In the decade or so that the franchise has been around, Splinter Cell has typically succeeded in the same way as its protagonist Sam Fisher - by staying in the shadows. Metal Gear Solid has always been the outrageous, twist-laden story and crazy characters, while Splinter Cell has been more down to Earth. With each franchise once retaining exclusivity on a single console, the portable realm could be the key to dominance over the next few years. The first move made on the new battlefield of portable platforms has been Ubisoft's release of Splinter Cell 3D, and the game's surprising success bodes well for Sam Fisher's future on handhelds.
The future portended by Splinter Cell 3DS comes from one of the greatest hits of the franchise's past. Essentially, it is a refashioned port of Chaos Theory, a brilliant game that provided the player with an imaginative arsenal and well-designed maps to play with it in. The portable nature of the 3DS does hinder the gameplay somewhat, but as far as the Splinter Cell library goes Chaos Theory serves as a fine template.
Fortunately, Splinter Cell 3DS improves upon that template in many regards. The addition of 3D graphics to the stealth-action experience more than makes up for the fact that the game is less visually pleasing than the still-beautiful console version. Even though the game is an early example of 3D gaming – and a port of a half-decade-old game to boot – the depth of field provided by the 3DS allows Splinter Cell 3D to serve as a new benchmark for stealth gaming.
The ability to determine the distance of enemies and obstacles with even more clarity cannot be understated, and Splinter Cell 3DS never falters. When you factor in the slight additions thrown into the game by Ubisoft, like 3D puzzles for hacking and Conviction-style projected objectives, there's really nothing to complain about when it comes to Splinter Cell 3D's visuals.
The tougher obstacle facing Splinter Cell 3D is remapping Chaos Theory's many moves to the 3DS' buttons and touch screen. For the most part, Ubisoft succeeds by putting the more complex actions – weapon switching and context-sensitive actions – on the tactile areas of the handheld. The slower pace of the pre-Conviction Splinter Cell games also masks the inaccurate aiming. Generally speaking, if you have to shoot your way out, you’re doing something wrong.
There's only one real fault with the control scheme: the move to capture guards has been reduced to a context-based activity, which, given the fact that being in close quarters is Splinter Cell at its most tense, having to avert your eyes from the on-screen action to see and trigger the prompt in time can lead to being unfairly spotted on more than a few occasions. Had that one move been given a more intuitive method of execution, the controls would have been without fault.
The fact that Ubisoft was able to remaster the greatest chapter of Splinter Cell on a portable platform with only minor flaws is a small miracle. Splinter Cell 3DS is far greater than it has any right to be, and If you never had the chance to play Chaos Theory on the previous generation of consoles, Splinter Cell 3DS makes a strong case for skipping the bargain bins. This is the definitive version.