Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Conviction has been one to watch since May 2007 and throughout the numerous projects delays and design changes the game has only managed to garner more and more interest by fans of the series roots and new players alike. Taking the popular series in a brand new direction that sees the gameplay take on far more action paced combat, the developers describe this change as updating the series in-line with what is expected of a stealth action title – fitting of the manoeuvres and pace you would find in the latest spy blockbuster film (such as the Bourne series).
With the series becoming quite stale with recent renditions, this change of direction is one in which I welcome with open arms. Whilst I like nothing more than lurking in the shadows and planning a stealth attack, parts of the game that reduce you to a slow crawl (literally) can bring the games pace to a standstill and boredom slowly seeps in.
Possibly the largest addition to this iteration of the series is the addition of ‘Mark and Execute’, a new ability in which you are able to quickly mark targets using the right bumper and by a single press of the ‘Y’ button execute a handful of foes, in a small proximity. This new overpowered ability has the restriction that it can only be performed once each time you take down an enemy with a melee attack. This much welcomed restriction enforces the deepest element of stealth into Conviction as you must, in most situations, stealth up to a sole enemy and take him down with a brutal hand-to-hand manoeuvre without altering others.
Another highly promoted new addition for Conviction is ‘Last Known Position’ which is the ability to vanish from your enemies, leaving behind a silhouette of yourself which displays your last known position to the enemies. This slight gameplay addition opens up a world of new possibilities as you now have knowledge of where enemies will hunt you allowing you to flank behind, lure them into traps and improve your chances to get away alive.
These two new features of the game combined with the usual pin point accuracy with a silenced weapon (preferably) and a handful of useful gadgets are your arsenal in order to progress through the games many levels, as Sam Fisher delves even deeper into the entangled mess of Third Echelon. Starting out on the hunt for the man responsible for your daughter’s death (an underlying aspect of the games series), a surprise discovery followed by numerous twists in the stories plot leads you in a fresh direction that sparks new life into the series. The story is told in a fantastic way which has one of Sam’s close friends running you through the occurrences of the story, providing a fantastic narrative with glimpses into the past, present and future – until it all comes together at the end. Whilst this is your typical Tom Clancy affair (you know just what to expect) the format it is told in works to full effect and for once the characters actually posse personalities.
Whilst the large changes to the series gameplay mechanics add a fresh fast paced feel to the previous decline it’s hard not to miss the aspect of Splinter Cell that made it unique; the requirement to plan and execute tactical assaults. Conviction has an uncanny way of placing enemies in what feels like predefined locations so that you always have ample opportunity for a single melee takedown, followed by a Mark and Execute on the coincidentally grouped enemies.
An hour into the game will give you enough insight into the games mechanics to know just how to clear an environment of enemies without even thinking. An open window, an obvious pipe, a clear vent... a few of the repeated world elements you will find and become very familiar of, allowing you to know just where the game wants you to go in order to vanquish foes in the most impressive manner; and whilst this is often exactly that, highly impressive, it gets a little dull when you realise the game is playing you – and not you the game.
This seems to be the design objective for Conviction, to make you feel that each possible step through the game is filled with opportunity to pull off cool take downs and impressive predefined actions. There is no better illustration of this than the numerous interrogation scenes in which you assault an individual into telling you the information you are after, by performing brutal attacks in a predefined space of a few meters. For example, taking two steps to the fridge and pressing ‘A’ will result in Sam placing the enemies head in the fridge door; then kicking it shut. As enjoyable to watch as kicking a fridge into someone’s face is, once again you are limited to perform as the developers desire, with little window to escape the linearity.
This is mirrored in the game’s challenge system, which rewards you with points if you meet certain criteria a number of times. This can be anything from getting a headshot whilst in stealth to completing an entire mission without being seen. You will find the majority of these unlock through natural progression, and the others can be targeted afterwards if sought after. The points earned from the challenges can be spent on weapon and armour upgrades, which help boast your attack and defending abilities.
Fans of the series expected such a drastic change though, as realised when it became apparent that Sam would be losing his trademark night vision goggles. Starting the game bare headed feels awfully strange and the addition of a graphical filter which turns the game black and white when you are in shadows only adds to the desire to get those loveable goggles back. Towards the later stages of the game (which is where the demo places you) you will find fondness in a new headpiece, but nothing quite replaces the green hue and bleep that is tradition.
When you come to the games finale, you will find that the action packed adventure ends suddenly with a cliff hanger ending that will leave many sour. Personally I found the closure to the games story to be the perfect level of anticipation that adds desire for any follow-up to come even more; and not be angered by the questions left unanswered. The only unfortunate point of the game’s ending is that it happens far too soon, at a point where the games story is just starting to take off it abruptly ends. Considering the game has been years in the making, with a large budget and a fantastic development team - the single player being only five hours in length, even on the hardest difficulty setting, is a little poor.
That being said, Conviction gets away with it somewhat in a similar way to Modern Warfare 2, by distracting your anger with pretty multiplayer modes. The first, and likely the most important, of these distractions is the entire co-op storyline that lasts for 2-3 hours and works as a prelude to the main story. The actual story involved however is basically void as it is told in such a jarring manner that it’s easy to forget it exists, resulting in what feels like ordinary multiplayer maps that allow you to assassinate your way through levels with a friend. Never-the-less, these levels are action packed and on the highest difficulty provide a challenge that is bordering on frustration, but sheer pleasure when overcome. This level of challenge and coordination is what the single player counterpart sorely needed and will no doubt be the highlight of the game for anyone picking the game up with an eager friend.
Lastly, when you and a friend have cleared through all the stories to be told in Conviction, you can relax in one of the four available multiplayer modes which pits players against AI, and at times each other, in Deniable Ops: Hunter, Infiltration, Last Stand and Face-Off. These modes add welcomed additional game time to the overall package and can certainly be a blast to play through for a few iterations at the very least. I take my hat off to the developers for the fact that they went to the effort of supporting split screen for the entire game; something that is typically neglected this generation.
If you are a fan of Splinter Cell, enter wearily as whilst you will no doubt love the attention to detail and immersion of the game's fluid gameplay controls, you will likely miss what made you fall in love with the series. Anyone that wasn’t fond of previous instalments have absolutely no reason to avoid this one, as the game will feel like a new experience and has been aimed with you in mind. Conviction is one of the most polished experiences available this year, and certainly one everyone should see through to the end.