Splinter Cell Conviction
Developer: Ubisoft
Publisher: Ubisoft
Release Date: Out Now
Players: player campaign, 2 player competitive and co-op multiplayer via System Link, Xbox Live or split-screen
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Splinter Cell Conviction marks a change in direction for the long-running Splinter Cell series; Sam Fisher, the series protagonist, has gone off the rails and into retirement following the death of his daughter and a mission that ended badly for a friend of his (all events from previous games, but covered well enough here for players new to the series). The tone of the game is darker and more brutal than previous instalments, especially the new interrogation sequences where Sam abuses enemies for information by bouncing them off the scenery, like in the controversial Punisher game on the original Xbox.

Now that he no longer has to work in secret and even wants his enemies to know he’s coming for them, Sam no longer has to be as sneaky as before. As a result, the game plays in a much more action-oriented way. Unfortunately for stealth fans, Sam no longer has access to any non-lethal weapons (beyond flash bangs and EMP bursts, which can temporarily knock out lights and stun enemies for a few seconds) or the ability to move bodies out of sight. Even Sam’s Close Quarters attacks end with him shooting the enemy in the face. There are only a couple of occasions where discovery means an automatic “Game Over” and there are several times where Sam has to fight his way out of a locked room which won’t open until everyone else is dead. However, these sections are the least successful; what the game does best are the parts which are more in line with traditional Splinter Cell; Sam hiding in the shadows, planning out his route through darkness and moving over, around and behind his enemies to take them out silently. This feels very reminiscent of Batman: Arkham Asylum with enemies getting increasingly panicked as Sam takes them out one by one in the darkness. The similarity is heightened by the new gadget in Sam’s arsenal; Batman-style Sonar Goggles have replaced his traditional Night Vision/Infrared/EMF goggles, allowing him to see enemies through walls, although they still have three lenses for some reason…

The game starts off with Sam investigating a lead on the drunk driver responsible for his daughter’s death, but before long he’s back in action fighting a far-reaching conspiracy threatening the entire US Government. The game does a great job of integrating the tutorials into the main story, including a flashback where Sam explains the use of shadows to his young daughter while persuading her there’s no need to be afraid of the dark. Moments later, three burglars break into the house and the new “Mark & Execute” mechanic is introduced. This lets you Mark a certain number of enemies (up to a maximum of four, depending on the weapon you’re using), then Execute them all with a single press of the ‘Y’ button, provided they’re in range. To stop this making the game pointlessly easy, Sam must take down an enemy with a hand-to-hand move to enable the actual Execute phase. This works very well and can make you feel like a real action hero if you set it up carefully, allowing you to kick down a door and kill everyone inside in one move, or drop through a glass ceiling onto one enemy before shooting another two in a split second.

The other new feature in the game is “Last Known Position” (LKP), which displays a ghost-like image of Sam to indicate the last place the enemy spotted you. The enemy will then focus on this LKP, concentrating their fire and advancing towards it while you sneak up behind them and take them out. Unfortunately, the enemy AI gets so fixated on the LKP that the game actually becomes too easy, even on the “Realistic” difficulty setting. Enemies are also prone to wander over to bodies and stand very still, letting you line up your headshots and build piles of corpses as the whole roomful repeats the same action. On top of the rather dopey AI, the game is made even easier by the generosity of the cover system. The actual mechanics of the cover system work well; hold down the Left Trigger and Sam ducks behind the nearest cover. Once there, you can aim at the next bit of cover and press ‘A’ to run directly there, even allowing you to choose which way you want to face when you arrive. Where the problem arises is in the lack of any destructible cover. Basically, anything that the enemy can’t see through, their bullets can’t get through. This leads to some ridiculous situations including Sam crouching behind a bullet-proof table cloth, or taking shelter from a helicopter gunship behind a plywood crate, which seems very out of place in a series that used to pride itself on its realism.

The game handles very well, with shooting and movement feeling very natural and the controls are much simplified from earlier versions. Unfortunately, they are a little too simplified; almost every in-game action is mapped to the ‘A’ button, which often means you end up accidentally swapping your favourite stealthy weapon for a shotgun, repeatedly jump over a railing instead of healing your partner in co-op or even open a door onto an enemy instead of peeping under it.

The single player story is very well done and uses a number of tricks to keep you immersed in the game. Mission objectives and Sam’s flashbacks are projected onto in-game surfaces, like the credits at the start of GTA IV, eliminating the need for incongruous briefing screens, or constant checking on a PDA. The game also eliminates loading screens; loading periods are cunningly hidden by cutscenes of Sam’s friend Victor Conte explaining how Sam got into whatever situation he’s in and what he’s trying to do. Combined with some great animation and character models, this really makes the game feel very cinematic and keeps you hooked on the story, which is unfortunately over all too quickly (taking around 5-8 hours).

