Gearbox's Randy Pitchford tweeted last night to say that 'the interface to the game is an obstacle, not a feature' and, although he probably wasn't talking about this port of Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory over to the new shiny 3DS, he might as well have been. Chaos Theory is widely held up as the finest game in the series, being the super-serious stealthier cousin to the sometimes OTT Metal Gear Solid series, and it's a title that back in the day required no small amount of precision, skill and patience.
On the 3DS, however, those things are in short supply, and the chances are you'll gnawing on the shiny plastic corner of your freshly bought portable console in abject frustration, driven insane by the unfairness of it all.
First things first, though...this is actually a pretty solid rehash of Chaos Theory, although saving has now been restricted to pre-determined points which is somewhat irritating. The game does take the rather cool gimmick of projecting your mission objectives onto your surroundings from Conviction and the incorporation of tilt controls to navigate Sam's fibre-optic camera when peeking under doors is a nice touch. In terms of content, too, pretty much everything from the single-player of the original game is intact, even if the decor is as bland as a cardboard pizza.
Oh, and we can't forget about the 3D...only we absolutely can. Unlike Pilotwings or even Super Monkey Ball 3D (when you're not using the tilt controls), Splinter Cell 3D's incorporation of the 3DS' dazzling visual power is, well, lacklustre at best. It rather reminded me of watching Clash of the Titans in 3D, a movie that had the depth effects added in post-production, rather than be filmed in 3D the whole way through. You can ignore the effects in this game half the time, in fact you almost certainly will. It's not helped by the fact that, being a super-serious stealth game (with action bits), the mood lighting is set to grim and oppressive.
But it's not the lighting that'll set your synapses sparking with rage, more that once again a game destined for the delights of dual-stick control, or a keyboard and mouse, has been ported across to a system with neither of these. Although moving Mr. Fisher around is a cinch thanks to the brilliant analogue nub that is the Circle Pad, mapping the manual camera controls (and they weren't exactly brilliant in the original version of the game) to the four face buttons is nothing short of a disaster.
This particular Pitchfordian obstacle rears its ugly head from the off as poor old Sam will find himself going somewhat mad as he disappears down drops that seem to come out of nowhere, that his normally infallible, unflappable steady arm and eagle-eye for a shot will fail him as he strives to take out a light, alerting all enemies in the vicinity to his presence. Of course, bumping the camera controls to the face buttons means that the face buttons have now been bumped to the D-pad. This isn't so much of a problem, it's not too much of a stretch to be able to sidle up against walls, jump or crouch, but it does involve breaking up the smooth running of the gameplay.
There are more gripes too: the DS version (yes we've been here before) managed to incorporate at least a nod to the Spies vs. Mercenaries multiplayer component that was such an enticing part of the original game's package. Here though, in spite of the 3DS' increased online capabilities, it's completely absent. No co-op in there either. It makes no real sense, unless you ignore Nintendo's ongoing mantras regarding quality content and assume (correctly) that this is yet another case of underdeveloped, underfeatured launch title pap.
What we're left with, then, is a solid port of Chaos Theory's singleplayer but with a Sam Fisher who, for all of his impressive moves (not to mention the few new features - the 3D hacking, Fusion goggles, portable EMP and wall mines), is left swimming around in a pool of inaccuracy and inadequacy. It's not a bad game, Chaos Theory doesn't become a bad game overnight, but it highlights that lazy development - particularly when it comes to interface programming for previously dual-stick-based games - will mean for the 3DS exactly what it meant for the PSP: large piles of pixellated mediocrity.
- In terms of singleplayer content, there's a fair amount here
- Cutscenes and vocal work all intact
- Some nice incorporation of the gyroscope
- The controls sometimes render the game unplayable
- Where's the multiplayer?
- Poor showcase for 3D
The Short Version: Some games just don't work on a one-stick system. This is one of those games. It's not moody, stealthy or super...it's just pretty grim.