The new direction of Splinter Cell: Conviction has worked a treat for Ubisoft Montreal and the result is perhaps the best instalment in the series to date. The game was originally set to be released way back in 2007. Countless delays later it’s finally arrived in a neat little package, with an absorbing story, bonus features including multiplayer and, best of all, a compelling gameplay experience.
Set 3 years after Splinter Cell: Double Agent and the apparent death of his daughter, former Splinter Cell Sam Fisher thinks he’s out of the game for good. That is until he discovers that his daughter Sarah has been alive all this time and the fraudulent death was used to get to him and the people he worked for, in a plot to assassinate the president of the United States.
Splinter Cell: Conviction has an engaging storyline that’ll leave you hanging right until the very end. It uses both flashbacks and flash forwards that’ll have you questioning who you can trust. While it’s a fantastic narrative it’s one the requires your undivided attention. If you miss something you’re likely to be lost for quite sometime, which makes watching all the cutscenes paramount. If you give it your full attention it’s a great story full of suspense, drama, action and meaning. It connects with the audience, as much as a game can, in that you want Sam to find out who betrayed him. You want to see him walk away a happy man after playing while he’s so full of rage. If you’ve ever watched 24 you’ll know what to expect. The trailer at E3 ’09 sent the media, including MMGN, into a frenzy of comparisons between Conviction and the popular realtime-based TV show. The game doesn’t disappoint and I highly recommend it to any Jack Bauer fan. Like Bauer, you don’t need to be told that Fisher is badass. You know he’s angry, you know he’s done terrible things and you know he’s not going to take any shit.
Playing on normal Splinter Cell: Conviction takes around 6 hours to complete. Push that up to around 8-9 hours on the realistic, and recommended, difficulty setting. It seems short and you’ll easily finish it within two nights, if not one. But don’t assume that it’s a bad thing. While it may be short, kudos has to be given to Ubisoft Montreal for crafting a game that has you hooked until the very end. It’s one of the few games that you accidentally finish in one sitting because it’s so engaging and before you know it, the sun’s back up.
If you’ve ever played a Splinter Cell game before you’ll know that “stealth” is the word. Conviction’s focus is still heavily on sneaking around undetected, but it pushes you to do so at a much faster pace. Whereas most stealth games require you to take your time, Conviction aims to have you in and out. The story takes place over several years, achieved through flashbacks, but the actual gameplay is set in just a few hours. It really feels like everything has escalated out of control quickly; Sam has no time to waste, but at the same time he can’t risk being detected. The new emphasis on speed is complimented by the new cover system. Sam can take cover in the shadows and behind almost any object by holding down the left trigger. Releasing it keeps him crouched but takes you away from the object and allows you to maneuver around obstacles. Highlighting the next point of cover and tapping ‘A’ will send Sam diving to his new position. It combines remaining hidden while moving forward at speed very well. It gives the whole situation a sense of urgency and yet still plays to Sam’s strengths.
Should you be spotted, a silhouette appears on screen showing your last known position. Your best bet is to get the hell out of there and back into the safety of the shadows. However, it can be used to your advantage. If you mange to elude the hostiles they generally assume you can be found where they last saw you. The remaining silhouette shows that exact position and allows you to tactically place yourself to takeout anyone stupid enough to investigate.
The combat mechanics have a little bit of Batman: Arkham Asylum about them. When in the shadows everything on screen, minus the enemies, will turn black and white; this indicates that Sam is not visible. Gone are the days of monitoring countless meters trying to figure out how visible you are. Simply if Sam’s in colour he can be seen. It’s so simple yet so perfect. It takes away the complex nature of past stealth games, and lets you get on with the important thing: the action. Taking out lights and finding strategic routes to keep him lurking in the shadows becomes extremely important as flanking enemies is imperative. Shooting a group of hostiles head on will expose your position. Sneaking around and taking and neutralizing them individually, quietly, and quickly, as to avoid reinforcements, becomes an art.
The ‘mark and execute’ ability rewards you for silent hand-to-hand kills. Even though Sam has an arsenal of weapons at his disposal, nothing says badass ex-marine like a stylish melee kill. If you mange to pull one off you’ll earn the ability to ‘execute’. This allows you to mark targets in range with the right bumper and then press ‘Y’ to take them all out in one swift motion. The number of targets you can target depends on the weapon, but it generally ranges from 2 to 5. It’s a great new feature and has transitioned into the stealth play nicely. You can only ever have one mark and execute in supply, so don’t try and save them up to easily dominate the latter levels. Ubisoft has struck a nice balance between cool new move and not allowing the player to easily dominate the game with one tactic.
If 6 hours seems a little short for a game with an RRP of $120 you’ll be happy to hear about the additional features. The Deniable Ops mode allows you to go through a few levels from both the single and multiplayer with the intention of killing waves of enemies or sneaking in and eliminating a set number. The idea here is to eliminate a certain number of enemies without being discovered. If you are, the calvary will be called in and you’ll have to defend against a lot more. Alternatively, you can forget about all that and choose to simply defend your ground against wave after wave of soldiers. When it starts getting too easy challenge yourself with the settings by putting a time limit on and reducing what weapons are available to you. Include the co-op and all up you have about 12-15 hours of gameplay. It’s hardly a lengthy affair, but it comes down to quality vs quantity.
The co-op campaign is a completely different story and can be played either online, split-screen or through system link. It only last 2-3 hours, but it’s a nice bonus and adds another third to the main game. You play as Third Echelon agent Archer and Russian Voron agent Ketrel in a prequel to the single player campaign. The real thrill here is working together to pull off tandem mark and execute kills. It’s often easy to overlook co-op components when they’re short and don’t directly relate to the single player game. That’d be a big mistake to make here, as the co-op mode is just as good as, if not even better than (if you have a good partner), the main game. You have all the same moves as Sam with the addition of a friend to sneak around with.
The overall presentation is amazing. As well as the story, the game itself is portrayed in a convincing and entertaining fashion. Your objectives are plastered in bold lighting across walls of buildings and while that might sound like a terrible mechanic on paper it works really well in-game. Sam and the lead characters all look great. He appears as a broken, frustrated man and this is reinforced by the superb voice acting by Michael Ironside. The soundtrack is solid throughout the story, and there’s little to fault in the audio department. Back to the visuals, some of the backgrounds aren’t all they could be. None of them are bad, but they’re not all up to the amazing standard we expect from games these days.