Review by ElricVanClaus

"It's evolving!"

They say it's tough being the coolest kid on the playground. I wouldn't know, I played video games since the age of 5. Though looking at the buzz around Sam Fisher's new game, I could, almost, believe it. But is the hate justified? Because it's not Joe Shmoe The Gun Totting 12 Year Old bashing Splinter Cell Conviction, it's the self proclaimed hardcore fans.

Let's be clear right from the get go. This is not your grandpappy's Splinter Cell. I've personally been a fan of the series ever since the I beat the CIA level of SC1 all those years ago (and it took me about 6 months?), and I would be a liar and an even greater liar to say that, in any way, shape, or form, this is the Splinter Cell I've come to know and love. I mean sure it has a dude called Sam in it, and I can even squat, but the similarities kind of stop there.

However, evolution is the root of all that is awesome in this world, because if we didn't strive to move forward, we'd still bash rocks on each other's heads for fun. And here we have Splinter Cell Conviction. A game that simply couldn't justify staying the same in the wake of the same studio's release, Assassin's Creed. So it evolved. It evolved into a half breed third person stealth game, third person shooter, "I'm What Metal Gear Should be" kind of game.

Before you reach for the crash kart, I've only used the term Third Person Shooter because it's third person, and there's shooting in it. It is NOT Gears of War. Nor is it even Uncharted. It very much is a stealth game to the core. Gunplay just so happens to be relevant this time around.

And relevant is kind of a small word for how important gunplay is now. Guns aren't a last resort kind of thing in Conviction. They're not these practically useless toys that Sam carries around just for show. They are very much part of the equation. Sure, you can play it a la old school and just melee your way to glory (OR IS IT!?), there's an achievement for it. But honestly, you would be missing out on what is definitely the coolest tool on Sam's belt.

Conviction very much works like past Splinter Cells or Rainbow Six games, where you're placed in a room/small area, given a certain number of enemies, and from there you're supposed to figure out how you want to go about it. It's almost like a game of chess really, where positioning is everything, and faking, taunting is how you'll take down your adversary's pieces. I personally went through the game on Realistic, and the number of baddies in a room reached some seriously ridiculous odds. Sure, nothing is too much for Sam Fisher, but one against 8 can at first be overwhelming. The whole "Squat behind a dude and then squat behind his friend and go on like a train until everyone's laying dead in a circle" thing is done.

The A.I. itself has been ramped up. Or at least tries to fake being ramped up. Sure these guys will sometimes say "The area's clean" as they're looking for you even though they just discovered a buddy who's just been introduced to Mr. Deagle, but they're going to look for you in ways you simply do not "want" in a game. They will see you if you're exposed for half a second, they will react with the speed of dudes whose job it is to shoot people, and they will even move behind your cover with the torchlight on the corner. basically just waiting for a dude to pass while saying "What's that noise!" just doesn't cut it anymore.

The light and shadow meter is gone, replaced with light and shadows. However, as much as the devs might want to deny it, it still is very much the same. In what is what I believe to be an homage to another game, the intro does a good job at teaching you that darkness, while making you hard to see, doesn't "hide" you completely anymore. An enemy's reaction time will be slower, but if he's close to you, and you're not in cover, he will see you. The black and white thing actually functions beautifully, though don't worry, as I mentioned earlier, you really have to be hidden to be in black and white. Walking behind a illuminated lamppost is no longer enough, so the game is very much in color.

The sound system is as you would expect since Double Agent. Use your own brain. If you think kicking a box makes noise in real life, chances are it makes noise in Conviction. You can use diversions, the sticky cams are back, and it really all works the way it should. Sound itself is especially well done, with Surround I managed to find where my enemies were flawlessly.

Gameplay itself is a strange mix of "stylishly castrated" Assassin's Creed. Sam can do anything you expect a super spy to be able to do, run, slide, jump, climb, kick you in the knees, but this isn't Altair, you won't fly, and you most definitely won't spend 90% of the game grabbing ledges. It's a "grounded" Assassin's Creed, if that makes any sense. The animations are simply phenomenal, even if you'll still have to witness the occasional "teleport a few inches to the left so that Sam can perform a ledge kill!".

Though really, and I've dragged this on for a while now, the problem some people are having, or think they're having, or think they're going to have, or think they might have if they actual ever played stealth games but they don't because they don't like them anyway, is with the shooting.

Shooting, as I mentioned earlier, is now an essential part of the game. The secondary weapons, aka SMGs, ARs, Shotguns, are still very much here for show (and for the people who want to shoot everything and not beat the first level), but your handgun is now your best friend. Not only is it accurate on its own to actually be of use (remember SC1?), it now opens up the "tag" system. It's simple, and if you've played the demo you already know. Get a melee kill, earn the right to do an "execution". Depending on the gun, you can tag up to 4 targets. That means point your reticule at them, press right bumper, and when you're satisfied with the expected results, press Y to see Sam shoot everything you've targeted (and that is obviously still in the line of sight). In all honesty, it is amazing. It's not necessary, but it's meant to do all those Jason Bourne moments that simply wouldn't work in a game. Like dropping down a floor onto a guy and shooting all his buddies in the room before anyone knows what the hell is going on. It works, it's cool, and frankly it's the evolution of the whole "Slow Mo Max Payne" thing that just gets, well, slow, after the 50th time.

The sooner you accept that the guns are now part of the experience, the sooner you'll enjoy Splinter Cell Conviction. If you don't want these damn guns in your Spy of the FUTURE simulations, well... I mean seriously?

Story-wise (and no spoilers), Conviction comes from the Modern Warfare 2 school of thought. Cut out all the boring stuff, stick with the action. However because this is a game where story is important, you will still spend a little bit of time witnessing character exposition. IN A TOTALLY AWESOME WAY. I had to caps that. By now everyone's seen the bathroom scene. It is NOTHING compared to the unbelievably cool stuff Ubisoft came up with later on. If Heavy Rain had been like these scenes, it actually would have been fun. Sure the whole thing, on Realistic, took me 8 hours to complete (and I died a few times), but I don't think it needs to be any longer. Especially if you replay the game to tackle each scenario differently, and if you consider...

...Deniable Ops. I've yet to multi or co-op through the game yet (it can only make it more awesome), but I've played a level of Deniable Ops this morning alone. Not only was that first level crazy long (took me an hour, didn't die once, on realistic, didn't get found), but it was fun. The mentality behind it I believe was something like this: The devs had great ideas for cool infiltration levels, they couldn't add them to the story while making sense of anything, and so figured to just have them on the side. Basically, it's more merc killing, with challenge rules optional (you can make the game force you to use guns, or not, how quickly you have to beat it, etc). I'm not a lumberjack, but I'm ok with that anyway.

Also, just because it's the cool thing to do, and because you're just not human if it doesn't affect you, the game has its own Call of Duty, Battlefield, level up system. Yeah. Challenges to complete give you xp to upgrade your weapons and accessories, and just about make sure you'll be playing the game for months.

In conclusion, I have to say, without exaggeration or denial on my part, that Splinter Cell Conviction delivered almost everything I wanted it to. I still don't have my invisible cammo, and there's no "Sam, Saaam? Saaaaaaaaaaaaam" when you die, but it has lots of things I didn't expect it to have. The story mode is great and has tons of replay value, and that's before you take into account Deniable Ops or Co-op. This is where Splinter Cell should have moved towards, and it definitely made up for the long, long wait. Consider my Microsoft Points already spent on the DLC, if there is any.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 04/14/10

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

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