This is only a preview and it's done from the demo version (which is probably glowing due to being overly played since 8:00am Ed)
I ripped the post apart this morning in eager anticipation of the package that I knew was there. It had come, not the full game which would have been like opening a box made from cardboard and finding not only was another box made of pure gold inside but someone had kindly filled it with wads of cash and marked it with the slogan: spend unwisely.
What am I talking about, well rather than making you guess I'm going to get right to the point with this, I have been playing the demo version of Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory, all morning and I am really pleased so far.
The demo is a single level known as the Lighthouse and it's immediately obvious from the start how much better the heavily-modified Unreal Warfare Engine and the developers have become - Pandora Tomorrow was a good game but Chaos Theory eclipses it just from the demo alone.
I won't delve into the story or any of the other things, we'll wait for the full review to deliver all the details but I can tell you from my experiences with the demo level, training videos and watching footage of the versus video on the demo disk - we are in for a full rounded fun game experience.
The Lighthouse level opens with a new screen akin to Clancy's Rainbow Six games we are now given a briefing screen with several voice communications from Sam's operators and some new faces.
From this screen we can now go to a load-out screen where Sam can pick from several options such as Recommended, Stealth and Assault, this pre-configures what options are available for Sam's rifle and what toys Sam gets to play with.
Right from the moment that you get into the demo you can tell this isn't the Splinter Cell or Pandora Tomorrow of old. It's out with the old and in with the new, the whole thing feels fresher and looks to be a culmination of lots of research by the developers into what our stealth fanatics like to see and do.
Let us take a look at Sam's arsenal shall we, what's changed?
Well the way the sticky cams work has changed and new features have been implemented. First of all you can still get them back from a wall where they haven't been triggered; secondly they emit CS gas if they hit a guard (This is to make the use of the cams more tactical) and finally you can lay down more than one, switching between them to provide a better view of an area from a number of angles.
Their deployment method is still the same but they travel a lot further and have less of a drop-off arc now, something that started to bug me about the first two games.
They can still emit noise and trigger gas with the touch of a button; they have a better pan, tilt and zoom. R&D really has come a long way since Sam's first outing.
Sam's pistol has also been upgraded with a new feature; he can broadcast a signal from it that temporarily shuts off lights and certain other Electro Magnetic devices for a short time, great for conserving ammo.
It's not only Sam's pistol that has a new coat of paint, the rifle has been modified and can now mount a number of attachments. A sniper attachment which was absent from the demo, the launcher and a fore-grip, the latter provides a good stable firing solution when using rapid fire. The two attachments can be cycled with a tap of a button.
There is also rumour of a Rpg style attachment that allows Sam to take on heavier targets, this hasn't been confirmed yet.
Sam has his frag grenades and flash grenades which are standard fare and have been brought into line with the new physics of Chaos Theory, so they work even better now.
One final piece of kit that's the star of the show (well for me it was) is Sam's nice new combat knife, which allows for a variety of attack options absent from the other SC games.
The knife plays an important role in Chaos Theory; apart from being used to interrogate and inconvenience guards it can also cut fabric (tents in the demo) and puncture gas tanks, especially on those pesky generators that power large light sources in impromptu camps. (ala the Lighthouse level)
It also comes into play when Sam opts for the lethal takedown methods, often based on guard direction and facing. The animations for these are extremely effective and so are the moves themselves, he's never had so many available to him before.
Lastly he can use it when you have a tricky door to open. There's a number of new options regarding doors, bashing, opening stealth (properly this time and not just peeking) and picking the lock, don't want to pick it, use the knife to break it.
So we move on to the gameplay, which has been souped up considerably and given a coat of polish. The ease of which Sam's attacks blend from one to the other with animations give you subtle visual clues of what you could accomplish, sneak up behind a guard and you'll see Sam's hand stray to his combat knife almost as if he knows what's coming.
Do you use the left trigger (tap or hold) or the right trigger (tap or hold) the tap or hold method executes the different attacks, all explained in the training video.
