Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Conviction
Review by Iceman22n86
"Veterans of the series will enjoy the story and presentation, but the fat has been cut from the previous titles"
The first thing you need to know about Conviction is that it is considerably different than previous installments of the Splinter Cell series. Where as the first 4 games are basically 90% stealth and 10% action... Conviction is more between 60/40 and 40/60. You still have the option whether to attempt to stealth your way through the levels, or go guns a blazing. If you prefer the guns a blazing technique, then Conviction will be up your alley if you haven't played any Splinter Cell game yet. In most levels however you'll find that pure stealth is sort of a half fantasy, as the layout of the game mostly forces you to approach and sweep while hiding behind cover. Veterans of the series will quickly notice the difference in the game engine, powered by Unreal 2. it's much looser and more realistic, as opposed to the stiff and strict ones used in the other games. It makes things more realistic and allows for more flexibility as far as what the game allows you to pull off, especially melee kills. Sound plays a somewhat significant factor mostly when talking about using silenced weapons as opposed to non silenced ones, but most of the time you can run right up to an enemy and perform a melee attack without any fuss, and without alerting anyone. They usually don't react to your footsteps either, unless you run as fast as possible near them, then they MIGHT investigate the area where they heard the noise, but not usually. I'm an enormous fan of the old style of Splinter Cell, but you can't blame Ubi Soft for trying to take the series to a slightly different level, and for the most part they pull it off nicely.
The main thing that was appreciated from the get go was Conviction's presentation, which sports a darker more pissed off Sam Fisher trying to figure out why certain people are after him, the secrets behind his daughter's death, and the cover up that 3rd Echelon has been hiding from him for a few years. As Sam learns more and more you see him emote very erratically as he throws objects and punches desks at very brooding camera angles, all while his emotions are displayed on the environmental texture like a slide reel presentation in black and white. Pressing back on the 360 controller will display your objective in the same fashion to wherever you're looking while also giving you an indicator that measures how many meters you are away from your next objective. Sometimes you'll even have to play through levels that are flashbacks in Sam's memory, all while having a very Max Payne-ish sort of feel to it. The melee attacks have been amped way up from the old games. In the previous Splinter Cells you really couldn't do much more than right jab a guy across the face or back of the head to knock him out. Obviously the last two games added a little more with choke holds and knife kills, but this game really takes the cake. There are several variations of the melee take down, most of which consist of a shot or two to the arm/leg to bring them down, then one more in the head to finish them off. Sometimes it's just a simple smack over the face with your weapon, or a disturbing thrust to the neck but all of them are effective nonetheless. The best new addition to the presentation is the method of interrogation. When you have a key character cornered and you want information out of him, you get to choke hold him, move him around a designated area, and pump out information by bashing his head against whatever is nearby. I can't tell you how satisfying it is to knee a guy in the gut, then lunge his skull through a flat LCD TV mounted on the wall. Usually you have to do it 3 or 4 times, and the animations vary based on what you decide to pummel them against.
All that plus the method of story telling and soundtrack make the presentation very engrossing, atmospheric, and uniquely stylish. The music choice for each level is nearly flawless, and very much captures the mood of the environment. The voices of your enemies will taunt the life out of you as you are sneaking around positioning yourself to take them down. Sometimes they'll ridicule you, insult you, or remind you of what happened in previous levels. Some of the remarks are extremely vulgar, almost to the point where it may remind you of Man Hunt. The game looks decent enough in the overall graphic department, though there are some sketchy and jagged moments, but mostly in the cinematics. Gamespot said that the graphics looked a little dated but good nonetheless, and I would agree with that for the most part, but the style of the presentation will probably distract you from any complaints you may have in that department. One particular part of the game that shows off the game's angles is a chase through the streets of one of the levels. It also really speaks to the fact that this Splinter Cell is more based on action than in previous titles.
