking 3D games on the DS. That is, when you can see the screen–the graphics are very dark most of the time. The sound design is also very strong, informing you of when enemies are nearby, informing enemies of your presence, etc. You have to be careful about how much noise you make and how you do it. The music is terrific too.
Props have to be given to Gameloft (the same guys behind Ashpault: Urban GT) for packing so much content into a handheld title and for not taking the easy way out by making Chaos Theory another side scroller, as previous handheld entries in the series have been. There is a ton of game here and it’s all very solid. If you want to play Splinter Cell on the go, you will find a lot to like.
But therein lies the problem, which is that Splinter Cell is not a handheld design to begin with. The console games were designed to be played at your home, for when you could dedicate substantial amounts of time to playing. The DS doesn’t work that way–handhelds are meant for a quick gaming fix, something you can play for 5 minutes or an hour if you want to. They have to be extremely accessible.