Review by DouglasFett

"Splinter Cell: Back with a Vengeance"

Where to begin? Conviction is the newest installment in the Splinter Cell series, and it's garnered both positives and negatives from the fanbase. As a diehard fan of the first game ever since I bought it back in high school, I need to lay down some ground rules for my review here. To start, I should note that I previously reviewed Chaos Theory and awarded it a pitiful 4/10. I then reviewed Double Agent and gave it a 7/10. Here are my thoughts on the series:

The first game is, and always will be, the best of the Splinter Cell series. Pandora Tomorrow was a frustrating and annoying interregnum between the 100% pure stealth of the first game and the slightly action oriented Chaos Theory. However, since Chaos Theory did drastically depart from the first two games, it essentially began a new Splinter Cell series, that continued on with Double Agent. Double Agent wasn't terrible but there were fun parts to it. Now, given that these two games were decent but not up to par, it's fair to say that the Splinter Cell series was going downhill into stagnancy. This new series couldn't last on the same formula…rather it needed a major revamping.

Enter Conviction, released four good years after Double Agent. Four years (previous titles were released in 02, 04, 05, and 06…two years and less to crank out the next title). If the folks at Ubisoft released Conviction as another cookie cutter Splinter Cell title in 2007, the Splinter Cell series would have tanked majorly. However, Ubisoft wisely redeveloped Conviction over the years, finally releasing it in 2010. Now, given my rules for reviewing Splinter Cell games, on the grounds that Conviction is the third title in the new Splinter Cell trilogy, how does it compare to its two predecessors?

It kicks ass and doesn't apologize! Let's be realistic here. There is no way the Splinter Cell series will ever return to its origins. Ubisoft cares more about sales than the old cult fanbase from 2002. That being said, Chaos Theory and Double Agent were tired dying breaths of a series that started strong, but quickly tanked due to Ubisoft's redevelopment of the series to appeal to the masses (rather than us stealth junkies). Conviction is Splinter Cell's second wind, if you will, something to re-energize the series out of its own death bed…it was a long needed remedy to the series. But enough talk. Let me explain why.

1.Graphics 10/10: Very rarely am I a stickler for graphics, so I don't often go into much depth here. Other folks have mentioned that the game, being in development for several years, looks like something from 2007 rather than 2009. Beats the hell out of me. As long as a 360 title doesn't have the graphics of an old Xbox game, I'm satisfied.

2.Sound 7/10: Like graphics, music/sound in a game never gets high priority in my reviews, but I do need to make some commentary here. Let me just say that the only two returning characters (Sam obviously, voiced by Michael Ironside again, and Grimsdottir) are voiced just fine. The supporting cast ain't bad either. Rather, it's the enemy guards. They're foul mouthed buffoons, and swear to the point of indecency. I know Ubisoft has never been that great with dialogue among enemy guards…the first SC game, now those guards had good dialogue. Those guys were characters. The guards in PT were given terrible scripts. Chaos Theory wasn't bad (though that's when Ubisoft began to recycle dialogue throughout the whole game…just like in Rainbow Six Vegas 1-2.), and Double Agent continued CT's dialogue recycling. The same goes in Conviction. As previously mentioned, the enemy guards swear profusely, and often make terribly derogatory comments towards Sam while they search for you. Its like ‘whoa, where did all this hatred for Fisher come from?' In past titles, it was often fun to hide on top of a shelf, under the floor, hang from a pipe, while letting the guards walk around, weary and fearful of your presence. Did they ever have to be obscene? Nope, they just went on their rounds, making the occasional shocked comment before you snuk up on them and took them down. Now in Conviction, your dealing with a bunch of uneducated soldiers of fortune, who try too hard to be tough by swearing and making threats (again, I'm reminded of Rainbow Six Vegas 1-2).

