Splinter Cell: Conviction

9.0 Overall Score

Written by on May 7, 2010 in

Sam Fisher sure has changed over the years.  Gone are his signature trident goggles.  He’s traded in his tactical body suit for street clothes.  His allegiance is now solely with his daughter.  His motivation is a single-minded drive to find out who killed her.  Any benefit the good ol’ U.S. of A. may reap from his actions are purely incidental now.  As a Splinter Cell fan that cut his cloak and dagger teeth on stealth classics like Thief and Metal Gear, Splinter Cell: Conviction was  a big question mark.  I followed Sam through his adventures since his first appearance on the original Xbox, and the excellence of Chaos Theory  has colored my expectation of the stealth genre ever since.  After the lukewarm critical reception of Double Agent, I felt the series was in dire need of redemption.  Enter Splinter Cell: Conviction.  As tough as it was, I set my expectations aside and clicked New Game from the main menu.

Speaking solely in terms of story, I was pleasantly surprised to find that Conviction did a much better job of storytelling than the previous Splinter Cell games.  Despite his gruff demeanor, Sam Fisher always came off as an oo-rah all-American type, in it for the sake of mom and apple pie.  This time around, the story provided a more personal framework to the action on-screen.

To be honest, through some stroke of fortune (or misfortune depending on your perspective), a bone-headed mistake on my part resulted in my save file becoming overwritten.  I was forced to play through Splinter Cell: Conviction at least twice.

As much as I enjoyed the story, I begrudgingly started my way through the game a second time.  However, any feeling of resentment was abated by the realization that this was a blessing in disguise. In my first playthrough, I channeled my inner ninja as I always did in this genre.  Luckily, many of Sam’s skills and tools were there in one from or another.  My general strategy was to stick to the shadows, silently taking out opponents unfortunate enough to venture near my patch of darkness.  Rarely did I set off an alert. Rarely did anyone even know I was there. Bright lights and direct confrontation were my true enemies, so I avoided both when I could.  To that end, overhanging pipes were my allies. Ledges were my friends. Cover was my constant companion.

The only sign of my presence was a trail of bodies that the poor, frightened survivors panicked over.  Supremely satisfying.

The next time around, I stripped off my ninja cowl and donned my… well, whatever Jason Bourne or the dude from Taken dons. I fully exploited the Mark & Execute mechanic, in the very least, to get through my replay faster. Once marked, a simple button press sent the action into auto-pilot as I took down fools a la headshots. I took human shields and made hanging objects crash down on unsuspecting bad guys. Quick and efficient is the best way to describe it.  Quick, efficient, and in its own way, supremely satisfying.

But was it the Splinter Cell I knew and loved?  After some mental wrangling, my answer was Yes and No.

No, in that there is more freedom given to direct violence of action.  The best example of the action-heavy gameplay is a level set in Iraq where it is, for all intents and purposes, a shooter.  There is practically no stealth involved at all.  No, taking cover doesn’t qualify as stealth.  The end effect is a level that feels out of place.  I may even go so far as to say it felt thrown in to artificially lengthen the game.  Although it did leave me scratching my head at the end of the level, it was ultimately enjoyable.

Contrast the Iraq level with one taking place in a garage where Sam is tasked with two objectives on the map.  Here, detection is an automatic fail.  In the garage, there were shadows galore with sweeping security cameras and guards on patrol.  This was a familiar target rich environment for old fans of the series like myself.  Pipes, ledges and vents offered great avoidance opportunities that were old hat since the franchise debuted in 2002.

Between the two extremes are a few levels where the player can choose either tactic for any given situation.  If I wanted to, I could try to be as sneaky as possible.  Previous games treated botched stealth with automatic failure which led to a trial-and-error mechanic that critics and gamers alike complained about.  In Conviction, a failed attempt at stealth allowed me to control the situation with a well-planned mark-and-execute move, or all out gunfire until the area was clear.  In the balance of things, this new mixture of covert action and run-and-gun is a direct and effective response to the previous complaints.

Aside from the obvious change in game mechanics and pacing, Ubisoft has removed as much of the HUD as possible.  The developers achieve this by projecting objectives and video onto surfaces in the environment.  The end result is a clever way to keep players in the moment while giving the game a unique aesthetic.

Also, taking a cue from the Rainbow Six Vegas series, Splinter Cell: Conviction has its own Persistent Elite Creation (PEC) system where the player can earn points to unlock weapons and upgrades which appear in the single player game as well as the game’s other modes.

One of those modes is the co-op campaign which can be played splitscreen or online.  Here, the players take on the roles of agents from Third Echelon and their Russian counterpart, Voron.  Game mechanics follow single player, but the levels are laid out to accommodate and encourage working together.  This part of the game portrays events that lead up to Sam’s part in the whole scheme of things.  The experience was compelling enough to almost outshine the single player story.

Additionally, Deniable Ops lets you tackle the co-op levels solo or with a friend.  While the single player campaign can be finished from four to seven hours depending on your play style, the co-op campaign and Deniable Ops can add even more hours of fun to the overall package.

The overall package itself is excellent.  Narratively, there seems to be a level-to-level pacing that logically mirrors Sam’s growing frustration and anger.  As the story develops, Sam is continually faced with a choice:  add more aggressive tools to his existing arsenal, or become a useless relic.  The way I see it, this change in tactics, in turn, mirrors a change that Ubisoft is asking Splinter Cell fans to make.  The developer makes it clear that we can have stealth as there is plenty of it to be had in Conviction.  But we should be open to all-out action as well.  This is probably the biggest risk Ubisoft takes with the franchise, but I understand why they did it.  Having played the game to both extremes and varying degrees in between, I find that it all seems to fit together, making for a memorable game overall.

Has Splinter Cell: Conviction redeemed the series? In terms of sticking to a the traditional Splinter Cell formula, no.  It has rebooted the franchise in a big way.  In terms of being an enjoyable game, yes.  Splinter Cell: Conviction has become one of my favorite stealth titles to date.

Married Gamers Grading Score: A-

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Author: John Catuira View all posts by

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