I bit the bullet and bought Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory, which was only $19.99 at my local Best Buy (much to my delight). So far, I haven't seen any tell-tale signs of the StarForce copy protection system, and I hope things remain that way.
The game itself is phenomenal. It came loaded on a single DVD (as all games should) and included an automatic updater, which patched me to the latest release. Chaos Theory is leaps and bounds ahead of the original Splinter Cell and its sequel Pandora Tomorrow, both graphically and in terms of game play. The movement mechanics have been greatly improved, especially in terms of sneaking through crawlspaces (such a great visual effect). As with most Tom Clancy titles I've played, the story is unnecessarily complex, and seems rather uninspired. But the game itself more than makes up for this rather lean narrative. I'm only about half-way through it, but I've enjoyed every minute so far. Oh, and the game is way less buggy than the second title. Which makes it all the more enjoyable.