In March 2005, the gaming world got another dose of Splinter Cell in the form of the series’ third console and PC outing, Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory. The game strove to set the benchmark even higher than it had for its two previous games. Gamers now got a more robust co-op experience, refined stealth controls, including a scary knife, and an even more fleshed-out version of Pandora Tomorrow’s Spy Vs. Mercenary competitive multiplayer mode. The game was nothing short of a religious experience if you had ever once dreamed about being an international super spy, expendable or otherwise.
And that is how Chaos Theory remains remembered. What is often forgotten is that Chaos Theory had a soundtrack recorded by Amon Tobin, unarguably a virtuoso in the electronic music genre. Tobin raised the bar for gaming soundtracks by producing sounds that perfectly complimented the game’s vision of making the player actually feel the heightened stress of being one of the best spies in the world. The first two games in the series played with the dynamics and speeds of the instruments based off of the player actions, but the results were not as strikingly impressive as Tobin’s soundtrack. His intent was for the Ubisoft to take the tracks he recorded and layer them on top of each other based on how they saw fit. You can’t not talk about this album without using the word “layered,” and listening to the game’s signature spy track, “Bank,” immediately gives example as to why it is such an integral part of the final product. Slinking around, avoiding laser lights, security cameras and just plain old wandering eyes become represented by a cocktail mix of drums, bass and maracas.
Amon Tobin recorded four audio tracks for each level of the game. The gamer never-if ever- hears all four tracks layered on top of each other. Instead, the gamer hears a selection of the tracks played together based on their actions. The level “Bank” has a popping bass and electronic loop that pervades the entirety of the level—so long as the guards never realize that the bumps in the night are actually you. Maracas drive the stealth action, and the same three minute piece of music will play the entire time you are playing the level. But as soon as you are discovered, the maracas cut out and the bass disappears. Percussion and electronic dominate the sound spectrum at a faster pass than the lazy bass that was playing earlier. As you scramble to find a hiding place or to neutralize your enemies, the percussion seems to scramble itself as it tries to flee from its pursuers.
Another standout track for the game is the music used for the level “Kokubo Sosho.” The song has a bouncing bass that synchronizes with a couple of piano notes. Percussion is represented by your typical drum kit that brings a sense of urgency to a frame which may hint at what happens to Sam mid-level. And true to Amon Tobin’s freaky ways of making his music, it’s nearly impossible to tell what instruments explode onto the scene once you get caught. What seems likes thousands of percussion instruments take the stage from the hoppy bass and piano that began the track. Only when the player has gotten away from the guards and is trying to remain hidden do they realize that there were horns actually playing there for a while, and now that the horns are gone everything is a lot calmer. The soundtrack absolutely explodes when you’re caught in this level, and only when you’ve finally gotten way from all of the mayhem do you realize Tobin’s soundtrack aids the game in helping you realize just how deep you are into this spying shit.
In an interview with Gamespot on the day the album for the game was released, Amon Tobin was quoted as requesting he “not go into [his] recording techniques too much” when discussing which instruments were used for the game’s tracks. The track “Ruthless,” is a prime example of Tobin taking acoustic instruments like his drum kit and twisting the sounds up later post-recording. It becomes hard to tell if you’re actually listening to an impossible loop of drums, or somebody just playing the same measures over and over with slight variations a la Van Halen. During all of this, a seemingly tempered electronic loop times in perfectly with the crashing of cymbals. All the while, bells—or what seems like bells—have returned to ring louder than ever as you struggle to climb up an elevator shaft. Of course, if you’re playing the level perfectly, the crashing cymbals never come. The Penthouse level’s stealth theme (which kicks in about 55 seconds into that link) replaces the banging drums with a sexy guitar lick of questionable origin that invokes the very feeling of throwing a man down an elevator shaft while wearing night vision goggles, but cool silent-style.
The soundtrack received a far from typical release. Amon Tobin’s versions of the tracks used for the levels are available on Amazon and through other online music outlets. The official name of the released soundtrack is called Chaos Theory—Splinter Cell 3 Soundtrack. The official soundtrack versions of the songs are much tighter in direction and don’t wander between the various levels of Sam Fisher’s enemy awareness, since you’re listening to an album and not playing the game. However, this means a lot of the fat is cut from the tracks. The Bank’s theme doesn’t even appear on the official soundtrack, for instance. Youtube has versions of the songs that were ripped directly from the PC edition of the game. These versions can last from as seven minutes to nearly 20 minutes in length. These cuts of the soundtrack do wander and are much harder to listen to in a single sitting.
Tobin took another stab at Chaos Theory commercially by releasing a remixed version of the album called Chaos Theory Remixed with cuts from the 3DS versions of the music last year. This version of the album is, without a doubt, the easiest version to listen to in a single sitting. Five or six artists remixed each track from the album and put their own spin on what they consider sneaking like Sam Fisher.
Maybe because of how obtuse the original soundtrack was recorded and released is the reason it doesn’t show up on many gamers’ top ten gaming soundtracks. It’s hard to hear the Chaos Theory in any sort of environment outside of game playing. The tracks on Youtube worked to set the mood for me when I was playing Far Cry 2 a couple years back, but taking the album into my car only served to remind me that I wasn’t playing a video-game. The longest track from the PC rip is 20 minutes and I’ve yet to ever make it through that twenty minute track in one sitting. Tobin has also released a 5.1 Surround Sound DVD version of the album, which is probably a little overkill, but still a nice option if for some reason you absolutely needed to listen to it instead of play the game with some headphones on. And that’s the absolute best way to listen to this soundtrack.