3.Story 8/10: I give a score of 8 to anything that's clever and new but falters. Simply put, I still think the major plot points from Double Agent are terrible…however, since the canon story is that Fisher had to kill Lambert in order to maintain his cover with the JBA (which I completely disagree with – I managed to save Lambert and still destroy the JBA. Double Agent had different story points between the various versions released), those terrible plot points carry on into Conviction. The story begins with Sam hiding out in Malta, and after being contacted by Grim (who got a complete character overhaul by the way…apparently she had been a double agent from the start, on the side of the good guys…or something. Her role is a little confusing, but simply put, Ubisoft took the kid gloves off her and gave her a big gun. Could've fooled me, cute little geek girl she was), goes on a quest to uncover the mystery behind his daughter's death. In the journey that follows, Sam is also called on again to save the United States. It's a pretty good story, a bit hard to follow (like all Ubisoft Clancy games), but not bad. On a side note, I was disappointed that Conviction never clarified the exact reasons why Sam killed Lambert…I mean, I know why (to stop the JBA? Gimme' a break), but it's vague and just simply recognizes that Sam killed him. Its also in this instance that I'm disappointed that none of the continuity from Double Agent is recognized...IE the narration never mentions Sam's undercover work in the JBA, or his romantic interest in Enrica. It's like the story of Double Agent never happened, and the only plot detail that's ever recognized is Lambert being killed by Sam. Ugh, whatever.

4.Gameplay: Ahahaha, now we get to the bloody center of what the game is about. Gosh, where to start, where to start…

- Fighting: Ok, we'll start off with where everybody else is either happy or pissed off. Simply put, the stealth element in Conviction is…different. Toned down but still present. Now, a lot of people are saying the stealth/action balance is heavily in favor of action, but I disagree. Yes, there are some parts of the campaign where you will be forced into the open…however, as I'm currently on my second playthrough of the game, I feel my view of the stealth/action is sober. Yes, the player has options for going action…however, for the stealth fanatics among us, myself included, you will find that every level retains a stealth element. On the one hand, perched from a high point in a room, you could equip your G36 and start gunning down the guards in the room. However, the professional Splinter Cell players among us may notice the overhanging pole, and climb onto that. From there you can drop down onto enemies, sneak around through the shadows…this then leads to my next point.

- Stealth: Ok, the stealth category needs to be explained and dissected…there are a lot of strands that lead to and fro here. The intersecting strands from other aspects of the game will be explained last, I'll get on with the main show here.

Anyway, where to begin…ok, stealth meters. Gone. Double Agent did away with them by using the “traffic light.” Fortunately, that incredibly stupid feature is gone. Implemented here instead is a feature, where if Sam (or in the case of co-op, Archer or Kestrel) is hidden, the screen will turn black and white. If Sam is in the open, the screen will go back to normal colour. This is actually a creative little feature I'm fond of, because it makes the basic stealth element in Conviction exactly what it is: Black and white. Rather than the ambiguous “traffic light,” you are either hidden, or not. None of this “go-careful-stop” crap from Double Agent. The sound meter from Chaos Theory is also gone, although in that regard Conviction fits on like the first game, where you have to tough it out. If you run really fast around some guards, obviously they'll spot you. Creep around and they won't see you.

Melee kills. In the past two titles, one trigger would knock a guard unconscious, the other would have Sam kill the poor bastard. Well, simply put, there is no way to generally KO a guard. You either shoot them, use them as a body shield, or melee insta-kill. Not really a big deal, because in every level of the SP campaign you'll have the Fifth Freedom (not officially, but like Fisher really gives a damn. Puh-lease)...though, the second level of the co-op campaign does not allow that instance, whenever you press 'B' to make a kill, it instead just has Archer or Kestrel do a generic KO move (more on multiplayer below). Anyway, though Sam doesn't have his combat knife (first introduced in the Splinter Cell novels and then shortly later in Chaos Theory), you have little need for it here. When approaching an enemy, you'll be given a prompt at the bottom of the screen to press or hold B. Holding B will have Sam grab the guard and use him as a body shield, allowing you some protection against enemy guards who are trying to shoot you. A quick tap of B meanwhile has Sam deliver a melee insta-kill...there are numerous animations for this, and are completely random, based on whether a weapon is equipped, and which one you have in your hand at the time. Alternatively, there are also environment sensitive kills, like from CT and DA. If your hanging from a ledge and a guard walks by the railing above you, you'll be given a prompt to kill him, or even jump up from the ledge and grab him. The same goes when your hanging from a pole or a ledge, and a guard walks below'll be given the option for a drop down kill, or as the game titles it, "death from above."

