It’s abundantly clear that when Ubisoft Montreal set out to create Splinter Cell: Conviction, they weren’t looking to craft just another Splinter Cell game. Sam Fisher’s latest adventure is such a departure from previous installments that, to the uninitiated, Conviction may not even seem like a stealth game at all. Many iconic elements that have become synonymous with the series – hiding corpses, using night vision goggles, scrounging for ammunition, and that whole “always being quiet” thing – have been completely removed. The result? A refreshing and fast-paced take on the stealth genre.
The story begins a couple years after the events in Splinter Cell: Double Agent. If you didn’t play it, here’s a brief synopsis: Sam’s daughter was killed, he executed his best friend Lambert, and he abandoned Third Echelon. Now, with his daughter dead, Fisher has decided to step out of the game. Of course, things never really go according to plan for Sam. He is contacted by Grim – a familiar connection from his Third Echelon days – with information regarding the whereabouts of the people responsible for his daughter’s early death. Oh, and it turns out that the bad guys are also planning a terrorist attack on the nation’s capital. Overall, the story becomes largely insignificant. Fisher’s desire for revenge quickly overshadows the rest of the plot.
Some may feel that revenge doesn’t quite cut it for a deep and compelling plot; that it’s too cliché and unoriginal. They’d be right. However, the decision to make Sam a pissed off father couldn’t have been more invigorating for the game. You know the fire Liam Neeson possessed in the film Taken? It’s like that. Sometimes games don’t need to have an original and profound narrative. Sometimes games can just be about a pissed off man kicking some serious ass.
The gameplay has undergone a massive overhaul, resulting in a much more accessible title. While stealth is still the ideal method of death dealing, gamers won’t be penalized for letting the bullets fly. A couple new gameplay features – last known position and “mark and execute” – vary the gameplay and allow players to feel like a badass.
Last known position is a unique system in that it rewards intelligent players for being seen by foes. When Sam is spotted, a translucent outline of his body represents the place where enemies think the player is. Smart players can then stealthily retreat to the shadows, wait for the enemies to confront the last known position, then proceed to gun down the fools in their confusion. Outwitting opponents in this manner is immensely satisfying. Mark and execute, on the other hand, requires a bit more work. When available, players can tag enemies, press the execute button, and watch as Sam automatically takes down the foes in a stylish and bloody manner. The number of enemies that can be tagged changes with each type of weapon and can be upgraded to a maximum of four. To keep this from breaking the game, Ubisoft decided that Fisher must take down a foe via melee attacks in order to charge the powerful move.
Though Third Echelon is no longer equipping Sam, he still possesses tons of upgradeable gadgets. Powerful gear like the EMP grenades knock out all the lights and other electrical devices for a short time, allowing Sam to perform unseen takedowns or move to better cover. Remote mines cause quite a ruckus, but are invaluable for holding off multiple entrances to a room. The damage and radius of a device can be upgraded, making for a more destructive tool.
On a side note, it’s worth mentioning that Splinter Cell: Conviction features an interesting and new way of displaying objectives. Rather than keeping the player buried in menus or some wrist-mounted data pad, the designers chose to project the objectives right onto the environment itself. This may sound tacky or distracting, but it actually works very well. Never was I confused about the objective at hand. Also, flashback videos are projected onto the walls from time to time with the intent to immerse the player and provide much-needed back-stories to those who haven’t played the previous games.
The campaign, which will last approximately 5-7 hours depending on the chosen difficulty, does have a few issues in regards to pacing. The stealth/action formula of the game works so incredibly well that when segments arise that deviate from the norm, they feel very dated and bland. One part takes players to a twenty-years-ago flashback in Iraq. In broad daylight with an assault rifle, the game devolves into a typical, third person, cover-based shooter. Also, there is one section where players instantly fail if spotted. While this may be how traditional stealth games functioned in the past, it now feels extremely archaic amidst the game’s other, more brilliant chapters. There are sound, story-based reasons for said portions to exist, but it just feels as if the developers could’ve handled things differently to avoid uninspired gameplay chunks.
Once the relatively short campaign is finished, there’s still some fun to be had with the game’s multiplayer modes. There is a unique co-op campaign in which you and one friend take on the roles of Third Echelon agent Archer and Russian Voron agent Ketrel. The events serve as prequel leading up to the single-player campaign. In the co-op story, teamwork is paramount. After all, death of one player means failure for the other. There is a bleed out period in which you can rescue your fallen buddy, but it is relatively short. Aside from the co-op campaign, other multiplayer modes include holding out against waves of oncoming enemies, traversing through maps to execute specific AI targets, or battling each other in a face-off mode.
When Splinter Cell: Conviction shines, it shines brightly. Without a doubt, Ubisoft has succeeded in creating an accessible game that appeals to both sneaky types and run-and-gunners. Issues including a short campaign, a couple outdated levels, and a lack of replayability are unfortunate, but should not keep you for experiencing this fantastic tale of a father’s brutal revenge.