Review by AK_the_Twilight

"Story-driven, gun-toting, silent-killing Sam Fisher is back!"

Aside from a certain headband-wearing, reptilian-named secret agent, Sam Fisher has stood tall as one of gaming's greatest spies. His Xbox debut in Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell was a hit, and while the hero has made a number of changes throughout the course of his career, much of the stealth that we've grown to love has remained at center stage. But things have changed for Sam. He's no longer the dutiful Third Echelon hero that he was in the original Splinter Cell. Sam has nothing to lose now, and his newest adventure, Splinter Cell: Conviction proves it. Splinter Cell: Conviction thrives on its new mechanics and careful balance of stealth and action, but it's Sam Fisher's story and character that truly make the game engaging.

Splinter Cell: Conviction continues the story of everyday secret agent Sam Fisher. Taking place two years after the last Splinter Cell title, Conviction leaves Sam in an emotional stagger. With the loss of his daughter, Sam is out to end his work under the secret agency Third Echelon. However, messages from Sam's fellow agent Grim lead the jaded spy to believe that his daughter is very much alive. In exchange for more information about his daughter, Sam returns to the secret agent biz and follows Grim's orders, revealing that much more is going on behind the scenes. Sam's story is much darker than the already edgier Double Agent released in 2006, and the game really does benefit from it. It becomes apparent how fed up and exhausted Sam has become after the loss of his child, but you really start to see Sam as a character instead of simply an avatar for the player. The secondary characters like Grim add some depth, but Conviction focuses more on Sam's storyline and in that regard, it works fantastically. Sam Fisher's evolution as a character is carefully crafted in Conviction, making the actual narrative one of Conviction's most prominent qualities.

Ubisoft definitely changed things in a number of ways when designing Conviction. In a way to merge Sam's disgruntled character with the actual gameplay, stealth is no longer the lone option. Players can enter packed rooms with guns a-blazing if they choose, but they can also choose the more subtle approach, the famed stealth that Splinter Cell has built over the years. There's a true sense of choice when playing through Splinter Cell: Conviction, allowing the player to select many different methods of completing a mission. While some of the missions demand stealthy approaches, Conviction manages to strike a unique balance between stealth and action that makes the end result versatile.

If you aim to play Splinter Cell: Conviction traditionally (that is, in similarity to the stealth that the series has created), you're bound to notice a number of evolutions to Sam's abilities. A solid cover system helps Sam stay hidden by sidling against environmental items, something that makes moving through the levels much simpler. However, when discovered, a transparent outline of Sam's figure appears in the last area Sam was seen, with guards attacking at the last-seen spot. This can be used to the player's advantage, and makes for a cool and realistic new twist. Night-vision goggles are out, with the screen changing to black-and-white when hidden from enemies. Sam has access to many items like flashbangs and grenades, along with silent and unsilenced weaponry, but few moments are more satisfying than sneaking up behind some guard and providing a good old fashioned hand-to-hand takedown. In addition to the weapons, the game rewards stealthy executions and well-performed vanishing acts with points that can be spent on new items or weapons, along with upgrades to existing ones. These inclusions are all well and good, but Conviction's stealth gameplay just can't shake off the trial-and-error ideology. Failing over and over again can become frequent, and getting through a level first time is extremely difficult to pull off. Area and enemy placement memorization is crucial. Still, Conviction is a bit more lax in its stealth, offering multiple ways to sneak around and plenty of rewards to earn when doing so.

However, if you're an action fan who prefers the more direct approach, you're bound to find Conviction to satisfy. Even more action-oriented than Double Agent, Conviction nails a unique new gunplay setup that makes taking out enemies quick and easy. That comes in the “mark-and-execute” system. Using the right bumper, the player can “mark” enemies and unleash a multi-kill attack with the Y button. This makes taking out multiple targets a breeze, which can be essential in tackling the more crowded environments. However, this ability requires a hand-to-hand takedown to “charge” the execution, and the enemies must be in firing range. It's a fast alternative to stealth and can be very useful, but still leans toward a more action-oriented approach. The rest of the action is passable, though it is no third-person shooter by any means. Some minor control issues can make shooting a bit trickier than sneaking. Also, the brevity of the campaign is a disappointment for sure, but a solid multiplayer suite retains much of the fun seen in past Splinter Cell games, especially when playing cooperatively. The best moments stay in the campaign, though. Whether you're up for stealth or action, Conviction manages to get both right, though it's definitely at its best when both work in synchronized tandem.

The presentation in Splinter Cell: Conviction is darker, grittier, and feels much more meaningful than Sam Fisher's previous romps. The cutscenes aren't the most technically impressive on the 360 console, but they illustrate Sam's emotional drive incredibly well. They just feel expressive. Sam has nothing to lose, and the cutscenes prove it. The lighting effects are solid and the overall design of the stages differs dramatically. Whether it's a crowded carnival or dimly-lit reservoir, the different locations offer great variety. As far as sound, the voice acting is tight and engaging. Hearing Sam spout off one-liners remains entertaining, but you can see the changes in Sam's attitude throughout the course of the story. Impacting sound effects help the game's cinematic qualities, showing off plenty of explosions, gunfire, and environmental nuances. It's a great presentation that feels polished and new, despite some minor technical glitches.

Pros
+ A steady balance of action and stealth allows for multiple ways to play
+ Solid mechanics
+ Polished graphics and superb voice acting

Cons
- Short campaign
- Stealth still demands trial and error
- Shooting action isn't the most refined on the system

Splinter Cell: Conviction doesn't feel like a Splinter Cell game. Everything from the stealth to the gunplay to the controls all feels built from the ground up to suit Sam Fisher's darker narrative (which ironically is the only thing that feels connected to the Splinter Cell franchise). But that's okay. Conviction's new mechanics feel tight and offer that well-blended brew of gunplay and silent kills to make even most jaded gamer happy. Purists to the series may scoff at the more action-oriented approach, but the sneaking is still there, and the reward system offers reason to experiment with Sam's stealth abilities. But it's the story that will really keep you going. Well-crafted and fantastically presented, Conviction's narrative is realistic and heartfelt all at once, showing a progression of Sam's character beyond Third Echelon. It's a step in a different direction, but it works brilliantly. Conviction isn't the perfect stealth game, nor is it the perfect action game. The merging of the genres shows a few holes in both gameplay types, but even with their flaws, Splinter Cell: Conviction holds both in a good light. Whether you're gunplay-starved or looking for that perfect silent takedown, you're bound to find fun in Splinter Cell: Conviction.


Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 04/30/10

Game Release: Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Conviction (US, 04/13/10)


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