There was one great thing about our recent press trip to Montreal, and one very bad thing. The bad thing was that this reporter's vintage leather, highly expensive, much cherished shoes were completely destroyed by the mush, snow and minus 13 degree temperatures [Our hearts bleed - get on with it - Ed].
The great thing was that we got to play Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory, including its totally new, rather engrossing co-operative mission mode.
Were we impressed? Heck yeah and if you'd like to check it out for yourself, we've recently acquired the newest Chaos Theory movie which showcases the Spies Versus Mercenaries action at its finest.
You can expect a full, frank, further report as we go hands-on with Spies versus Mercenaries in the very near future.
In the meantime though, to whet your Chaos Theory appetites even further, we managed to sneak through the shadows (presumably your shoes were working during this bit - Ed?), vault over a balcony and corner Ubisoft producer Mathieu Ferland, who worked on both the Xbox and PC versions of the game. Here's what he had to say on how Theory becomes practice...
It seems that a big progression for the Splinter Cell series is the implementation of a co-operative mission mode...
Ferland: Yes, that's a very big addition. Especially in the split-screen [on PS2; Xbox has system-link] because it's offline and it invites a friend to use all of the stealth-based mechanics of the single-player experience. Obviously, the level design has been adapted - you can't just stroll through the game by yourself. You need to co-operate with your partner. For example, jamming surveillance cameras requires one player to hold it and the other to jam it. Or you might need your friend to help you climb up a wall. The core mechanics are all the same, they've just been adapted.
Does the co-operative game feature the same map and storyline as the main single-player game?
Ferland: No, they're completely exclusive missions. There is a link between the solo and co-operative game, like when you're playing as Sam in the solo mission, there are some parts where you're not sure what's going on, but which become clear in the co-operative story. The two stories are a few blocks away, but occurring at the same time.
So you're essentially getting two games-in-one then?
Ferland: Well, it's actually three games-in-one if you include the Versus Mode [for up to four players]! I think anyone, regardless of whether they're Splinter Cell fans or not, will find something to like in this one. The game is much more flexible also, because of the new moves [we were shown the knee attack and front knife slice].
The 'save anywhere' system is also a great addition because instead of looking for the next checkpoint, you can invest time attempting new strategies without worrying about the consequences. A lot of Splinter Cell gamers haven't been able to enjoy this freedom before and it's important to be given the chance to discover new strategies and try them out.
Although the original Splinter Cell game felt quite fresh at the time, the whole stealth genre has been done to death now with just about every action adventure from Second Sight through to Manhunt incorporating lots of creeping about. How do you think Chaos Theory progresses the genre in terms of the main single-player mode?
Ferland: Well, a new element is the OCP gun, which enables you to disable lights or electronic systems without triggering them. It's a great addition because it changes the way of thinking, forcing you to time your movement because the effects only work for a short period.
Obviously, the stealth is a big, big value with the brand, so we inevitably focused on that experience, bringing in extra non-linearity and giving you extra ways of playing the missions. The co-operative missions also bring a new dimension of doing stealth, and I don't think this is something that has been seen before.
There are some other cool moves that promote the tension; the strongest feeling is the tension of being hidden. Like when you're young and you're playing hide-and-seek with your sister; you're hiding under the bed and she's sitting on the bed, and you want to grab her feet, but you've got to decide when is the most appropriate moment. Splinter Cell is like this now, where we've added in the close-call attack. So as soon as you're standing close to danger, Sam Fisher is changing his pose, putting his hand on his knife.
If you get close enough, the reward is being able to interrogate the foe, and also making the decision between killing and K.O. The animation is different too. Like if you're hanging from a pipe, you can grab the NPC and make the decision between snapping their neck or choking.
Is there a downside to being a bit of a sadistic git, and killing everyone in sight?
Ferland: If you're killing too much, you're gonna get a very poor rating at the end, and you might miss out on some bonus objectives. Depending on how you're doing things - if you're triggering too many alarms, you might have to abandon objectives and get straight to the extraction point.
Killing everyone generally means you're gonna miss out on parts of the game, like on some cool dialogue or whatever, so it's not always advisable. Instead of punishing the player for doing bad things, we're just changing the game experience. It's flexible. You can play it how you want, but yes, it is meant to be played the stealthy way.
In our presentation, you talked about 'multipaths', stressing that there are even more ways to tackle missions and reach destinations...
Ferland: When you start a mission, you can decide your inventory; you can opt the stealth route, which involves taking more sticky cameras and various other maps and stealth gadgets. If you want an assault inventory, you'll get the sniper rifle, which is going to be accurate but very loud. All of this is changing your approach, and managing your position and managing your gameplay.
Then, once you're inside, the multiple paths add further options; entering a room by the back or using the main door or climbing are not the same strategy. It also might be easier to climb in through the vent so you've got to look for those little things. If you don't, it's okay, you can still play the game, it's just going to be a little harder. Sometimes if you're discovered, you might be forced to shoot and get out that way. Or of course, you can use the save feature, reload the game and try something else.
We're obviously expecting a typically epic and twisting storyline to complement the action. Any chance you could sum up the plotline in a couple of quick sentences?
Ferland: Well, there was a big set-up that was already developed in Pandora Tomorrow where there's an economic crisis in Japan, and there's a lot of outside tension because Japan wants to rebuild its defences. That's at the core of this game, although it starts on the sidelines with the kidnapping of a computer engineer in Peru.
Hmmm, don't suppose you're not anticipating similar problems like you did with Ghost Recon 2? You know, where it was banned in Korea? Do you think Japan might be offended by that scenario?
Ferland: They might be. We're going to try and adapt some of the scenario for Japan. But you know, we're making games about what is the big threat, and right now one of the biggest threats is from North Korea for whatever reason. There are some other countries that could be involved, but that doesn't mean they're [Japan] involved in anything. They're just part of this scenario, and we need to look at what needs to be adapted.
Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory releases on Xbox, PS2 and PC in March 2005