Review by KaneOfShadows

"Sam Fisher returns, and he's been watching a lot of Die Hard lately."

Sam Fisher is one bad ass dude. And don't just take my word for it. One of the NPC's in this game clarifies it. Seriously. He tells his buddy, "Fisher is one bad ass dude." He ain't lying.

Sam hasn't let his age slow him down one bit. In fact, he hasn't slowed down at all, he's been refueled with a perpetual supply of adrenaline. The Sam Fisher of Conviction doesn't encroach with caution, because everything is on the line for him now. He doesn't have time to creep around at a snail's pace and incapacitate guards ad nauseum. In fact, he relies heavily on bullets these days. And frag grenades. And anything else that makes a deadly, reverberating boom. He is now the John McClane of government espionage. It's a much needed breath of fresh air for the stealth genre, and Sam leads us on an exhilarating roller coaster ride that leaves our palms sweaty and our trigger fingers itchy.

Ubisoft has taken the gameplay in an entirely new direction, and boy did it pay off. Gone are the days where Sam creeps from shadow to shadow, waiting for the opportune moment to strike. Oh, don't get me wrong, the game still relies heavily on stealth, but it doesn't leave you feeling like you're helpless should the funk hit the fan. This time, you can handle yourself well in a firefight, and firefights abound in this game. Intense, visceral displays of pure rage and bad ass NSA marksmanship.

To complement this new reliance on guns, Sam can now take cover seamlessly. And it's a great cover system. You can take cover behind nearly any object, and expertly roll out into another cover position at a lightning quick pace with the press of a single button. If you remember the old Splinter Cell games, getting yourself into a firefight was a hectic chore. Not anymore. Sam can take on dozens of enemies, pop between cover point to cover point, and deliver the hurt. And Sam kills everyone in his path, in near flawless succession, with unmatched brutality and carnage. He's a pissed off SOB this time around, and anyone who stands in his way feels the pain.

There is no more light and shadow meter. Now, when you're safely tucked away in the shadows the screen's color fades away, and bleeds back in once you return to the light. Sam has upped the ante with his stealth kills here too, and it really illustrates how angry this guy is. He judo chops, snaps necks, throws people out of windows, pistol whips them to death, curb stomps, and perhaps my favorite stealth kill, he pulls the back of their head into his pistol and lets off a round. Don't think that the fact Sam is now a supreme action hero means he's lost his sense of subtlety. Quite the contrary, this game rewards the stealth approach. Every time you get a stealth kill, you earn an execution. What's an execution? It's just a great addition to make you feel even more bad ass and unstoppable. Once you earn an execution, you can mark targets. Once marked, and the targets are all in the correct position, pressing the execution button results in an unhindered barrage of headshots on your enemies, enabling you to take down multiple enemies swiftly, and on the fly. You can even utilize the execution on a single opponent to let off a quick kill without having to line up your reticule for a headshot. If you're running from the enemy and you fire off the execution button, Sam will flash his gun behind him in slow-mo and waste the guy without even looking back.

Stealth is even important during firefights. You're going to be taking on a lot of enemies at once this time around, bouncing from cover to cover, tossing frags, executing marks, running up walls, jumping out of windows and hanging on ledges. Again, this is a fast-paced stealth action game here, the likes of a Hollywood movie, and you're going to be moving around so much that eventually you'll be spotted. Once you're spotted, a white silhouette remains at the point you were spotted, or your last known position. This means that enemies will concentrate their fire on this spot and investigate it. By then, you would have moved to a different position, and now you can either flank your enemies, execute them, stealth kill them, or leave them a nice surprise in the form of a remote mine for all their troubles trying to find you. It's a great tactical tool, and now Sam can vanish easily thanks to the system. Again, this game really makes you feel like you're in control.

There are so many ways to dispatch enemies in this game that is only limited by the extent of your imagination. You are no longer hindered by a strict format of cat-and-mouse taking out enemies one at a time. You control the gameplay here. Do you want a more traditional experience and pick off enemies one by one? You certainly can. But why not take out one or two, earn an execution, then mark four targets, rush into the room, and take them all out in two seconds? How about grabbing one as a human shield, tossing him into his buddies, then tearing through them with bullets? Maybe you want to throw frags into the middle of the party, hide, and when they come to look for you, break their necks. Or you can hang from a pipe, kill a group with a mine, then instantly drop down onto the lone guard below. You might even want to set off an environmental trap and blow them up with a gas truck. Of course, you could also kick open a door, shotgun in hand, and blow them all away. Again, it's entirely up to you how you want to dispense the Sam Fisher justice, and it's so damn rewarding every time. Battle getting too heated? Don't worry, there's always a window you can jump out of, where you can hang onto the ledge and pull enemies out, or fire blindly inside.

Conviction's gameplay is modeled after a Hollywood style action film, so it needs a strong narrative to support it. This time around, Ubisoft has focused on shaping a solid story where Sam Fisher is the integral character. It takes place after Double Agent, and if you haven't played that awful game, you're quickly caught up to the events in the beginning. Sam is no longer with the NSA. Instead, he is living in Malta, where he is tracking the drunk driver who killed his daughter. The story is all personal this time around, and you feel it with every criminal you expire or beat into a bloody pulp. During Sam's hunt for his daughter's killer, he is forced back into the spy game on his home soil, taking on his former employer, Third Echelon, who are up to no good, and now rogue agent Sam Fisher is the only one who can stop them.

What I love the most about this game are the locations and ambiance. It's truly an eclectic mix, from the traditional base infiltration missions to running around in an amusement park and even a flashback in Iraq. My favorite mission takes place outside of the Lincoln Memorial, where Sam is chasing an assassin on foot through crowds, hopping over fences, and into cafes full of screaming pedestrians, all the while ducking his fire. And it's a scene like this that makes you feel like you're really playing through a Hollywood movie. The levels progress in a fast-paced, story driven arc, culminating in the occasional interrogation where you can utilize the environment to give an epic beat down to scumbags to extract information from them. This game always makes you feel like you're playing a part in an actual, personal story, and not just doing a mission because some guy on an earpiece is telling you to. The stakes are high this time, and Sam is really on a mission to deliver the pain. And the ambiance to this game helps it feel personal. Guards carry on routine conversations in traditional Splinter Cell fashion, but this time, Sam wants them to know he's coming for them, and they know. Whenever a fight ensues, the guards scream Fisher's name, goading him, threatening him, swearing revenge for Sam's actions on earlier levels which they mention by name. They know who you are, and they know you're coming for them. Don't let them down.

The only problem with this is that it's an ephemeral tale. You can beat the story in about five hours, which certainly leaves more to be desired. But that's okay, because it has a solid multiplayer. There's an online and split screen co-op mode which offers a few more hours of addicting gameplay, as well as various competitive modes. You can also spend points, earned through achievements in the game, to upgrade your online equipment and outfits. It's a fun online system, but sadly he competitive system is not as fun as Chaos Theory, but that's okay. It's fun in its own right. The co-op really is addicting and fun.

In conclusion, Splinter Cell: Conviction is the incarnation of Michael Bay, John McTiernan and Jack Bauer, if they were ever to design it. It's a non-stop, jaw clenching, epic thrill ride and I couldn't get enough of it. Sam Fisher is back, baby, and he's taking names, and leaving victims. Lots of them.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 03/15/11

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

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