What else, what the previous title (along with most recent shooters), you have no health bar, rather you take "situational damage." You can still shoot out lights to create shadows for yourself to move through. You can also still flatten your back against walls, and slide along. While flattened against a wall or any cover, with a weapon equipped you can poke out of cover and shoot, in a very similar fashion to what's available in Rainbow Six Vegas 1-2. Present in most levels are various objects or environments that can be used to great advantage against guards...poles, ledges, hopping through windows, running away and flanking enemies, etc. Missing from the game is some of Sam's signature moves...the split jump namely (though really the last time it was seen was CT...DA gave you the ability to do it, but there was never a place to perform it!), but with all the other stealth mechanics of the game, mixed with the action element, some old signatures just became obsolete. I must stress again that as a hardcore fan of the original, this doesn't bother me. When it comes to this latest Splinter Cell title, its best to accept that the old 100% stealth element has been abandoned, and that the game is a mix of stealth and third person action. As a side note, I'm happy to say that the ever annoying and useless stealth score from CT and DA is history. onwards.

As previously stated, the ability is still present in every level to go stealth most of the way. Some parts where you stealth will somehow turn into action, but the stealth comes back quickly enough. Well, here's the thing. A lot of the smaller elements from past games, that made levels seem really long (I make this point, and this particular paragraph, because people complain the single player in Conviction is short), are gone here. For example, lock picking, moving bodies, hacking door pads...all gone. That's at least 5-20 minutes out of each level removed. Something also needs to be said about the save function. While the past two games allowed you to save wherever and whenever, Conviction returned to the checkpoint system of the first game...I should note here that, rather than a list of saves to choose from, the game only saves checkpoints from one level. If you start another level while in the middle of another level, your previous auto save is gone. Not really a big deal, because as you'll find, levels are simply shorter, through one way or another. Lastly, it is true...the action element, of making kills, is A LOT easier in Conviction, thereby making levels go by faster (because if you missed with the pistol in the first game, you'd have a headache on your hands fighting off guards...because Sam in previous games was not meant to be in serious fire fights). This leads to my next point:

- Weapons and gadgets: In previous titles, you had your standard FiveSeven, and F2000 modular assault rifle, along with assorted gadgets. And that was it. Well, that's changed to fit with this new title. You now have the option of picking from an assortment of weapons to choose from, along with the option to buy upgrades for them. Your allowed one pistol (you have six pistols to choose from), and a secondary weapon (choose from machine pistols, sub machine guns, and assault rifles), and are allowed a small selection of gadgets (frag grenade, sticky cam, flash bang, remote mine, EMP grenade...maybe another, I don't smoke grenades, wall mines, or sticky shockers, sorry) that can also be upgraded. Allow me to elaborate further.

Upgrades for weapons and gadgets (IE to increase accuracy, power, range, mag size, or even add a silencer...gadget upgrades generally add radius bonuses) can be purchased through points that are acquired via P.E.C, or "Persistent Elite Creation." This feature was in several Rainbow Six games. By performing certain feats during the game, your awarded P.E.C points, and with these you can upgrade not only weapons and gadgets, but uniforms for use in Deniable Ops (again, I'll get to MP later). Anyway, like in R6V2, whatever upgrades or weapons you find/make in single player or co-op can be used in the other mode. IE, you'll only acquire a FiveSeven in single player, and when you do, you can then equip one to your co-op character. This is a very neat feature, and adds to the point I've stressed about that Conviction was a greatly needed boon to the new Splinter Cell series.

