Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory on the original Xbox is like the master spy of stealth games. The re-release on 3DS is more like the junior detective. This portable Splinter Cell may have the same levels and the same storyline, but it's just a shadow of what Chaos Theory offered.
What's been lost? Competitive multiplayer, co-op storyline, heat vision goggles, choosing mission loadouts, quick save anywhere, great graphics, and smart enemy AI. Remaining is the core single-player story, the gameplay basics, the original voice work, and some of Sam Fisher's cool gadgets.
There are a few things added in for a little bit of spice to a pretty watered down experience. You'll be hacking quite a bunch of computers and those hacks are handled with a spatial puzzle. Select from a half-dozen puzzle pieces to guess which fits a broken cube. It's only easy for the first level and then the puzzles start to get pretty tough. Also new in Splinter Cell 3D is a nifty bit of presentation called "projected text." Tips and objectives are written out on the walls.
Splinter Cell 3D takes place long before the recent Xbox 360 game, Splinter Cell Conviction. Sam Fisher needs to stop a mad man from starting World War III. No pressure. Along the way, he'll have to shoot out lights, stab bad guys, and sneak his way through 10 different locales.
A stealth game is all about light and shadow, but it's tough to tell if you're hidden without looking at the meters at the top of the screen. Though the meters are a bit archaic, Splinter Cell has some smart elements working for it. Ambient noise can help mask the sounds of your approach -- even gunfire -- and you often have the chance to turn on equipment to make some extra noise. Light works the same way. Turn off switches, short out lamps, and wait out lightning flashes to stay hidden.
Fisher needs to stay in the dark if he has any hopes of success and you will need to play Splinter Cell 3D in the dark if you hope to see what's going on. I tried playing Splinter Cell 3D in the office, on the train, even in my house and I often had trouble seeing what was happening on the screen. Most 3DS games seem to be bright and vibrant, but Splinter Cell is dark and grey.
THE 3D Effect This might be the least offensive 3D so far on Nintendo's 3DS. It's so slight, I sometimes toggled the 3D slider several times just to make sure it was there. But that very slight effect makes Splinter Cell easy to enjoy without fear of getting a headache. It shows some of the potential for enhancing a game with a third-person perspective without making it gimmicky.
Though it doesn't seem like Ubisoft put a ton of effort into this one, they did manage to get the controls right. You move Fisher with the circle pad and control the camera with the face buttons. The shoulder buttons handle your attacks. The touch screen is also used wisely. You can quickly swap weapons and interact with the environment with quick taps. For a game meant to be played with an Xbox controller, this works surprisingly well on 3DS.
But what made Chaos Theory great was the enemy AI, and that's where Ubisoft failed in bringing Splinter Cell to 3DS. The stealth breaks down to the point that there's little reason to sneak around. These are some dumb terrorists. They aren't fans of patrolling the grounds, so you can usually get away with leaving bodies out in the open (I guess that was in the Xbox version too). And when spotted, I could often run straight at enemies and stab them in the throat before they even raised their gun. Sometimes I was clearly out in the open and enemies didn't even notice me. Other times they spotted me when the meters said I was hidden. It's inconsistent and hurts what could have been a solid offering.
Despite its many shortcomings, Splinter Cell 3D is still fun to play. And that's what matters most. It's not even close to being as good as Chaos Theory on Xbox, but then again, I couldn't play that on a plane. If the AI were even passable and not laughable, this would be an easier recommendation.
While it might lack features and multiplayer, Splinter Cell 3D will do in a pinch for stealth game fans.