Sneak onto the Ubisoft stand at Game Stars Live, grab the first unsuspecting Ubisoft staffer you can find (preferably alone), and bop them over the head, Sam Fisher-style, with your armful of pointless freebies. Actually, we think you might be outnumbered and probably bundled into the back of a Police van by burly men if you tried that, but it could be a useful way of scything through those hateful queues for the eight machines at the event currently housing a bite sized chunk of the next Splinter Cell game on Xbox.
Hardly a representative portion of the game at all, this small chunk of level 10 (we're told) thrust us into what appears to be a steam bath changing room area, fighting your way through half a dozen enemies, half of which are carrying machine guns. Like you do when you're relaxing in boiling steam. With no particular instructions issued to you, your best hope appears to rest on the usual tactics of creeping through the levels are stealthfully as possible, picking off each enemy one by one, either via headshots or the more daring neck break.
With only about five rooms in the demo (which ends abruptly the second you get to a particular door, and before you get the chance to complete your objectives) there's not a huge amount to report, save for a few minor - but very welcome - control tweaks. This time, when you get your gun out, clicking the left stick changes your gun shoulder, meaning you have the opportunity to approach corners already prepared in what amounts to a peek stance. Clicking it a few times makes it immediately apparent how useful this will become at being able to pick off enemies without having to always creep up to walls first, sidle up, peek out then take your weapon out. It feels instantly more intuitive, something of a first in a stealth game, and is sure to be adopted elsewhere; it feels that well implemented.
The weapon menu has received a more intuitive overhaul too, with the Xbox's white button giving the player the chance to quickly cycle through all the various gadgets and firearms. Y button, meanwhile, activates an alternative fire mode for your guns - meaning, for example, launcher or shotgun mode for the default SC40k. Strangely, we didn't notice any difference, but that's more likely to be down to the unfinished nature of the code than anything.
The only other thing of note we came across was the ability to slice through material -an ability shown off to devastating effect at E3. In this case, you're given the chance to listen into a bizarre conversation that, out of context, seems to make very little sense at all. Anyone attending Game Stars Live care to shed some light on this?
Spot the difference
Visually, it's hard - at this stage - to really notice any improvements at all, given that all we got to see was four or five rooms, all almost completely lacking illumination; just why does everyone in Splinter Cell games hang out in the dark? The PC version we saw back at E3 looked absolutely stunning. Glorious. But you'd kind of expect that. Scaled down to non HDTV resolutions at a consumer show on a plasma screen evidently using blurry composite inputs (when will they learn that this just makes games look worse?) the effect is somewhat underwhelming, in that it feels like more of what we've seen before, as opposed to the stunning newness at E3.
Sure, the brick textures on the walls that start the level are superb, the lighting is sublime, the animation top drawer, the shadows are (again) bizarrely jagged against objects (why oh why?), and the night vision/thermal vision effects are once again essential, but the same as before. But given that most of this wasn't broken before, why fix it? It's still easily one of the best looking console games we've seen, it's just in the context of such a small interior demo (in the dark) Ubi hasn't really given the game the chance to impress people as much as they could. For example, having witnessed loads of cool things at E3, there's no doubt that the outdoor weather effects and the myriad of gameplay possibilities would have proved much more exciting than this somewhat missed opportunity to get thousands of eager consumers excited.
We'll bring you a full Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory hands-on closer to the game's launch, including the much-anticipated multiplayer mode.