Version tested: 3DS
If you're going to port a popular old game onto shiny new hardware, it's a smart idea to make sure said console can do it justice. Case in point - Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory, a moody stealth adventure where you guide sneaky old Sam Fisher around as he snaps necks and hacks computers in perpetual darkness.
You don't have to be Miyamoto to know that shoehorning twin-stick action adventures onto one-stick handheld consoles is one of the seven deadly sins of game design. Splinter Cell 3D represents yet another example of this hateful practice in action. What's more, all that intense exasperation and rage will set you back £35. Have we learned nothing from the PSP?
For those who never got around to playing the third Splinter Cell back in spring 2005, it came across as a concerted attempt from Ubi to take the series mainstream. Massive acclaim was garnered as a result.
Gone were all the heinous difficulty spikes which characterised the original. In came one-hit close quarters kills and noticeably forgiving AI. But while it was a much more accessible, less frustrating experience, it wasn't really much of a stealth game any more. You didn't have to patiently hide the bodies, security camera could be dodged with ease and you could more or less headshot your way through large portions of the game.
The same applies to Splinter Cell 3D, but with the added 'fun' that comes from having to adapt to controlling the camera and aiming system with the 3DS's four face buttons. Were this any normal action game, the grizzled Third Echelon agent would be toast in about five seconds as you creakily wrestled the camera and aimed the reticule into position.
Fortunately, for those of a shaky disposition, Splinter Cell 3D features enemies seemingly even more handicapped than you. Once they awake from their torpor, they shamble towards you with all the fury of zombified ketamine addicts.
A single silenced pistol shot to the head is enough to ease them out of the picture, but even if there's another dozy sentry lurking nearby there's rarely anything to fret about. At best, they'll inexorably creep to the spot where their buddy met his fate, or fire a few cursory shots in your general direction.
It won't matter, though. Because if you've taken the obvious precaution of shooting the lights out, they probably won't spot you anyway, and they will give up looking after about ten seconds.
When you're not dispensing precision headshots or taking numbnuts down with a single well-placed blow, you can look forward to repeatedly deactivating insultingly straightforward security terminals, hacking computers and picking locks.
If that sounds like a little too much fun for you, you can always increase your inner fury by trying to comprehend your whereabouts via the entirely useless 3D map system.
On the plus side, the game does at least offer an intuitive touch screen interface which makes switching between weapons and gadgets straightforward. Other less frequent manoeuvres, such as the infamous split jump, get mapped onto context-sensitive dpad directions when you need them.
But, for the most part, you can get by just fine with the game's default actions and without having to tie yourself in knots. Whether that says more about the game's rather simplistic brand of stealth-lite than control design is another matter; ideally you should have to use a broader range of moves, but it's telling that the game rarely requires you to bother.
Regarding the game's 3D, Ubisoft does at least manage to implement the effect without it distracting you from the main event. Unlike some games I've encountered so far on the system, it didn't ever hurt my eyes or make me feel compelled to turn the slider down - possibly because the gameplay is sufficiently slow-paced that you actually have the time to stop and admire the added depth as you silently snap necks in the shadows.
On the other hand, the subtlety of the effect is such that it's easy to zone-out and stop noticing that you're even viewing the game in 3D anymore. This phenomenon raises the question whether we're gaining anything more than a fleeting novelty from a game's '3D-ness'.
But like 3D movies, it's clear that there's a world of difference between things created specifically for 3D, and those - like Splinter Cell 3D - where the effect is retroactively applied. Here the implementation is little more than an expensive, inessential novelty, while also being perfectly inoffensive and unobtrusive.
But what definitely doesn't work well is the game's determination to be as dark and gloomy as possible. Played in daylight, it's likely that you'll be constantly distracted by reflections on the 3DS' screen. You'll have to draw the blinds or skulk off into a shady corner away from the glare of nearby windows before you stand a chance of seeing what's going on within the game. With no in-game brightness setting, you'll have to play in optimal lighting conditions to get the most out of it.
Putting aside all the control issues and visual impairments, long-term fans will also be mystified at the way Ubisoft has taken a hatchet to the various other well-regarded modes included within the original.
You may recall that Chaos Theory generously boasted a separate seven mission two player co-op mode, as well as the hugely popular Spy Vs Mercenary competitive multiplayer mode. The absence of both seems inexplicable, especially given the wireless and online capabilities of the 3DS. As a result, Splinter Cell 3D feels like an example of the kind of exploitative shovelware which accompanies all new console launches.
Even if this were a cheap downloadable title, you'd be hard pressed to summon up much enthusiasm thanks to the completely broken camera system. The fact that Ubi then has the gall to trim out all the multiplayer content and still charge full whack for it smacks of breathtaking opportunism.
If you really need to be reminded of Splinter Cell's glory days, go back and pick up a cheap copy of Double Agent. Just do yourself a favour and give this pointless reissue a wide berth.
4 / 10