April 13, 2010
I can’t say I’ve ever controlled a grey-haired super spy in my many years of playing video-games – no, I didn’t play MGS4. Okay, so Sam Fisher isn’t a decrepit old man beating down Russian mercs with his Zimmer frame in Splinter Cell: Conviction, but he’s no spring chicken. This ageing of our favourite gravelly voiced spec-ops agent is only a visual effect in reality and after waiting a good few years for a Splinter Cell sequel, Sam Fisher is back, and is as tough and as agile as ever. Whoever is on the wrong side of Sam in this latest outing had better watch their back.
With ties severed from Third Echelon, Sam Fisher kicks off the events of Conviction as a lone wolf and after a tip-off from an old friend, Sam is cast back into the limelight as he sets off on a mission of vengeance. Well, that was what the game was billed as, and for the most part, that’s correct, but Ubisoft Montreal found a way to bring Sam back into full bloodied action as he once again sets off to save the President of the US from an upcoming terrorist plot. While the story is a little wishy-washy to start with, as you delve deeper into the mysterious terrorist plot, the game’s story actually comes into its own, ending with an epic finale.
The story’s ending however isn’t really the game’s problem; it’s the role you play towards the end of the game. Starting off with a perfect balance of stealth and action with a few odd story missions included – like a flashback mission in Iraq and a chase scene through Washington – Conviction ultimately loses its way towards the end of the game, turning more into a third person shooter which is so far from the roots of the franchise, it’s almost a little insulting. Although the cover mechanic is competent, the game feels really weak as a standalone third person shooter and the great build up that you’ve experienced is almost spoilt by the final few chapters. Did Ubisoft Montreal run out of ways to make things harder, so their solution was just to throw more enemies at you? Well it certainly seems that way.
Granted, Conviction is not your typical Splinter Cell title, but stealth is still very much a necessary ingredient... well, to begin with. Where Ubisoft have found the perfect balance of the two is where the single player campaign shines, forcing you to make use of Sam’s impressive list of gadgets, his whole host of weapons and take down anything that crosses your path. In Splinter Cell titles of years gone by, sneaking and avoiding detection was the main crux of the game. Forcing Sam to deal with your adversaries in this predator-like fashion makes Splinter Cell a better game for it.
To allow this perfect merging of action versus stealth, Sam now has two very powerful tools at his disposal; Mark & Execute and Last Known Position. The Mark & Execute feature is a simple mechanic that allows you to mark multiple enemies and then take them down with one simple button press. Whilst it may seem like this mechanic is dumbing down what the franchise stood for, you actually have to earn the chance to use it through a close-quarters kill, so the strategy actually gives the game buckets of depth. Ubisoft do a fine job of balancing it as well and not once did it seem over-powered, which is a testament to the new mechanic’s integration. Last Known Position on the other hand leaves a silhouette of Sam’s previously known whereabouts, so Sam can use that to his advantage to lure in unsuspecting foes; again paying credence to this insinuation that Sam Fisher is a predator.
The AI goes a good way to helping the game feel fresh and putting Sam’s predator abilities to the test, while enemies can frequently change patrol patterns and will be alerted even if there is an iota of suspicion in the air. The problems with the AI though come with their choices they make in combat. Yes, they jump behind cover. Yes, they try to flank you, but seriously, if you saw five of your mercenary friends get pulled out the same window in a row, would you really walk over willy nilly? The answer is a resounding no... unless of course you’re a complete idiot.
New to the Splinter Cell franchise in Conviction are the brutal interrogation scenes that advance the story. In these short and sweet moments of the game, Sam will lean on an informant for information and levy it from them by smashing their head through a public toilet urinal or jamming their face in a paper shredder – which may I add is as graphic as it gets in video games! This new sense of over-the-top brutality also extends into Sam’s close-quarter-kill combat moves, using Krav Maga to break necks and snap backs without the old timer breaking a sweat.
Although Conviction says goodbye to the traditional Splinter Cell weaponry – Sam is now allowed access to a whole host of different gun types – the gadgets remain a core part of the experience. Whether you’re using portable EMP devices, sticky cameras or remote grenades, these mission aids are important as they’ve ever been. The thermal and night vision goggles make way for the sonar goggles which border on the useful and the annoying –moving with them on makes the screen a spectacular mess. Honestly, we miss the old headwear of yesteryear.
If there was one major fallback – other than the action’s lack of direction in the latter stages of the campaign – with Splinter Cell: Conviction, it’s quite possibly the checkpoint placement, or lack of them. Many a time in the game did I find that checkpoints were too few and far between and instead of beating one section of a level or defeating one wave of enemies, you have to do multiple sections that ultimately means, upon death, there was lots of retreading old ground and buckets of frustration.
Interestingly enough, Splinter Cell: Conviction actually has no load screens whatsoever when you’re in-game, meaning that you’re fully immersed in the action. So much so that I finished the 8 hour campaign in one sitting. While the implementation and idea of this is fantastic on paper, truth be told, in practice the game suffers from multiple crashes as a result – most often at the end of the chapter when an achievement pops. In the space of 8 hours of play, the game crashed an unholy six times, causing me to replay the last sector on those chapters once again to proceed.
