By the third movie in a trilogy it’s either mind-bogglingly good or mind-bogglingly rubbish. For the most part, unless you’re George Lucas or Peter Jackson, it’s rubbish - the creators, running out of ideas, try and create something new and it invariably falls on their arse. Look at Alien 3, Back to the Future 3, The Matrix Revolutions, Tremors III (yes there really were three films) and our point becomes all too valid. Okay so there are exceptions; Return of the Jedi, Lethal Weapon 3, Die Hard with a Vengeance and Lord of the Rings: Return of the King to name a few but for the most part the third instalment is beset with problems and rarely an improvement on the previous two outings.
With the latest instalment of Splinter Cell the game tiptoes into the third chapter territory. However we are pleased to report that Splinter Cell Chaos Theory is more Return of the Jedi than Tremors III.
You pick up the pieces just where you left off in episode 2, still playing the rough around the edges Sam Fisher. Once again, you must infiltrate deep into hostile territory and aggressively collect critical intelligence - nothing new there then.
The storyline plays out wonderfully, with an engaging storyline as you stealth your way through the long and lengthy missions. As before, most of the levels are played out in almost near darkness. While this creates a fantastic atmosphere to the game, it does also mean that you spend most of it squinting at the monitor wondering whether the movement in the distance is a mercenary or merely the shadows playing with your mind. We played it on a 32in widescreen CRT and after an hour of gameplay we were feeling the effects on our eyes.
To help you see a bit better Sam Fisher has all the same vision toys as before - night sight, thermal and EMF (answers on a postcard please)
While it might be dark in the levels, that hasn’t stopped Ubisoft developing the graphics, and they are even better than in the previous outing, Pandora Tomorrow. Lights bob in the distance with the wind, moonlight shimmers in the puddles and Fisher’s movements flow as if he were a real person. Even the rain looked impressive, making the most of current graphics technology until part 4 arrives.
There are new moves for Fisher as well. No longer is he content with bonking people on the head, this time around he’s turned nasty and will happily slit their throats instead. Likewise you can also perform an inverted neck break on unsuspecting bad guys below.
Of course to do these new swanky moves you have to have the patience of your granddad on cannabis- something that fast action junkies will loathe. As we said in our introduction though, Counter-Strike fans should know by now that the SC series isn’t about wall-to-wall action. Playing it safe, waiting for the right moment, hiding the bodies and covering our tracks meant that the first level took over 45 minutes to complete. In that time we bumped off 18 bad guys, solved a couple of puzzles and completed the secondary objective. To put that into perspective, we killed 18 droids in the first 20 seconds of Star Wars Revenge of the Sith on the PS2.
But Spinter Cell: Chaos Theory isn't all about solo play, with Co-op and Versus modes available you can now play with or against fellow stealth assassins either via split screen or on the internet via the Xbox Live service. Here the options get interesting mainly because in the Co-op mode you get a host of new moves to help each other out. One example is the short scale to give each other a bunk up, and standing on a team-mate's shoulders to see over a tall wall. These are but a few and combined with assisting each other in abseiling by holding the rope while your team-mate descends, really makes this a team event rather than two single player elements jostling on the screen together.
The general soundtrack's also good but Bafta-award winner Jesper Kyd provides the music in the cutscene, and this helps wrap up the entire quality package. As with most good PC games, there's now a demo to download and try if you aren't sure. As long as part 4 doesn't roll around as soon as Xmas 2005, then Ubisoft may just maintain the quality of the series. For the moment, it's certainly third time lucky.