Tag Archives: Splinter Cell

Splinter Cell Chaos Theory 10 Years On: What Makes A Simulation Game

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Today is the 10th anniversary of what is often called one of the best stealth games ever and one of my personal favorite games of all time. I spent all weekend re-examining Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory partly because it’s still an excellent game and partly to re-approach it. Continue reading

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Stealth Games Old & New Part Two

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To continue my look at old versus new stealth games from a month ago I finally installed Splinter Cell: Blacklist, took Chaos Theory for another spin, and that happened to coincide with the release of Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes.

If you don’t know, Chaos Theory isn’t just one of my favorite stealth games, it’s one of my favorite games period. Admittedly it doesn’t feature completely open-ended levels like classic Thief does (as I went over earlier), but it nails the “wide linear” style of game design. Chaos Theory generally moves you in one direction in each mission, but each area still feels like a functioning environment composed of elements you can subvert however you choose.

From the get-go Blacklist had a lot to live up to, especially after how linear and restrictive Splinter Cell Conviction became in comparison. People seem to have written off Blacklist after its initial reveal but I was quite surprised with the turn it took.

If you haven’t played it, Blacklist is built upon Conviction’s gameplay foundation but applies to it a sense of player choice similar to Chaos Theory’s. Missions are linear chains of zones you can sneak or fight through in various ways with a lot of nice tools, offering total control over your play style. Even when Blacklist forces you into open combat it still gives you sizable arenas with a lot of freedom in terms of how to deal with those situations.

The difference between the old and new games in my opinion is that Chaos Theory’s levels feel more dense and “breathing” while Blacklist’s feel very much like video game levels. Sneaking in Blacklist usually involves navigating mazes of pipes, vents, cover, and ledges. It’s all very much based on movement — actually not too dissimilar from Uncharted 2 (if you know how to play that game stealthily). Sneaking in Chaos Theory involves messing with cameras, picking locks, hacking keypads, manipulating light sources, and looking through files on computers. The only things that really “do stuff” in the environments in Blacklist are light switches, doors, and windows. That said, I still really appreciate the game for moving away from the linear set piece-driven design of so many modern action games. Both games are very much about player choice but in different ways.

I anticipated Ground Zeroes would do the same thing in its own way, and for the most part wasn’t disappointed. What strikes me the most about Ground Zeroes is that it and Phantom Pain are essentially moving Metal Gear to a design style similar to earlier open-ended western games.

Ground Zeroes is pretty much about infiltrating a single area with complete freedom in terms of how you do it. There are times when its level design actually reminds me a bit of Thief when it asks you to find the location of an objective based on clues, and rewards curious players with secret paths. Instead of telling you where to go or putting you on a straight road it just gives you a map and asks you to figure out your own plan. This might actually be the most open-ended stealth game I’ve played on this generation of hardware, which feels surprising, it being from a Japanese developer.

BULLETS:

  • I didn’t even realize they were making Escape Goat 2. The first game is still on my Steam backlog.
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The Search For Alternative Multiplayer Shooters

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Last time while going over how I felt about Titanfall I noted how it’s probably not gonna be my thing while also saying it has a good chance to be popular. I wasn’t being down on popular shooters so much as indicating how the multiplayer shooter industry seems to focus most of its energy on providing one type of game.

That type being the fast-paced deathmatch, domination, and sometimes round-based first person shooter. It’s probably the most popular type, but if it’s not the kind of game you want, you have few options. Only relatively recently have I begun to realize the kind of multiplayer game I really want is something more slowly paced, thoughtful, and tactical. Games like that exist, but they are few, distinct, and in many cases have small player bases.

It might be the reason I camp so much in multiplayer shooters. We’ve reached a point where shooter designers have tried to end camping because they think the only legit way to get kills is constantly running around and being better at pulling the trigger than the other guy. In my opinion it’s a perfectly legitimate strategy to find a strategic position at which to sit down and get the drop on your opponent, then switch to another position to stay a step ahead of the enemy. I like shooters that are more about getting the drop on your opponent than just running, jumping, and out-twitching them. The latter is almost certainly what Titanfall is about. Titanfall certainly has a strategic element to it, but it’s more of a second-to-second style of strategy, which is what you’re gonna get out of a game that’s about quick gratification. Maybe it’s like comparing chess to football. Both are pretty strategic but one is slower and more cerebral than the other.