What else...right. This is the other point that needs to understood, for how the single player campaign seems a lot shorter: guns and ammo. For starters, you have INFINITE rounds of ammunition for the pistol, no matter which one you equip. Secondly, since you can pick from a whole plethora of secondary weapons that are more overt than an F2000, you can pretty well hold your own in a fire fight (also, rather than finding random ammo boxes in the levels, you'll just find your weapons stash here and there to reload and switch weapons if you want). This goes back to the fighting category, but I may as well stress it here: Yes, when you equip a weapon the camera goes behind your shoulder, BUT you now have aim assist. Yes, that's right. AIM ASSIST IN SPLINTER CELL. Your weapon reticule will turn red and drag when pointed at an enemy in range. Getting owned by too many heavily armed guards is a thing of 2002. Making a headshot with a pistol is quite common now (I'm sure we all remember how useless the FiveSeven was in the first game, and even in PT), and gunning down enemies with automatic weapons is quite reliable. Yes, the FN2000 (renamed the SC3000) is available later on in the game, but you'll find that the AK-47 and G36 are much more handy (the FN2000 doesn't even have a scope in this game, or the ability to fire gadgets via launcher. Completely worthless.).

Finally, I'll make the point about a new feature called "Mark and Execute." Rather than shooting one guy after another, you can use RB to mark several nearby guards, then press Y to immediately execute them, without doing any of the work. To be able to mark, you need to perform a melee kill. Then mark, execute, perform a melee kill, rinse and repeat. This feature also is part of the reason why the SP campaign feels a lot shorter, because it (along with the ability to gun down foes quite easily) does take out a lot of the almost ritualistic prep work we used to do when setting up a big fire fight or ambush. In addition to being able to mark living targets, you can also mark "traps." IE you can mark chandeliers, explosive barrels...although really, rather than wasting a mark, you can simply shoot these objects, and have them crash/explode on nearby guards.

- Multiplayer: Ah, finally. Most likely you've already heard that the MP is better than the SP. Well, depends on how you look at it. The SP can sometimes get annoying for whatever reason, making the MP much more rewarding to venture through the levels (which are separate from the SP levels) with a friend. This can be fun, but of course some friends might not be as dedicated to stealth as you are, and may end up fudging up all the time, causing you to save them quite often. I may as well note here that, instead of the ONE adrenaline syringe each player was granted in CT, each player is allowed to revive the other an infinite number of times.

What else...rather than the terribly done co-op moves from CT, the only time you two will do co-op moves is during certain room entries, or when one of you is caught in a stranglehold by an enemy guard. The player that's caught can try to wrangle free of the guard, while the other player will kill the guard and free his buddy. What else...right. It needs to be noted that, instead of being two generally weaker versions of Sam (like in CT), the characters you play as are two professional Splinter Cells, from their respective American and Russian agencies. When I say weaker, I don't just mean the fact that those guys were Splinter Cells in training, but the fact that the new guys (Archer and Kestrel) have the same killing power and abilities as Sam in the SP campaign. Since your P.E.C points and various upgrades are shared between SP and MP, you'll have access to whatever you unlock in SP, and vice versa. In MP, you still have the ability to mark and execute, perform melee insta-kills, sneak up on guys...theoretically, in some co-op levels you can solo, and then call your buddy forward when you get to a room the game requires you to double team. Not that I've tried it, but I'd feel confident doing it.

Lastly, when it comes to online play, there is one annoying aspect, and that's the fact that instead of producing for you a list of games to join, it will simply launch you into a game based on your chosen game type. But thats not enough for me to bring down the score.

- Deniable Ops: This game mode can be done either by yourself or with a friend. There are a couple game modes, few of which are worth mentioning, save for one: Hunter. Like the other modes in D.O, the story and plot structure have been stripped away, giving you simple objectives to complete without worrying about capturing or questioning this guy or that guy. Anyway, in Hunter mode, all you do is kill enemy guards throughout a level. Sneak around, kill them one by one, and if your detected, reinforcements arrive. It may seem superficial, but playing Hunter reminded me heavily of the first Splinter Cell, where there is a heavy emphasis on stealth.