Most of the levels in the single player campaign are relatively short, although you usually have to take out a significant amount of enemies in order to advance in certain areas. In Sam Fisher's old days, it was usually stick to the shadows and move around covertly towards your objectives. In Conviction you're usually confronted with a group of enemies in sort of bottle neck situations, forcing you to move around the provided cover and flank your opponents. You can still move around the shadows and try to sneak by in some cases, but it's usually not what you think about doing. Moving from cover to cover is incredibly seamless and well executed. You press the left shoulder button to crouch, and when you're near cover you hold the left trigger to put your back up against it and hold there. Normally you'll move along the edge of the cover to position yourself to get to the next piece of cover to get closer to your opponents or position yourself the way you want to be. When you're holding on any cover piece of the game, you'll see a white marker and some arrows above the next closest cover spot, if you're close enough to it that is. If you do see that icon you simply press A for Sam to quickly move to the next spot, sometimes sliding and dragging his body to get there quicker. You're not invisible while doing this, but it does reduce the amount of time enemies get to spot you, and it looks really cool when you do it multiple times in succession. If you press the left shoulder button while running you'll perform a slide move and be in a crouched position after that. One thing most people will like is the run, slide, crouch, then cover as you're moving to a structure that you can get behind. You'll find yourself doing it many times in the game, along with jumping over cover spots and most other obstacles just by pressing A when you're near it (hence the context sensitive action). A really fun thing to do just for a gag is get a couple of guys attention, then run and leap over the hood of a car and take immediate cover behind it. You'll feel like a bad ass I promise.
Some of the longer levels force you to use stealth in this manner, such as the 3rd Echelon parking lot, and main building. When you are in a shadow the screen will turn black and white to indicate that you are invisible to enemies unless they are literally right next to you. This is another complaint that some Splinter Cell veterans might have, as it means that you can only either be invisible, or visible except for a variety of degrees in the old games, which dictated how alert the guards would become. instead they decided to go with a beacon that shrinks and eventually turns red, meaning that you've been spotted. As the beacon is shrinking you can still get away to a shadow or cover spot, securing your detection once more.
Sam can equip a choice of 6 different pistols, and several different types of primary weapons, and 5 different Splinter Cell gadgets, all which can be upgraded when you find a weapon stash. The upgrades include things like higher ammo capacity, more marks (which I explain further down), better range, power, or blast radius for your gadgets etc. The Points used to upgrade your weapons can be earned by performing P.E.C. challenges, which are various tasks that compliment the variety of the game play. Getting so many head shots without alerting anyone, or performing a certain amount of melee kills are just some of the examples. You would think that this would kind of enforce certain styles of game play, but there are points to be earned for just about any way you can think of getting through a level, not to mention they keep stacking up until a certain point. It's a level headed system, especially considering you'll probably have a couple of favorite weapons in mind once you are apprised of all your choices, thus easing the pressure to earn more points. Most people will find themselves earning hundreds when they weren't even trying. You'll get unlimited ammo for whatever pistol you choose, but a limited amount for your primary weapon. You can get more ammo from killing enemies with the same gun, or by simply entering and exiting a weapon stash. This will also replenish your gadgets. The gadgets include a flash grenade, remote mine, frag grenade, EMP grenade, remote EMP, and sticky camera. The sticky camera works the same as always. Throw it where you want it and it will attach to the surface, and from there you can trigger a noise to attract guards, and eventually trigger it as an explosive for anyone in range. It can also be used to distract guards and move them around for maneuvering and flanking purposes. The EMP devices will stun enemies and disable electronics shortly leaving them vulnerable to attack. The remote mine works by throwing it anywhere you want, then triggering the explosion after it's been set when an enemy is close enough. The frag and flash grenades are pretty self explanatory. One odd thing you'll notice is that enemies will never notice a remote mine until you trigger it, even if it's right next to their feet down in front of them. They will however always notice a frag grenade before it explodes, along with every other grenade.
Arguably the biggest factor of game play is the new mark and execute feature. Start by eliminating an enemy with a melee attack, then you have the option to mark and quickly dispose of up to 4 targets, one right after another without anyone getting a chance to get a shot in. After you perform a melee kill with B, you use the right shoulder button on each of the targets you want to neutralize. After you mark them they'll be signified with a white arrow, and then a red arrow when they get in range of your weapon. You can take a mark off of an enemy if you change your mind simply by pressing the right shoulder button on them again, or holding the button down to remove all marks simultaneously. Once all of your targets have red arrows over them, it's as simple as pressing the Y button, and you'll see Sam go into a cinematic one by one kill of each target. It even works if you have some of your targets behind you or wherever. He simply turns around if he has to in order to kill the target that's next in your sequence. Sometimes one of your marks will move out of range right as you start the execution, but if they move back into range somewhere in the middle of it, they'll still get the treatment. The effectiveness of this skill is noted right away, and can really get you out of some jams sometimes as well as creating epic cinematic moments. Any hand to hand kill will give you the option to then use executions, including dropping from above and grabbing your opponents from a ledge and throwing them off. You can also earn execution by taking a human shield by holding B instead of tapping it. From there you can mark your opponents and execute them while you still have a hostage. You can even mark enemies prior to earning an execution, allowing for a little more strategy to your approach. For example you could be hanging on the outer ledge of a window with an enemy on the other side, along with a few others spread out in the room. You can mark the enemies you want to execute, then earn the execution by either throwing the single enemy out of the window, or jumping in and taking him as a human shield. From there you quickly trigger the execution, which is extremely satisfying to pull off. Early in the game you'll get a busted side view mirror to use to peek under doors if you wanna see what's behind them. The nice thing is that you can actually mark enemies for execution while looking at them through the mirror, then bust the door down with guns a firing. Later in the game you'll get a snake came, which is basically the same as the spy cam from previous games. Late in the game you'll eventually receive sonar goggles, which are used to send out a beacon and highlight enemies through walls. If an enemy is in range of the beacon, you can mark them for execution also, which is by far the handiest way to do it. There are also different objects in the game that you can shoot in order to trigger a trap for your enemies. Sometimes it will be a light fixture on the ceiling that you can shoot down and crush an unsuspecting guard, or something like a gas tank or fire extinguisher to set of an explosion effecting everyone nearby. You can also mark traps as a part of an execution sequence which if carefully planned can result in a serious adrenaline rush.