One extremely niche shooter that’s found its way onto my main roster is the Source engine mod NeoTokyo. Basically it’s Counter-Strike rules but in a cyberpunk setting with three classes and optical camouflage. What I like about it is how the high lethality and absence of respawn forces everyone to really think about where the enemy might be and how to act accordingly. Being round-based makes each individual match feel like a self-contained tactical game between two teams instead of just a bunch of people running around. Maybe I just described CS, but I happened to get into NT first and haven’t had a lot of time to break into CS. I’m thinking about reinstalling Counter-Strike Global Offensive and taking advantage of its recent spectator feature which is supposed to act sort of like watching regular matches on TV. I think NT’s cyberpunk theme adds a little something to the experience though, and I really hope the listing for that game shows up on Steam one day so it can maybe get some exposure. I may need to move to CS anyway if NT’s player base disappears.

The last console multiplayer shooter I really got into was probably Metal Gear Online. Being an online Metal Gear game makes it different enough from the norm, but I think the biggest difference is its tactical pacing compared to most FPSs. MGO isn’t really slow, but it’s just slow enough to make you think for a second about where your opponent is and how to get the drop on them. Back when I played it real teamwork was quite common, even on the PS2 version. Making stealth a viable strategy resulted in a lot of players getting knocked out and gutted from behind corners. A lot of the time dominating a mach was much more about actually dominating the map than being the fastest guy on it. The return of MGO is probably my top reason for being interested in Metal Gear Solid V.

Another somewhat similar game that’s been at the corner of my attention is Red Orchestra 2. At first I heard all the things people usually say about it — that it’s extremely hardcore with realistic weapon mechanics, suppressive fire simulation, and other things that effectively make players feel like fragile humans. Upon trying it out on a free weekend though I started to think it might be more the kind of shooter I’ve been looking for. From what I could tell, everyone playing it was taking cover all the time, taking their shots carefully, and overall trying to keep abreast of what was happening around them. At the very least it’s a game I’d like to have the time to investigate further for being something out o f the ordinary.

A more obvious option for me though might be Splinter Cell Blacklist. I got a free copy with my graphics card late last year, and upon a rental I’d already checked out its resurrection of Spies vs Mercs. SvM took up a surprising amount of my time the summer after Splinter Cell Chaos Theory came out in 2005 and remains a unique game to this day. The asymmetrical play style, two versus two limit, and focus on objectives instead of kills really made it stick out as a game about defeating your opponent more mentally than physically.

Sure Blacklist has that new three-on-three mode with the perks and other things to make it more action-oriented, but sticking to the classic-style mode is in my opinion close enough to the old school game for a mainstream game released in 2013. It still displays pretty much the same virtues as its predecessors and is willing to maintain the asymmetric style, even if the maps aren’t quite as complex as Chaos Theory’s. And if it doesn’t work out in the long run there’s always Project Stealth.

The most popular multiplayer game I’m even remotely into right now is probably Team Fortress 2 ironically. I think what sets that game apart for me is that it manages to be extremely tactical despite how blazing fast it sometimes is because of how each class absolutely forces a distinct style of play. For some reason that’s the one shooter I play where a lot of people actually do use voice chat to coordinate. Why do Valve games have that effect? TF2 has also managed to remain a centrally important game to the Steam community for seven years, which no console game has been able to do, probably because of all the sequels. To be honest though I’m thinking of switching completely over to Mann vs Machine mode.

Horde modes have been one of my favorite additions to shooters, primarily because it’s a multiplayer mode in dynamic arenas where I don’t have to worry about competing against humans. Ever since I let my Live Gold run out though I’ve been looking for a replacement for Gears of War 3’s Horde 2.0 and may or may not have found it in MvM. MvM is fast and frantic, yet every class still has a specific role.

