After a second game that retreads too much of the same ground, Ubisoft Montreal raised the bar for their third entry in the series. Chaos Theory introduced players to Sam Fisher, an NSA agent working for the anti-terrorism group Third Echelon.
Michael Ironside returned to voice Sam and Dennis Haysbert (of Allstate Insurance fame) stepped in as Lambert. The new game also sported impressively lifelike graphics.
It’s the best Splinter Cell
The first entry in the series to receive the Tom Clancy name, Chaos Theory sets the bar high for the franchise. It features some of the best gameplay in the genre, smart and engrossing level design, tense set pieces, an impactful story, and a unique multiplayer experience.
Even though it has a bit of a designed-by-committee feel because it pulls from various sources, it still manages to stand out as one of the best games in the series. Its greatest strength is that it makes you feel like a deadly spy.
Unlike some modern thrillers, the game doesn’t rely on lengthy cutscenes to convey its story. Instead, snippets of information and lore are left behind on computers or in lockers, and you can also learn more about your mission through the conversations Sam Fisher has with his off-site team. He is brought to life by gravelly-voiced actor Michael Ironside. The gameplay has also improved a little since its original release. Among other things, you can now choke your enemies to death and stab them at knifepoint.
It’s the best stealth game
One of the most iconic games in the series, Chaos Theory takes a streamlined approach to stealth mechanics while giving players a variety of gadgets to help them complete missions. It also tweaks AI detection, removing the need for Sam to sweep his previous areas after leaving them and ensuring that any bodies discovered in a well-lit area won’t trigger alarms.
The nocturnal settings in this game are a delight, and it’s fun to sneak up on enemies wearing night-vision goggles. The gameplay is a joy to play, whether you choose the Ghost mode of nonlethal takedowns or Panther mode for a more traditional approach.
While it may not have as much mass appeal as modern hits like Metal Gear Solid 5 or Dishonored, this is a must-play for any fan of the genre. And with the recent release of the game on Xbox Series X via backward compatibility, it’s never been more accessible for fans to get their hands on the franchise’s finest example of what stealth can do.
It’s the best Tom Clancy game
The first true sequel to 2002’s Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell Chaos Theory set the series atop its class of stealth games. While recent Ubisoft titles strayed from the series’ premise of character-driven missions and embraced the flamboyance of other shooters like Rainbow Six 3 or the latest Thief remake, Chaos Theory kept a focus on storytelling and player agency.
Several gameplay improvements elevate this game above the previous two installments. The physics system has been refined and the AI is smarter, noticing when Sam has left a room and picking up on other clues such as doors left open or cuts in fabrics.
Unlike most games of this time, the story isn’t just told through cutscenes but is interwoven into each mission. Hidden information and lore are littered throughout the levels on computer screens or lying around for Sam to discover. Interrogating enemies reveals even more. The result is a richly immersive experience.
It’s the best co-op game
Unlike later Splinter Cell games, which would water down the stealth and action balance in favor of an overly linear experience, Chaos Theory was a masterful game that shook up the genre. Its eerie, claustrophobic atmosphere is still as impressive now as it was in 2004. Whether it’s slipping into the gloomy lighthouse of a Japanese island or weaving through a dank, squidgy cave system in the tropics, the level of verisimilitude on offer is astounding.
It’s not just the level of detail on display in this game – although that would be plenty enough for most other stealth games. It’s the way that all of these different design inputs are brought together to create something remarkable. The soundtrack for example is simply incredible. Even when comparing it to other great Splinter Cell soundtracks (like the one in Hitman Absolution), this remains unrivaled. It’s a perfect blend of tense and exciting, creepy and fun. It does capture the essence of Sam Fisher’s world perfectly.