This was originally published on Aeropause.com
Splinter Cell: Conviction is a game with a rather troubled development, having gone through several iterations before reaching us in its present form. Some may see the significant changes between versions, along with the radical departure from the series’ usual gameplay as a signal of a low quality game. The game has problems, to be sure, but they shouldn’t overshadow what is a tremendously enjoyable game.
Brought to us by the dreamweavers at Ubisoft Montreal (developers of the Assassin’s Creed and Prince of Persia games) the latest in the long-running stealth series. Don’t be put off, however, as Conviction is more action-stealth. With emphasis on the ‘action’. You play Sam Fisher, a former secret agent who specialised in crawling around ventilation shafts picking people off with tranquilizer darts. The new Sam is different: his daughter was killed, possibly by his former employer, he was forced to kill his best friend, and he’s looking for revenge. The story is functional; interesting and engaging enough to keep the player interested, and while it’s certainly not a work of art, it’s not trying to be. It does what it needs to, and no more. For those who’ve played and enjoyed previous Splinter Cell games, there’s lots of references to them dotted throughout the story, but if you haven’t played before, then the story’s explained well enough in situ for you to keep up.
If I were to describe the gameplay of SC:C in a sentence, I’d say ‘Lots of sneaking around punctuated with brief bursts of brutal violence’. This is facilitated by the first of two major new mechanics being introduced in this game: Mark and Execute. The way this works is simple. You aim at an enemy, hit the ‘mark’ button and a little icon appears over their heads, either white, meaning they’re out of range, or you can’t execute, or red, meaning if you hit the ‘execute’, Sam will take them down. However, the ability can’t be used at any time – it has to be earned through close-combat kills. But you can pre-tag enemies, leading to some rather impressive kill-chains. Let me give you an example.
Sam is hanging from a pipe, an enemy below him. He tags two guards, and drops onto the unsuspecting enemy below, breaks his neck, then executes the two marked guards in a slow-motion frenzy. He still hasn’t been noticed. Good. He shoots a chain holding a large, ornate globe… thing to the ceiling, causing it to fall and kill another three guards. The rest of the guards are, by this point, a little worried. Sam sneaks behind one, uses him as a meat-shield, and takes down the other two guards, finally breaking the neck of the meat-shield. Then he kicks open a door. BOOM.
The game has a lot of sneaking around, evading the guards, but unlike previous games in the series, you’re not totally hosed if you get spotted. You can take down the guard before he makes a fuss, you can use a gadget to distract him and then kill him, or, if all else fails, you can engage in a gunfight. If you’re spotted and manage to duck out of site again, the game’s second big new mechanic comes into play. A white silhouette appears where the enemies think you are – your Last Known Position. This knowledge has obvious advantages – if you know which way the enemies are looking, you can sneak around behind them and break their necks. The game also does a good job of telling you how exposed you are. It’s easy to shoot out a few lights, giving you the advantage of darkness. Rather than previous games’ use of a ‘light meter’, Conviction lets you know you’re in the dark by making everthing go black-and-white. If an enemy can see you, an indicator appears around the reticule, which narrows over a few seconds, and when it turns red, you’ve been seen.
The game’s other Big New Thing isn’t mechanical, it’s the new visual design choice. Rather than having lots of information relayed to you through poor exposition, or irritating characters jabbering in your ear while they’re sitting in a nice comfy chair in front of a computer and you’re trying to take three guards out at once, silently (although that stuff is present), your objectives and various other bits of relevant information are ‘projected’ onto the scenery. This could have been visually distracting, but through judicious, not excessive use, it ends up complimenting the gameplay nicely.
The game also features a very well-done co-op mode, the campaign of which functions as a prequel to the story of the game itself, and has a twist ending with a really interesting spin on the gameplay… but to give it away would be to rob it if its import. There are several other multiplayer modes, both co-operative and competitive, which can be played locally or online, and these all work really well. My personal favourite was Face Off, as both agents are tasked with killing waves of enemies, and each other. Death loses points, but you get more points for killing the other player than a plain enemy, so there’s a very interesting risk/reward dynamic at work.
There are echos of Arkham Asylum, but unfortunately Conviction doesn’t have the same sprawling map to explore. Instead, the game is linear. There is, of course, no problem with linearity in itself, but these levels are almost too linear, and the game gives you so many hints and nudges that you always know exactly where you’re going, which feels a bit hand-holdy. I’d rather this than nothing, but the levels really don’t have much room for creativity in manoeuvring. While the scenery looks nice, some of the character models look a little janky, although the animations are Assassin’s-Creed smooth, with Sam’s brutal close-combat moves a special highlight.
Those who enjoyed the old Splinter Cell will find something, while not entirely dissimilar, perhaps a little less cerebral. That’s certainly not to say the game isn’t enjoyable and full of many exciting moments. Conviction manages to renew the Splinter Cell series without entirely divesting itself of the things that made it popular in the first place. And there’s a great deal of fun to be had along the way. Splinter Cell: Conviction gets 4.5 out of 5 Aeropausonauts.