Name: Splinter Cell: Conviction
Genre: 3rd Person Stealth Action Adventure
Platform: Xbox 360 (reviewed), PC
Price: £37.00 (Amazon)
If there is one thing cooler than a highly trained covert ops expert, it’s a highly trained covert ops expert gone rouge. Sam Fisher, the gruffly voiced star of Splinter Cell: Conviction, is just that. Out to uncover the mystery of his daughter’s murder and out for blood too, Fisher has cut all ties with his former Third Echelon puppet masters, and is now taking matters into his own hands. Out of the shadows and up in your face, he is very, very angry, and not afraid to show it.
This, kids, isn’t the Splinter Cell your Daddy remembered.
The first thing you’ll notice about Splinter Cell: Conviction is the series’ newly found sense of urgency and action. Fisher is still quietly deadly when shrouded by darkness, but is now equally ferocious when in plain sight too. As much a hunter as a tactician now, a few new gameplay tricks make Fisher more lethal than ever.
Most notably is the cover system. Ubisoft Montreal have crafted one of the slickest cover mechanics we’ve ever seen, and one that Uncharted, Gears of War and Mass Effect should all take note of. Nearly any vertical surface can be hugged, providing a visual indicator pops up alongside it. A quick press of a button sees Fisher slide into place, hidden and ready. It’s precise and slickly animated, meaning those infuriating moments in similar shooters where your character refuses to hide their heads from incoming fire are long forgotten.
Likewise, the visual design of the gameworld itself helps Fisher’s vengeful cause. When hidden in cover or shadows, the world around Fisher falls into black and white. Only patrolling guards, destructible hotspots or areas that would give away Fisher’s position are shown in colour. Get spotted and the world bursts into full colour, heightening tension, while Fisher’s ghostly shadow is left behind at the place where you were first spotted, allowing you to track where inspecting guards consider your last known position. It’s a simple, quick visual cue to let you know how stealthy you are being. It works remarkably, but inadvertently penalises the gamer for playing well; remain hidden and Conviction’s rich and colourful world remains a monochrome shade.
But staying hidden is vital if you are to silently take down your foes. Dropping guards undetected brings new rewards in Conviction in the shape of the newly introduced Mark and Execute moves. Each silent take-down awards the player with mark points which can be used to tag a number of targets and then open fire for pin-point one-bullet execution kills. It’s a real thrill to pull off, with the camera cinematically panning from target to target. Combine the move with bashing through a wooden door after sneaking a peak under the jam with a mirror and you’ll feel more deadly than Jason Bourne.
There’s also the introduction of the well-documented interrogation scenes. More interactive cut-scenes than anything else, they see a worked-up Fisher throwing informants around like bloodied-up rag dolls. Dragging an enemy from object to object, be it a mirror or a toilet, and having Fisher smash them through it until they squeal is a nice change of pace, and brutally well realised, but you can’t help but feel a lack of control in these scenes. That said though, maybe that lack of control is the whole point; Fisher’s on the edge in this latest outing, and for every button push you input, he’s going to give his enemy another two or three thumps anyway whether you want him to or not.
But for every slick new addition there are a few things missing that are sure to infuriate long-time fans of the series. In this more action-orientated adventure, lots of the series trademark stealth features are gone; no more light meters or hiding of stealth-compromising bodies.
Many will argue that it’s a dumbing down of a series that used to rank patience over brawn, an argument that will be amplified by the short and relatively easy six or seven hour single player campaign. But there is no denying that this high-octane Splinter Cell title is fun from start to finish, and better captures the now desperate attitude of its protagonist than a composed and secretive adventure.
And even if you plough through the single player campaign quickly, there are limitless hours of fun to be had with the multiplayer modes on offer here. While Face-Off (the only competitive multiplayer mode) is a fun if predictable stealth deathmatch, the co-operative campaign is stunning. Available over Xbox Live or local split-screen and system link, it’s a challenging mix of teamwork, planning and shooting that’s bound to set the Xbox Live and PC gaming communities on fire. Mark and Execute moves can be pulled off co-operatively in these modes, with one player incapacitating a foe while the other fires off the killing shot. The most exhilarating moments however come when you and your team-mate yourselves come under fire. Being felled by a guard opens a brief window where you can be resuscitated by a pal, but should they be caught in a choke hold on their way to your rescue, all hope is not lost; you can struggle upright briefly and fire off a few shots that may be just enough to save them, and in return, yourself. It makes for one of the most satisfying multiplayer experiences around, and should not be missed.
Though not explicitly billed as one, Splinter Cell: Conviction is as much a reboot of the franchise as it is a sequel. By dropping some of the slower stealth elements of earlier games and introducing new, perfectly executed action-orientated mechanics, it’s evolved into a new beast altogether, and is all the better for it. In the transition from stalker to hunter, Splinter Cell: Conviction hits its mark right between the eyes.