Another important aspect is the last known position element. If you are spotted by an enemy and then get to a hiding spot without them seeing you, a white outline of Sam will appear at your last known position by the enemies. Usually they'll continue to shoot at that spot or throw grenades. In the mean time you have the advantage of sneaking around and flanking their rear or side in the process. While this is a somewhat realistic mechanic it also really helps expose the idiotic A.I. that enemies will display most of the time, as you watch them continue to shoot and nade the crap out of your last known position.
Other than that Conviction basically plays like a 3rd Person shooter with heavy underlying stealth functions. Some of the moves from the old game still come into play, such as dropping down from a pipe to take down an enemy, or pulling them off of a ledge as you hang from the other side. The funny thing is that it doesn't matter how long the drop is behind you... the guy dies no matter what. It's sort of a comical discrepancy, but if a guy could get up and keep shooting at me after I did that to him it would really stain the game play. You can also drop on to enemies if you're hanging from a ledge and they're nearby on the floor below you. They call it the "Death from above move", which has been used in every single Splinter Cell game, except in the old ones it simply knocked enemies out instead of killing them like in this game. You can also use your pistol while you're hanging from a ledge or pipe, along with the ability to execute. The use of your pistol from a ledge is a nice touch, and was missing from previous games. If you attempt a melee kill while your enemy is aware of you they'll sometimes resist it, leaving you vulnerable but it's easy to just try again until you get it. They can melee you as well if you're close to them and you're not careful, usually resulting in death. Opening doors and performing certain other actions are context sensitive and require you to be looking in the right direction to perform the desired action, which is similar to the style of the old games. It can be frustrating when there are multiple options when you're near context sensitive actions, especially closing doors. There are times when you literally have to walk like 10 feet away from the door before the option to close it comes up, which is a weird technical issue. You can also take a human shield to protect yourself from gunfire, or bash them through certain doors giving them quite a headache. The options don't stop there either. If you're in the right area you can toss an enemy through glass to be hurled out the other side, and you can even toss your hostage at another enemy knocking them both out. All the moves are much more violent in Conviction, and really speak volumes to the overhauled theme of the game.
Multiplayer has certainly been no scuff for Ubi Soft ever since they started it in this series with Pandora Tomorrow. The multiplayer modes include Hunter, in which you and other players will work together to eliminate all of the enemies within a given area. Last Stand mode will have you defending an EMP device from enemy attack for a certain amount of time. Face-Off is a mode in which two players try to kill each other, and CPU enemies in a blood fest to see who gets the most points. You can also play through the Co-Op story mode via Xbox Live with another player, as well as on the same console via split-screen. Playing co-op mode may be the most fun feature of Conviction, especially since you can coordinate your marked executions and chain them together making it potentially possible for up to 8 in a row. Obviously it's difficult to get that situation, but even pulling off 5 or 6 is pretty exhilarating. The best part is that no matter who makes the mark, either of you can make the execution as long as you're in range of it. If your enemy puts you into a choke hold you'll have the option to distract him with A so that you're partner can get a clearer shot. Also if one person gets killed the other player can revive them but only with a 60 second window. Luckily there really aren't any areas of the maps that take longer than that to run through, and if you don't save them the mission fails. If you do fall you have the option of either playing dead or going for a last stand with your pistol. You have to press A after you die to sit up then start firing. If you try to keep shooting the guards will notice that you're not really dead and will be alerted to you once more, and if they get you again your done for. If you're the one doing the rescuing you'll see a medical icon displayed above your partners body, making it easier to find them. Keeping track of your partner if they're out of sight otherwise is easy as they'll be displayed on your screen as a white outlined figure in the distance, sort of like what your enemies look like after you catch them on your sonar goggles.
