The verdict you've been waiting years for.
April 9, 2010 - Sam Fisher is back, and he is not in a good mood. Of all the smart decisions made in crafting a new Splinter Cell title, this might be the best one developer Ubisoft Montreal made. Sam's angry and you hear it in every grunted line of dialogue, can see it in the brutal takedowns and interrogation moves and feel it pulsating through Sam with every step. That anger, that aggressiveness is built not only into the story but the gameplay changes as well. It was a huge risk deviating from the trial-and-error style that made the series famous, but it paid off. Splinter Cell Conviction is awesome.
The story takes place a few years after the end of Splinter Cell: Double Agent. Don't worry, if you never finished that game, you'll get caught up quickly as to what's going on. Sam's daughter was killed, he murdered his best friend Lambert, and he split from Third Echelon, the government agency he'd called home for years. With new evidence leading to his daughter's killer, a tormented and semi-retired Sam Fisher is called back into action. Turns out the people responsible for his daughter's fate are planning a major terrorist attack on Washington D.C. This is going to be one long day for
Ubisoft pulled off a few magic tricks to make this happen.
There are no in-game loading screens unless you die. From the moment the game starts, you never sit around waiting for something to happen. Levels are loaded while you're watching slickly presented cutscenes. Fancy new projection technology integrates text into the scenery to point you towards your goal, and back story is shown with movies playing out on walls as you progress through a level. These things aid in keeping players immersed in the world, but the real reason things feel so fluid is the change in approach to stealth.
In Conviction, stealth is about speed.
Sam moves fast. Really fast. He can get in and out of cover quickly, shimmy across ledges faster than the Prince of Persia and beat a hasty retreat if he gets into trouble. Sam's codename used by Third Echelon is "panther," and that's fitting. In past Splinter Cell games, enemies were meant to be avoided; in Conviction, Sam is a hunter. He isn't avoiding enemies, he's stalking them.
Sam lurks in the shadows, finds his moment to pounce and strikes with deadly efficiency. There may be a dozen men, fully armed and with extensive combat training closing in, but they're the ones who should be worried. You feel like the ultimate badass thanks to some generous aiming assists that let you easily put bullets into approaching enemy noggins.
Rather than force players to eyeball a variety of meters to determine their level of stealth, Ubisoft made things very obvious. If you're in the shadows and impossible to see, the color bleeds out and things go black and white. The minute you're in the light, the color comes back. This easy sense of whether you are hidden or exposed enables you to move quickly through the environment and plan your route of attack on the fly.
Shadows and light are just half the stealth equation. The other half is the cover system. The cover is not at all like Gears of War, where you're sucked against a wall. Squeeze the left trigger and if you are near an object, you'll take cover behind it. Release the trigger and you immediately disengage, or you can hold down the trigger and move away from cover with no problem. You're never attached to a surface. In fact, you can hold down the trigger when out in the open and Sam will crouch, doing his best to minimize his visibility.
This is the best cover system I've ever used. Every other game needs to change, because I can't go back.
Using shadows and cover, you stalk your prey, and when you're close enough, you can perform a hand-to-hand takedown. There are dozens (probably more than a hundred) of these. They're an excellent reward for being sneaky. My favorite is shooting a guy in the leg and as he crumples downward, popping him in the chin with my silenced pistol. But the system isn't perfect. You bash in a door with the same button as a hand-to-hand takedown. Attempt to quietly kill an enemy near a door and you may end up kicking in the door and causing a ruckus. Occasional glitches aside, stealth kills look cool, avoid attracting attention and earn you the ability to execute.
The Mark & Execute system is probably the most controversial change to the Splinter Cell series. You can tag or "mark" enemies, putting a big arrow over their heads and then executing them with the press of a button. So long as the mark is red, you are guaranteed a kill. As it's described, this would seem like a "win" button that would make Splinter Cell too easy. Far from it. You have to work to earn the right to execute. Use it once and you must perform another stealth takedown to activate the execution option again. More importantly, executing does not equal "stealthily execute." If you aren't careful, you can easily expose yourself to enemies when you enter execution mode. There are often more enemies than you could ever mark, so it's not as if you run through tagging and killing with ease.
Each weapon has its own unique properties, including the number of available marks. This is a great way to balance the game while adding a bit of strategy to how you gear up before heading into action. Do you take the low-powered Five-Seven pistol because it has the most marks (four) or do you up your firepower to another gun, sacrificing the marks?
All of these new gameplay elements are quickly explained in the single-player campaign. These things are so intuitive, that the tutorial is over before you know it. The campaign is a brisk and enjoyable five-hour experience that has only two odd spots.
Early on, there is a flashback to 20 years ago in Iraq. Out in broad daylight, all stealth is eliminated and Splinter Cell becomes nothing more than a third-person shooter. The other section that sticks out is an area where, if spotted, you fail the mission. What a bad idea. This is what Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory fixed five years ago. Who wants instant-fail gameplay?
The co-op is well worth discussing. It is, after all, better than the single-player campaign. Offering split-screen, System Link and online support, you and a friend take on the roles of Third Echelon agent Archer and Russian Voron agent Ketrel. The co-op story is a prequel to the single-player campaign and has the two teaming up to hunt down some missing WMDs. While both Archer and Kestrel have the same moves as Sam, they must work together to make it through four unique environments.
Live together or die alone. That's the motto for Splinter Cell's co-op. If your friend dies, the mission fails. That means you must watch each other's back. Fortunately, you can heal your fallen friend before he bleeds out. And if your pal is careless and gets grabbed by an enemy, he can elbow his captor's face to gain a bit of separation before you cap him.
Conviction is a Splinter Cell game in name more than anything else. You could easily swap Sam Fisher for Jack Bauer or create an all new character and no one would give it a second thought. The gameplay is fast, and Sam has been transformed into the ultimate killer. It's an amazing game, but so different from its predecessors you might not recognize it.
Despite a few questionable level design choices, Splinter Cell Conviction is a great addition to the series. There's no way I could go back to a stealth game as it used to be; I've been converted. The only reason to hesitate and pick this up is if you only care about the single-player story and want nothing to do with anything else Conviction has to offer. If that's the case, then there's not a lot of game to be had. And also, you're nuts. The best parts of Conviction are the experiences you have long after you've left Sam Fisher behind.
|out of 10||click here for ratings guide|
Stylish menus and cool projection technology make for a unique experience. The story is an amalgamation of different seasons of 24, but it's nice to see Sam so angry.
Nice animations. Gritty but good-looking environments. The framerate occasionally dips, but it's nothing major.
Michael Ironside does a great job reprising his role as Sam Fisher. The enemies have some nice quips. Solid musical score.
Stealth is fast and fun. Mark & Execute is a great addition. The AI is excellent if you play on Realistic difficulty.
|8.0||Lasting Appeal |
The single-player and co-op campaigns are short, but there's a lot of other things to do. And you'll probably want to play through everything more than once.
|9.3 ||OVERALL |
(out of 10)