REVIEWS -- Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Conviction -- Xbox360
Banging heads against sinks never looked better
by Lucas Stephens
Fun factor: Fun
Worth to: Buy/Rent
Sam Fisher returns in a new Splinter Cell game that plays completely unlike any other installment before it.
Metal Gear Solid was a franchise that defined the stealth action genre. Many games soon copied its formula, or came up with their own, such as Splinter Cell. The Splinter Cell franchise focused much more on the stealth aspect of the genre, forcing gamers to take it slow and creep along one shadow at a time. Splinter Cell Conviction completely reinvents the Splinter Cell formula, now putting more emphasis on the action part of the genre.
The story of Splinter Cell Conviction starts out with the main character, Sam Fisher, in danger of being hunted, and with the help of his old friend, Grim, is directed to safety. Fisher soon learns why he was dragged into another conspiracy by interrogating key characters. The pace of the story is much quicker than previous installments, and each chapter is broken up by narration from a captured man who knew Sam Fisher well.
Interrogations have always played a part of Splinter Cell games, as Fisher would have to sneak up behind important people, grab them and force them to talk. They are much more integral in Conviction, as the gameís camera focus swivels to better dramatize the interactions. Two things of note occur during these scenes: story-related cut scenes are projected on the walls, and Fisher beats his victims in a brutal fashion on environmental objects to extract more information. The interrogations serve to be one of the gameís most critical storytelling elements.
Those projected cut scenes arenít just projected during interrogations, but also at other key moments of a level. Your mission objectives are plastered along walls and other objects as well. The direction of this presentation helps speed along the story in a streamlined manner, and it works well. Not only that, but it adds to the gameís visual style, further separating Conviction from the other Splinter Cell games.
The new leaner, meaner Sam Fisher
The biggest change to Conviction is of course the gameplay. Sam Fisher is much lighter on his feet, and he has to be. The enemy scenarios are set up in such a fashion that you HAVE to kill everyone almost all the time in order to press on. In past Splinter Cell games, you had to stay hidden in the shadows to stand a chance, but if you get spotted in Conviction, you can still hold your own thanks to several new additions.
The first new feature is called Last Known Position. If Samís detected, an outline of his body is generated, and if Sam can move quickly from where he was, the enemiesí focus will remain fixed on that spot. You then have two options: you can either move from cover to cover and flank your foes, or you can wait for them to investigate and ambush them. You can also remain behind cover, and pop and shoot a la Gears of War.
The second new ability is called Mark and Execute. It allows Sam Fisher to tag multiple enemies and then instantly shoot each one in succession without allowing them a chance to fire back. To mark an enemy, you must first engage in a hand-to-hand takedown with an opponent. Youíre then granted the ability to Mark and Execute, and you can mark as many targets as your weapons will allow.
The weapons system has also been redesigned to bestow Sam Fisher with much more customization. There will be weapon stashes placed in different areas of each level, and the weapons can be upgraded after Sam picks them up off of enemies in the field. In order to upgrade a weapon, you have to spend points, and you obtain these points by accomplishing specific challenges. Such challenges include throwing an enemy through a window or into another enemy, using EMPs to escape, performing a number of head shots and so on. The challenges also encourage replayability. Since some of these challenges have more than one tier, itís very difficult to accomplish them all in one playthrough.
The single player campaign is the shortest of the series -- remarkably short at only five or six hours. To compensate for this, there are other gameplay modes, such as Deniable Ops, which lets the gamer play as different characters in different maps to complete challenges under unique criteria. There are also online co-op missions, or free-for-all events.
No more lollygagging around
Splinter Cell Conviction has its fair share of faults. Because most of the levels are so well lit up, itís hard to really be able to see shadows you can hide in, and once youíre in a shadow (the screen will turn black and white to let you know youíre hidden), itís hard to tell just where the shadow ends. The night vision goggles -- a Splinter Cell staple -- are also sadly missing, and Fisher doesnít get a pair of goggles until much later in the game. These goggles happen to be sonar goggles, however, which act just like night vision with the bonus advantage of letting you see where your enemies are through walls. The downside is once you start moving, the screen distorts very badly, making it hard to use them in motion.
Fisher also lost a couple of moves, such as the wall split, and he can no longer move bodies, allowing for other guards and cameras to detect them. Several non-lethal gadgets such as air foils and stick shockers are also noticeably absent. Itís evident that the developers have shifted the focus of the game to killing every enemy you come across, making Fisher into a more cold-blooded killer. Also, there are many context-sensitive interactions that can overlap with each other, causing a bit of fumbling on the playerís part if Fisher isnít facing in an exact manner.
Conviction is a great-looking game, but it definitely could be more impressive. It uses a slightly outdated Unreal engine, and in many places, it doesnít have that level of definition that its predecessor Double Agent had. The textures are great, the lighting is splendid, the animations are smooth, but run it side by side with Double Agent, and youíll see the difference. What helps Conviction really stand out in a visual sense are the ways the cut scenes and mission objectives are applied on objects in the levels, but thatís more on an artistic level than a technical level.
Since Splinter Cell Conviction is a more action-oriented game, the audio is going to be more enjoyable. There will be a lot of gunfire and it all sounds really exciting. Shooting people in the head with a silenced handgun gives off an indescribable sound of joy. The soundtrack is also more face-paced than its predecessors, as it has to be in order to keep up with the rest of the game. Voice acting is less than impressive, though, but since Michael Ironside reprises his role as Sam Fisher, expect another great performance from him.
If youíre a hardcore fan of the previous Splinter Cell games and absolutely adore their gameplay and structure, thereís a good chance youíll be put off by Conviction. A lot has changed, from the gameplay, to the level design, to the setting and atmosphere. If you keep an open mind and give it half a chance, you might end up walking away satisfied, as Splinter Cell Conviction offers a very exciting, albeit short, single-player game. If youíre not into multiplayer and co-op, youíll find that 60 dollars is on the steep side, but if you really want to see what happens next to Sam Fisher, youíll do good to purchase it as soon as you can.
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Release Date: April 27, 2010
Review Date: 13-05-2010
Numbers of Players: 1-2
Players Online: 2
Notes: 720p Support, Downloadable Content, Leaderboards, Player Stats, Voice Messaging, Voice Support, Dolby Digital 5.1
Nice levels designs and realistic interrogations give this Splinter Cell a unique feel, but the outdated Unreal Engine is a noticeable step backwards compared to Double Agent. Some shadow issues also make it harder to go into stealth mode.
A few gameplay omissions, like wall split and moving bodies, as well as air foils and stick shockers, make it very clear Ubisoft wanted to keep action flowing, which might put off some fans. Overall, though, taking out baddies with all the available tools is a gratifying experience.
Interrogations are well done and make the story grittier. The story-related cut scenes projected on the walls donít feel like a gimmick and actually help speed the story along. This installment clearly distinguishes itself from previous Splinter Cell games from a presentation point of view.
Fast-paced games need adequate music, and Conviction delivers. The voice acting is a bit iffy with the support cast, but Michael Ironside is again perfect in the role of Sam Fisher. Silenced headshots are disturbingly satisfying.
The single-player campaign clocks in at an astoundingly short five or six hours, but Ubisoft included various game modes that warrant a few replays. A robust co-op mode and multiplayer also beef up the gameís lasting appeal.