Other than that though, the presentation and delivery of Splinter Cell is mostly impressive. The in-game cutscene and mission objective projection is a breath of fresh air, although the bleeding of colour from the environment when Sam is immersed in the shadows is a great idea, but it just makes some areas too dark to see in. An unfortunate side effect.
Talking about unfortunate aspects of the title... you have to question some of the choices the sound director has made at certain points in the game, choosing to blend some sort of urban wailing in with heavy bass beats just seemed so out of character and out of sync with the rest of the game. We understand why he did it, but simply put, it just doesn’t work. Otherwise, the score and voice acting was on the whole pretty spectacular.
Splinter Cell: Conviction’s greatest selling point however is easily the inclusion of a co-op story prologue and three impressive game modes that make up the game’s Deniable Ops mode.
The co-op story is definitely a play from the Chaos Theory playbook and easily the game’s shining light. Offering a strong story involving Kestrel and Archer, the prologue lasts a good 4 hours and to call this just another feature in a single player game is an understatement of how impressive it really is. All the mechanics of the single player carry across, but there is definitely more emphasis on this aggressive stealth here and it doesn’t really lose its way like the single player. The co-op does allow for a thing called “dual execute” and watching six marked foes drop to their knees with holes in their head is a sight to behold. Pure genius.
Deniable Ops on the other hand is where the game’s longevity comes from. Although the one on one “Face Off” mode is the only competitive mode, it’ll be the other two co-operative modes that add to the experience and will keep you coming back. The Hunter mode is exactly how it sounds; you take control of an agent (or with a friend) to clear a location of bad guys. The stages are usually broke down into 5 sectors with 10 bad guys in each section, although should you be spotted, expect backup to turn up. Conviction’s take on the ever popular “horde” mode is Last Stand, tasking players with the protection of a key area of interest, and whilst fun and offering a ton of replayability, it doesn’t quite have the same carry as the Hunter mode. Interestingly enough, there is a third Deniable Ops mode – Infiltration mode – which is like Hunter mode but you can’t be seen. This is a pre-order bonus which as such we wouldn’t usually mention in a review, but because you can unlock it with in-game Uplay points, it’s pretty much relegates it to an unlockable mode now.
As far as Conviction’s achievements go, completionists looking to milk every last piece of gameplay out of the title will love this list. The 45 achievements encourage the players to literally finish every map and scenario of every facet of the game; whether you’re talking Face Off and Hunter mode or the campaign and co-op prologue. Expect to finish all of them on the hardest difficulty to get every last point out of the title. The challenge achievements look like the most time consuming, although chances are you’ll pick up a lot of them naturally with your time in the game. Admittedly, we would have liked to see more imagination in the achievements themselves, but the list itself is solid and balanced, meaning that now there is an excuse to try and complete every part of a great package. Chances are though, the game itself is a good enough excuse to go that far.
There's no doubting that Splinter Cell: Conviction is a great game, but it's a game that ultimately loses its way towards the end. It's almost like a 200m hurdle champion falling at the last hurdle, but still bumbling to his feet to make the finish line in a more than respectable time. The load screen free gameplay is a nice idea but it's one that crashes frequently and while the blend of action and stealth was perfectly balanced for a large portion of the game, the game quickly escalated into a third person shooter in the closing chapters, which was a complete letdown. The Deniable Ops and co-op aroused the same feelings of sheer joy that Chaos Theory left us with back in 2005, although having only one competitive multiplayer mode means the longevity takes a bit of a hit. Nevertheless Splinter Cell: Conviction is a game that you definitely need in your life.
Great voice acting and mostly impressive soundtrack. Conviction’s downfall arises from some repetitive comments, some random and out of place pieces of musical score and some of the worst lip syncing ever... when are Ubisoft Montreal going to get their act together in terms of lip syncing!?
Splinter Cell: Conviction is an impressive looking title on the whole, although the title suffers from a few technical oversights when you’re immersed in the shadows, it’s not enough to spoil a great visual package.
The cover mechanics and controls are as tight and responsive as they’ve ever been. With Sam’s impressive new agility and prowess, Conviction is one of the greatest Splinter Cell titles created from a control perspective.
A great co-op story mode and three – or four if you count Infiltration mode – impressive Deniable Ops modes are letdown ever so slightly by a campaign that loses its way in the final few hours. Splinter Cell: Conviction’s perfect balance of stealth and aggression gets replaced by a mediocre third person shooter ending. Shame, but otherwise, exactly what we wanted.
A solid list with good balance, which unfortunately only lacks a little bit of creativity and originality. Considering the source material as well, it was definitely possible to create some unique and entertaining achievements... rather than a checklist of sorts.
Splinter Cell: Conviction’s reboot of the franchise nearly hits the nail on the head, although as far as the single player campaign goes, it’s as if Ubisoft Montreal ran out of ideas in the end. Suited and booted with some great co-op and multiplayer modes, Conviction is quite easily one of the year’s hottest action titles.