Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory

I have an on-and-off relationship with the Tom Clancy oeuvre. I think The Hunt for Red October is a legitimately great novel. Patriot Games is entertaining but annoying and disposable. The films are all excellent except for The Sum of All Fears (and possibly Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, which I haven’t had a chance to see yet). There have been a number of successful video game adaptations, including the Rainbow Six and Ghost Recon series—basically less fun versions of Counter-Strike and SOCOM respectively.

Clancy gave up any literary aspirations early on and started writing hacky mass-produced novels while licensing his name like a fiend. Eventually he retired from writing and actually sold his name to Ubisoft. Most of the “Tom Clancy”-labelled stuff you’ve seen in recent years has nothing to do with him.

Sadly, he died last year. Looking back at his career it’s hard not to feel a sense of wasted potential—even considering everything he did accomplish, he had the talent to be more than just a brand name. And since the Jack Ryan movie was not a mega-hit and no one under a hundred went to see it, the future outlook for Tom Clancy-related stuff aimed at the general reader (as opposed to the multiple rifle owner from South Carolina with a front yard big enough to be called a “compound”) is not good.

Amid all this noise, there was one little chunk of Clanciana that developed and, for a while, maintained a unique, colourful personality all its own. This is Splinter Cell.

Splinter Cell began as a series of video games. There are novelizations, but they’re not by Clancy and I wouldn’t ask my worst enemy to read them. Supposedly a film is in development. The games are based around stealth. Not actual real-world stealth, the kind used in the SOCOM games—in Splinter Cell, you’re basically Batman. The idea is to infiltrate a building, find what needs finding, kill who needs killing, and leave the guards with nothing more than goosebumps.

The first game was fun but a little too clunky. The controls were in all the wrong places, it was practically impossible to predict whether the enemies would be able to see or hear you, it stuck you in awkward situations with only inelegant ways out, and the environments were too stylized and unrealistic for the technothriller narrative style. The second game, Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow, was better, but it kept some of the first game’s flaws and was pretty forgettable—aside from the playthrough I’ll be recounting below, it’s the one I’ve played most recently, but I couldn’t name a single thing that happens in it.

The fourth game was plagued by cross-platform problems and wildly varying tone, and the newer games have lost a lot of what made them unique. But for a brief moment in 2005, the series came very close to perfection. I speak of Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory. Continue reading