You can also play the co-op missions solo through the denial ops game mode allowing you to choose between hunter and last stand modes. There is also an Infiltration mode in which the goal is to take out all of your enemies without being detected at all. Most of the missions are basically reduced to shooting lights and taking out your enemies one by one, but that's essentially the mechanic for a lot of stealth games. Some of the bigger levels in Hunter mode are setup for more variety and stealth, making it more appealing to long time Splinter Cell gurus. You have more maneuverability because of the bigger maps allowing for more stealth, which is the main point of hunter mode, especially since reinforcements show up if you're detected, meaning you have to take out twice as many enemies as you did before. You can still go Rambo on them if you want, and there are even spots where you can take control of a wall turret in order to drop big groups of enemies. Some parts are easy, some parts are mildly difficult. Your enemies still cuss at you and taunt you, but your character in this game mode also spit out a few words of love after you kill someone. Usually it's something like "From America with love A**hole" or something cheesy like "Sorry chief... not your day." My favorite one is "A**hole...down..." The characters here can also use any of the guns and gadgets that Sam acquired in the campaign, while retaining all of the upgrades you may have already purchased. You can also choose between several different armors to wear after you purchase them. These are also upgradeable in the areas of bigger ammo pouches, higher grade resistance to damage, and more gadget capacity bringing you up to 5 if you choose to equip it... otherwise the default is 2 and one of your gadgets for some reason HAS to be the portable EMP. If you get killed and have to retry you can expect your enemies to be in different spots sometimes to start. To add to the difficulty even further the developers made some lights unbreakable. In fact, they won't even let you fire a bullet off as long as your cross-hair is on a specific light, or a friendly character.
You can download Infiltration mode via the Uplay beta site which is accessible through the game's main menu, but you have to have bought the special edition. From there all you have to do is create a user name and password (they have you're Xbox Live account as default) and you can start earning rewards for Conviction by completing certain tasks in the game. A few of them are the same as the achievements, and there are some nice rewards to redeem with the Uplay points you earn, with more to come in the future.
Conviction also has a few glaring flaws, some of which don't make sense to me. First of all... you do NOT have the option to pick up a body and move it in to hiding. Your best hope is to wait until an enemy is near a shadow then get rid of him. Either that or shoot the surrounding lights after a kill and hope that it covers up the corpse. Of course you can also take a human shield and knock him out where ever you want after moving him around, so that helps a lot. There are even some tight spots and corners that you can throw your enemy into that not even your own character can't walk through, so it's not all bad. You just need to be careful about where you decide to hide them and make sure you can live with it, because you can't change it afterward. Now... for the MOST part this doesn't affect game play too much, considering most of the stealth kills are set up for you to get away with, and have the body be hidden anyway. However there are a few parts to some levels in which you can have absolutely no alerts, otherwise it's mission failure. Sure it makes it more challenging, but it waters down the variety in which to approach your strategy in certain areas, and kills the realism to the game overall. You could argue it however, seeing how Sam Fisher is supposed to have the attitude of simply blowing through each level to get to the person he's looking for asap. Also the guards in a majority of the levels seem to be expecting Sam to be heading their way, and when they find a dead body it doesn't alert all of the guards, just the ones that find the body. All it does it is alter the movement paths of those particular guards and no one else, even though they'll radio the fact that someone is dead which is unrealistic, but isn't too big of a deal. For those reasons I don't criticize the choice made by the developer's too much, but it's still something I would have liked to have, especially considering every Splinter Cell game to date has that option.
Another thing that bothers me is not as big of a deal, but can potentially frustrate people as it may get you killed. There are times when you are covering up against a wall that is cloaked by shadow, and you move to the edge of the wall in order to peek around the corner with your gun and suddenly you're not hidden by shadow anymore. That isn't the problem, seeing as how some lights will project down the hallway and cut off at the edge of the wall you're covering against. When you peek out Sam moves his head like a foot or so into plain sight, making you visible if there's light down that particular path. The problem is that sometimes when you decide to stop peeking around the corner and cover yourself again, you're still visible and not hidden in shadow. This forces you to slide a little further back in order to hide yourself again. I realize that this is simply a minor glitch in the visualization engine, but it's a small inconvenience that can potentially get you killed. Luckily I only came across a couple of places in the game where it happened.
