Review by doctor 7

Reviewed: 06/15/10

Long time Splinter Cell fans could be put off by the new action-stealth but if they give Conviction a chance it's certainly worth their time.

Sam Fisher is back, again, for another iteration of UbiSoft’s stealth franchise Splinter Cell. What makes Conviction different from all the previous Splinter Cell games is Conviction’s heavy emphasis on “action-stealth” gameplay which is new to the series, though if you’ve played Batman: Arkham Asylum the concept is not an entirely new one. Now the mash-up of Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory, where complete stealth was necessary for survival, and the Bourne trilogy, where the ability of evading capture relied upon speed and cunning, seems like an unlikely combination. However UbiSoft Montreal have managed to pull it off and breathe new life into the Splinter Cell series and though some die-hard fans may lament the switch from stealth to action-stealth I’m sure if they give it a chance they’ll be impressed.

Central to the concept of action-stealth is a new gameplay mechanic called “Mark and Execute”. With Mark and Execute the player is able to mark or tag enemies, between 2-4 can be tagged at once depending on the weapon, and then perform an execute where all the marks with be taken down with laser-like precision. This results in pulling off those awesome elite shoot outs you see in action movies. While this may seem like it makes the game too easy the Mark and Execute feature does have its limitations. First you can only execute after you have performed a hand to hand takedown. Secondly if an enemy moves out of view you will be unable to shoot them if you choose to execute, though this is sometimes buggy. Thus Mark and Execute is curbed to prevent a player from being some sort of combat god. Close quarters combat and to hand takedowns are essentially like Chaos Theory: get close enough to an enemy, press button, be victorious. Yes it’s basic but the sheer brutality of the Krav Maga, which Sam Fisher now uses, makes each takedown viciously entertaining.

Sam Fisher still has plenty of other tricks in his arsenal. He’s still able to take human shields (which is quite useful when your shield is wearing bulletproof body armour), he can easily move in and out of cover much like Gears of War and he has a number of gadgets at his disposal. Returning is the snake cam device which allows he player to peak under doors, which is quite handy when you need to mark multiple enemies in a room without exposing yourself. The trademark triple-lens nightvision goggles have been improved to basically give the player X-ray vision. This sonar-omnipotence is restricted by forcing the player to remain motionless when the goggles are in use. If used in motion the goggles are in use screen will blur with static making it impossible to see anything. Like the Mark and Execute, there is limitation to a god-like ability. Sam also carries an EMP backpack which, when used, turns off all electronic devices within a certain radius and stuns enemies for a limited amount of time, except for Sam’s of course. Essentially the EMP backpack becomes a “get out of trouble” button allowing you the ability to quickly stun every enemy around and the run away to get a better position or continue the attack while at an advantage. The final gameplay change that is most welcome is the replacement of health packs with recharging health that seems to be popping up in a number of games (thankfully so, in my opinion). Instead of trudging back for health packs you just have to take cover for a short amount of time and Sam is ready to go again. This keeps the game moving forward instead of forcing you to backtrack.

Sam is still able to disappear into the darkness and, when this occurs, the screen will change from colour to black and white, giving the player a visual cue without requiring an icon indicator in the UI. This gives the game a bit of a film noir feel but drains the life out of some of the colourful and creative level design. If you are detected and manage to escape a white silhouette of where your enemies last saw you appears. This new gameplay feature is called “Last Known Position”. Enemies will investigate your Last Known Position which allows you to flank them, making being detected actually a benefit that can be used to your advantage. When all these things are combined you’ve got a recipe for being a fast stealth game where you stay on the move rather than lying in waiting, though both are effective tactics.

The single player storyline is frankly nothing new. Sam Fisher is the best agent there ever was and has retired, only to be forced back into action. Conviction picks up after Double Agent, where the canon ending was apparently Sam killing Lambert, and thus Sam is thrust into a web of intrigue, full of lies, deceit and other mysterious trademark spy nouns. The story unravels in flashbacks and flashforwards which are handled very poorly resulting in a failed attempt to make a basic story seem overly complex and skillful. The co-op storyline is much more straightforward and is told without a goofy and amateur attempt at Pulp Fictionesque storytelling making it more enjoyable, engaging and fun.

While we’re on the topic of co-op I should say, flat out, that it is the real gem of Splinter Cell: Conviction. Chaos Theory had an excellent co-operative campaign that resulted for dozens of hours of entertainment for me and my friends and Splinter Cell: Conviction is no different. The Mark and Execute feature is effectively shared between both players allowed each player to tag enemies separately, allowing for up to 8 enemies marked in a single execution, while having their own separate executions from hand to hand takedowns. This prevents any sort of fighting over wasting executes because if your partner used one at the wrong time you’ll still have yours to use that the right time. Additionally you can even join in on a partner’s execute, while is helpful when you can see some enemies that your partner cannot. As in single player executes are replenished with a hand to hand takedown, however either player can perform a takedown and both players will receive and execute. The co-operative element of Mark and Execute added into the co-op gameplay may not seem all that impressive on paper but when you and your spy-buddy drop 8 enemies back to back in less than a second I can assure you it’s pretty much the climax of Conviction badassery.

Splinter Cell: Conviction isn’t perfect, however. Aside from the single player story woes the Mark and Execute feature is a bit buggy and you may find yourself executing someone who just walked behind a brick wall. But I have to be honest here and say bugs in my favour are far less infuriating than bugs that cause me to die. The interrogation/torture featured in the game simply entails walking to a location and pressing a button making it pretty much worthless and could’ve been easily replaced with a cutscene. The in-game marketing, which I don’t have a problem with on principal, presents a some glaring problems (notably during the most climactic moment of the game there’s a giant Cisco logo which is certainly distracting). Some of the levels feel poorly thought-through in terms of gameplay, namely one where no bodies can be found but you cannot move bodies once they’ve been knocked out on the ground (you can, however, move them when you hold them hostage). Enemies also talk to one another seemingly non-stop with a torrent of obscenities that really break in bad taste territory. Thankfully none of these flaws are game ruining, though the guards blabbering on gets pretty irritating at times.

Long time Splinter Cell fans could be put off by the new action-stealth direction of the series but if they give Conviction a chance it’s certainly worth their time. Though the single player is decent at best the co-op multiplayer solidifies Conviction’s status as a great game.

Rating:   4.0 - Great

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

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