Since the release of the original Splinter Cell on Xbox years ago, the name Sam Fisher instantly conjures up an image of a badass agent. Fisher is more Solid Snake than James Bond, but any of the Splinter Cells are worlds better than Metal Gear Solid ever was. Each successive game in the series has offered new gameplay tricks and toys, but Chaos Theory also has an updated graphics engine.
Sam, his victims, and the locales in the game look even better in Shader Model 3.0 glory, complete with high dynamic range lighting and more bumpmaps than you can shake a dead cat at. Furthermore, the levels are impressively large, at least twice as big as they were in the two preceding games. Not only does this make the game experience more involved thanks to more consistent environments, but a fair portion of the levels are used to provide alternate paths to a route. No longer is Sam's only choice of getting past a guard involve either killing him, knocking him out, or tricking him with a noise - every now and then, the player will be able to find a new path. This isn't all that common, but it exists.
It is with a sigh of relief that we are able to report that all the voice acting talent is back, and the dialogue seems to have the same writers. There's a certain dry wit to most of the interrogations and friendly banter between Fisher and members of his team, but they are more than capable of spelling out the drama of a situation. We're very impressed with how much personality comes through with just the dialogue - Fisher is the consummate professional, so professional in fact that breaking into a heavily guarded mercenary headquarters is just another day at the job for him. It's consistence of the little touches that gets that across. For example, every time Sam captures a character to interrogate, almost inevitably their first words will be "who are you?", and Sam makes it a point to have a unique answer every time - to keep the job fresh and interesting.
The over-arching story is never delved into with excessive detail, the player really does end up playing the role of Fisher more than detective - most of what you find out is what really happened or is how it happened, not why. This slowly blends into a cohesive story, as leads are tracked down and key villains identified, their motivations exposed. It's not that interesting and is pretty Clancy-esque with its threats and twists, but that just follows the formula of all Rainbow Six/Splinter Cell games. Most importantly, it serves to advance the gameplay to new locations and set up some really interesting scenarios.
Given the critical success of the past two games, it's unsurprising then that the basic gameplay formula of Splinter Cell remains unchanged. Sam Fisher sneaks into places he shouldn't go, kills or knocks out supposed bad-asses like terrorists, mercenaries and government special ops agents, and evades the most advanced security systems known to man. All in a day's work.