Yet another minor inconvenience has to do with marking opponents for executions. Let's say you have a pistol that can mark up to 4 enemies. And let's say you currently have 4 marked just for the sake of tracking them due to a large area. If you decide to switch to a weapon that only allows 2 marks, the you'll automatically lose 2 of your marks as soon as you do. Furthermore, when you switch back to your gun with 4 marks, you will not have regained the 2 that you lost. It makes sense but I'm sure they could have made the 2 lost marks in this case simply unusable with the 2 mark weapon, but reusable when you switched to your 4 mark weapon. Of course which two targets you lose and regain would probably come off as arbitrary, but that feeling is sort of there in this situation regardless. Obviously there won't be too many times that you come across this issue, and I wouldn't hold it against the overall quality of the game, but it still would have been nice.
One of my personal yet very small complaints is that there are many structures in Conviction that should be climbable, but for some reason are not. In the single player campaign there were times when I wanted to mount a vehicle and shoot people from on top, but alas it was not an option. It certainly would have added some personalization to the approach of your strategy, but overall it's just a minor opportunity missed.
An aspect of unrealism that I noticed came while playing the Deniable Ops mode. Let's say you're quite a distance away from an enemy that you want to kill with your gun. Ideally one shot to the head and done is what you're looking for right? Well let's say you happen to miss and hit his shoulder. If you don't keep shooting and take him down he will immediately be alerted to your presence. Now... obviously if you are a trained soldier expecting to run into a hostile and you get shot, you're going to be alerted. When this happens in the game though, that particular enemy along with every other one in the immediate area will somehow know exactly where you are, and exactly where to shoot... even if you're hidden in shadow, and EVEN if you're hanging from a high ledge or hiding on top of a structure. If you shoot at your original target and completely miss he'll be alerted but not aware of where you are. This issue is unrealistic in that sense, but also realistic in the sense that your enemy would surely have an idea of your direction based on where he got shot, but not to the pinpoint accuracy that they seemingly have.
You'll also notice how extremely fast your character moves when he's navigating across a ledge. This isn't a complaint. As a matter of fact I love it because it really speed things up and furthers the "Ninja" feeling that most of us love to embrace.
I realize that the length of the single player campaign is a common complaint, but it's actually about the same length as any other Splinter Cell, possibly a bit shorter once you really know what you're doing.
Another one is that Conviction is easy, which it is for the most part. It's not too difficult to wipe out a group of enemies, given the effectiveness of certain gadgets, and simply performing head shots while under cover. There are a few places in the game that you'll spend a little while retrying, but in a lot of cases it just takes a matter of time to realize that there's really only one or two actual strategies. I say it's a good difficulty, as you won't be blowing through it the first time you play, but you probably won't have to retry any part more than 4 or 5 times, especially cause the game moves so quickly by nature. Conviction also runs on checkpoints as far as saving your game goes. Why they chose not to let you save wherever you want is sort of a question, but I suppose it's because of the pace of the game. The checkpoints are frequent enough for the most part, but there are times when you have to retry where you'll curse the fact that you have to start over from that spot.
The last one I can think of is that you don't have to pick locks at any point in the game. If a door is locked it means it's insignificant and irrelevant. To me that sort of bogs down the feeling of stealth and espionage, but again that isn't the point of this game. Stealth is important in Conviction, but it's designed in a way that you don't have to rely on it. You can still bash doors open and knock out the guy on the other side which is always fun to do.
Overall Splinter Cell Conviction is a solid 3rd person action/stealth game with a couple of development indiscretions, a stellar presentation and very logical game play elements that give you a sense of both realism and the out right ridiculousness of a military action movie. Stealth nuts will more than likely still be satisfied with this iteration, but most of that satisfaction will probably come from the Deniable ops campaign as opposed to the main one. You'll get about the same value for your money as the previous games as the single player campaign is quite short, but multiplayer adds a little more depth and is certainly re-playable. Between those and all of the P.E.C. challenges, Conviction offers an adequate amount of content. Some of the stealth and espionage elements found in the first 4 games have completely vanished, which will more than likely disappoint a select crowd of Splinter Cell veterans. Personally I'm just taking if for what it is, and if you can do that you'll probably find that it's very enjoyable and satisfying. It's not the best Splinter Cell, but I'd say it's a lot better than Double Agent, and possibly the original game. I would more specifically give the game a rating of about 8.3 objectively, so there you have it.
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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