- Interrogations: This deserves at least a small point. A lot of people have criticized the interrogations, but I found this feature kinda fun. When you capture certain characters, rather than executing them, you'll interrogate them, and use the surrounding environment (a TV screen, tables, urinals, refrigerators, etc) to beat the hell out of your prisoner to get answers. It's just plain fun to see Sam go ballistic on these putzes.

5. Replay value: Besides going back for achievements, there is always plenty of P.E.C points to earn, and then spend on weapons upgrades and the like (seriously. A 2x scope on a silenced MP5? Kick. Ass. An AK-47 with 55 bullets per magazine, complete with a full scope?? That's hot. A silenced UMP45 with three round burst? Priceless.)

Now, I've gone on and on about all the cool things Conviction does, but what about the bad parts? Yes, some parts of the game are irritating. I've already talked about obscene guards, yes? Right. Well, let me say that sometimes, the game feels like a very sneaky and subtle form of hero worship. The narrator, a friend of Sam's named Victor Coste, is being interrogated and explaining what Sam was doing throughout the whole venture. Now, in that scenario, it'd be impossible not to talk about Sam, but nevertheless I get the feeling sometimes. Maybe its just me and my overly critical analyzing of everything, but whatever. What else, what else...right. The objectives, "Sam's thoughts." Throughout the levels, rather than deferring to Sam's OPSAT (which is gone by the way) for objectives and intel, you'll see your objectives and Sam's thoughts displayed across environments in big text, or in FMV. On the one hand, this is an easy way to know what your supposed to do, but it can also be a little silly. For example, when Sam is pissed off, the word on the wall is "Anger." Or when he's thinking about people, their names are displayed across the wall. "Grim," "Sarah," etc. Again, probably me just being over critical, but its nevertheless a little silly. Lastly, I'd also like to say that the characters hold pistols wrong. Just plain wrong. Archer, Kestrel, NPCs, and even Sam, will hold a pistol but slant it downwards a bit to the left, WHICH IS NOT HOW YOU HOLD A SIDEARM. Ok...moving on.

Now, coming to the end of my review, some of you will be thinking that the action element has completely washed out the stealth element in Conviction, and I tell you it doesn't. There's a pretty good show of both, it's just the formula of the past two games is gone and revamped to make a less tedious and more fast paced game. Now naturally, some of you will reply "Well, duh, that's what makes it an action game." Maybe I'm not the best at explaining it, but as a hardcore fan of the first game, I approve. The Splinter Cell series couldn't continue the way Ubisoft had developed CT and DA, it needed a swift kick in the pants and a little motivation from Mr. Tommy Gun. Hopefully that means something to some people.

Let's see...I've explained how Conviction is the third title in the new Splinter Cell series, and how it needed a good overhaul. Now comes the inevitable question, "how does it compare to the first game?" Well, you'll get different answers no matter who you talk to, but my honest opinion is that the stealth is still in Conviction, its just in a different form. You can still sneak in the shadows. You can still flatten your back against a wall or hide from a height advantage and study the patrol patterns of guards. It's in this instance that in comparing Conviction to the first game, we have to bring in the game that began the new series, Chaos Theory. In that game you could blast guards with a shotgun, high powered sniper bullets, and still win a level, even after every damn guard spotted you. Technically, you can do this as well in Conviction, but is it really wise? The FPS players may do it and get killed every time they reload, but those of us who know how to play Splinter Cell correctly will adopt the mentality and play style picked up on in the first Splinter Cell. Seriously...Anyway, when it comes to the first game, Conviction has just different stealth mechanics here and there, but it's still enjoyable.

So yes...Conviction is a very enjoyable game, a breath of fresh air from the last two titles, a good mix of action and stealth. As a hardcore fan of the first game, yes, I was dubious of it...having bought and played it, I can honestly say it's a good buy. If your still not convinced, at least give it a rental, and see what you think.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 06/17/10, Updated 11/15/10

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

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