Each move is ultimately satisfying and for the first time in the game series when you hold the trigger in Sam will haul the body onto his shoulders, allowing you to execute some seriously wicked attacks and sneak away in the dark even before his friends find out he's missing.
You can also finish an interrogation with a lethal or non lethal move, and it's about time that Sam was shown in his true light. He's a SpecOps Ninja not a Carebear.
Sam can also now strike out at enemies while he's hiding around corners and peeking out, if they come too close just hit the triggers and they'll either be knocked out or removed permanently, your choice. You can also use this trick to lure guards towards your location and do the same thanks to Sam's ability to whistle, if they can hear him they'll come investigate.
Sam's wall-split move is now easier to do, press a button and he'll automatically now assume the position of the split-jump leaving you to concentrate on delivering pain, since if Sam falls from a height onto an enemy he'll automatically knock them out cold, a trick that was in Splinter Cell and Pandora Tomorrow.
The way that Sam interacts with overhead pipes has been altered now as well, he can hang down and shoot as per usual but if some guard passes underneath, he can do a quick neck snap or a prolonged choke move to take them out of the action.
This isn't the end of Sam's new attacks, nope...not by far. On the PS2 and Gamecube we're told there's a special move where Sam can drown his foes in water, so there's a reason if you have more than one console to buy more than one version. I have a feeling this will upset Xbox and PC owners however.
Sam's still as acrobatic as ever and the new levels are no longer designed to load in-between sections, there's even a new quick-save feature that allows you to save the game as you go along, there's only one slot but you can (I think) save as many times as you like to it.
There's also an ambient sound monitor built into Sam's arm-piece which shows up your sound against a marker of background noise, if you keep it below that marker then an enemy won't be able to hear you until you can smell the aftershave or see the lipstick on his collar.
Along with Sam's new arsenal of moves and equipment the enemies in Chaos Theory have definitely improved, gone are the alarms when you forget to hide a body - it's all based down to visual recognition now, if you don't put a body in the right place and a patrolling guard finds it, he'll raise hell. This is a welcome addition and really does now place Chaos Theory well above the previous games or the others of its genre.
They react to broken and switched off lights/generators, they'll also react to changes in atmosphere...storms weird them out and if you break a lock on a door, they may well spot it while patrolling for trouble.
If they spot a broken lock and a light out, they'll come and check following a search pattern, leave a body in the open and they'll find it. If he's unconscious they'll wake him up and if he's dead, they'll head for the nearest alarm panel.
The combat AI is vastly improved and enemies will work together, use flanking moves and try and get at you from any angle they can. If it's dark and they can't see you they will fire in the direction they think you are, and keep on firing until they think you're dead - they'll strike flares to hunt you down and the whole thing feels far more intense.
New rag-doll physics have been introduced and the game takes advantage of these by allowing falling bodies to knock out other guards, so you can pitch a guard over the side of a rail or edge onto his friends if you're careful and knock them out cold.
Bottles and other objects now also take out lights so you can conserve ammo that way, there really are so many things to say here that this is turning into a review almost, so I had better stop there regarding the physics.
The graphics and lighting effects have always been spectacular in the previous games, Chaos Theory takes them to new levels with rainwater and storms galore, the atmospherics and ambience are most impressive to watch, especially as Sam now gets wet in the rain.
Sam's new look has even more polygons and he's never been so detailed before, with new clothing options and new pieces of equipment - this is the best looking Splinter Cell yet.
The whole engine brings into play more polygons and details in every aspect, level design has been increased to an art almost, with the whole Lighthouse setting providing a perfect showcase for the brand new effects, attacks and moves. (I love the fact Sam can now hang onto the outside of ledges and pull people to their doom over railings - try it on the Lighthouse itself)
I'll leave the rest of my experiences for the review of the full game, where we're promised even more action, more Multiplayer Spies VS Mercenaries (with all the new features and even some more cooperative moves) and the much vaunted Coop mode where two people can tackle special levels that rely on teamwork and guile.
Until then, it's safer in the shadows. Wolf out.