Recently I tried out the Co-Op Bot Destruction mode in Hawken (a free-to-play mech shooter if you don’t know) and was shocked by its intensity. It forces you to constantly maintain awareness of where your team and the enemy are. One slip-up is often enough to end your game or at the very least put your team in jeopardy. Another option I’ve been told to investigate is Mass Effect 3 multiplayer.

Whatever happens, it’s likely I won’t be focusing much on the multiplayer shooters everyone else is playing, much less the games trying to imitate what everyone is playing. Multiplayer games with different rules, objectives, and play styles are out there, you just have to spend a bit more time finding them, as well as other people willing to play them.

BULLETS:

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The Fall and Rise of Stealth Games

I know I’ve talked about the fall of game genres here more than once before, but I don’t think I’ve done a post specifically about the fall of stealth games. It really is kind of pathetic when you look back at the past console generation.

It’s not really a mystery what happened to the genre – the same thing that happened to horror games and pretty much anything that wasn’t a shooter or an RPG. Sneaking around unseen isn’t as accessible as just shooting a dude in the face and getting some experience points for it. What’s the worst though is when developers play at stealth while turning it into a straight shooter.

Ubisoft just released another 10 minutes of Splinter Cell Blacklist footage that basically looked just like the E3 demo – i.e. like a third person shooter with Assassin’s Creed climbing mechanics. I mean, Sam (or someone trying to impersonate Sam) stayed unseen before he auto-shot each enemy I guess. Maybe that level is more of a sandbox, maybe Ubisoft’ll release a video showing someone playing the same level completely silent with no kills. What really got me down on this Blacklist demo though was the predator strike mechanic at the end. Predator strikes and laser painting targets are two of the things I never want to see again, especially not in a stealth game.

What’s really funny is that pretty much every “AAA” game I’m anticipating this fall is a stealth game, or a game that allows you to put a lot of emphasis on stealth. If Far Cry 3 can maintain the sandbox mission structure that the last game had, I will happily crouch, snipe, and stab my way through that game. I am really hoping that I’ll be able to beat Hitman Absolution practically without ever picking up a gun like I did in Blood Money. The real last hope of the genre right now is looking like Dishonored though.

When talking about Arkane Studios’ previous game, the 2006 Dark Messiah Might and Magic last week, I went over a little bit how good a stealth game it actually manages to be at times. It lets me know that Arkane get’s it, and so do all the previews for Dishonored. What’s even better is that one of the main guys on the project worked on the first Deus Ex – which was also an excellent stealth game if you chose to play it like one. That’s the key: choice.

Stealth is the most appealing when it’s presented among other options. It’s only cool when you chose to complete that objective without being seen when things could’ve gone a multitude of other ways. That’s the main difference between Splinter Cell Chaos Theory and Conviction.

When I look back, I’ve realized that my favorite stealth game this generation was probably the first Crysis, which just feels kinda odd. Technically that game is a shooter, but its sandbox nature also allows you to turn the game into something vaguely resembling Metal Gear Solid 3. Deus Ex Human Revolution did a pretty good job too, and if you ask me felt like an evolved first person version of Metal Gear Solid 2. I’ve also played heavily towards the stealth build in games like Skyrim and Fallout as of late.

So I guess there is sort of hope for the stealth genre, as long as it’s intelligently combined and contrasted with other play styles. From what we’ve seen, I’m not sure the people working on Splinter Cell Blacklist understand that.

BULLETS:

  • Before anyone mentions Theif, I own the first two games but have yet to play them. I’ll try to get to them later this year if I can before Dishonored comes out.
  • Well it’s happened: a whole dating sim based around Netorare. http://t.co/HPwEYQnc
  • Why we can’t watch NFL Hard Knocks on HBO Go: http://t.co/qSlfr5HC
  • Contra: Shattered Soldier and the original Siren headline the beginning of PS2 Classics on the Japanese PlayStation Store. Looks like they’re gonna be getting all the good games over there again.
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