The game as a whole looks very nice, although it does suffer from screen tearing problems and the occasional lack of attention to detail in the level design. One level set in an art gallery has whole rooms of identical pictures, for example. The most jarring thing though is Michael Ironside, once again voicing Sam Fisher. It’s a shame to have to say it, but it’s time Sam had a new voice; he sounds too old; nothing like the voice of a fit 40-something Special Forces veteran, and it breaks the immersion every time he speaks. Even worse, it seems like he really phoned in his performance, often lacking any emotion whatsoever, which is weird for what is supposed to be such a personal story. What about casting Randy Couture, former UFC Champion, US Army veteran and stand-out acting star of the otherwise incredibly hammy Red Alert 3 next time?

The story itself is fairly well written, with plenty of twists and turns, and flows fast enough that you won’t notice any plot holes on your first playthrough. It’s a different matter a second time through though; the cleverly integrated (and unskippable) tutorial is an annoying waste of time once you know how to play the game, as are the numerous unskippable cutscenes, including a couple that have you following a long conversation on camera. These are well done and tense the first time around, providing important plot information, but they’re just irritating the second and should have been skippable. The game is also extremely easy if you replay it; despite enemy locations being slightly different each time you play a level, the game holds no surprises; the enemy AI is very predictable once you’ve worked it out and the difference between the difficulty levels is fairly insignificant. Once you’ve completed the game on ‘Normal’, you’ll breeze through ‘Realistic’ but you won’t enjoy the experience half as much as the first time. Although the game does include ‘PEC Challenges’ (nothing to do with man boobs) which give you points to spend on upgrading your equipment for performing certain actions, like throwing an enemy through a window, or using Last Known Position to take down enemies, trying to complete them all soon becomes a chore, especially since many of them require very specific situations to perform.

After you do complete the main single player story there are a number of options available, both single and multiplayer. For starters, there’s a very enjoyable co-op story mode to play through via Live, System Link, or even in a very well done split-screen mode. The story provides a bit of background to the main single player story and lets you play as Archer, a Third Echelon operative, or Kestrel, his Russian counterpart. There are a couple of unavoidable occasions in co-op where your characters stand upright into heavy enemy fire from crouching behind cover to operate levers or set off EMP pulses, leading to instant death, but otherwise the lack of lengthy cutscenes and extra strategic options available with a partner actually make this mode much more replayable than the main game. Possibly due to the fact that there are two players on the map the enemy AI also seems to react in a lot less predictable way too, making for a considerably more exciting experience.

There’s also Face-Off, which pits Archer and Kestrel against each other (and a non-stop stream of enemies) in a deathmatch situation. This is actually quite tense, mainly because you know that for once there’s someone out there who won’t be fooled quite as easily as the AI and might actually manage to sneak up on you instead, but not likely to hold your interest for too long. You can also play Hunter, Infiltration (unlocked through Ubisoft’s pointless UPlay system) and Last Stand either alone or with a friend. Hunter sees you trying to clear out levels from the co-op game with the enemy calling reinforcements if they see you, and is probably the most entertaining of the multiplayer modes. Infiltration is basically identical to Hunter, but with an immediate “Game Over” instead of reinforcements if you get detected. Last Stand has you defending an EMP device against 20 waves of increasingly difficult enemies in what may be the most tedious multiplayer mode ever invented. It tries ape the addictive Horde mode from Gears of War 2, or ODST’s Firefight and might have worked as a “quick blast” lasting 10 minutes or so, but going through all 20 waves could easily take over an hour, all of which are spent in the same room (which you will already be overly familiar with from every other co-op mode) defending a non-descript box. The Achievement for completing all the Last Stand maps will be far and away the hardest unless you’ve got an incredible boredom threshold.

All the multiplayer and non-story single player modes are crying out for some kind of Xbox Live or even local scoreboards to keep track of your times, but that’s completely missing, although there is a (somewhat broken) scoreboard on the Splinter Cell website, which also keeps a disturbing log of all the time you spend playing the game, including when, for how long, and who with. It’s also a real shame Ubisoft have removed the popular team-based Spies vs. Mercenaries mode from the series, which would have brought some much needed variety to the multiplayer offerings.

Splinter Cell: Conviction is a good game, but it’s over far too quickly. There’s no real replay value and the multiplayer modes also lose their appeal fairly quickly, although kudos to Ubisoft for including both System Link and a truly excellent split-screen option. The single player story is gripping and well told, at least the first time through, and the co-op mode is good fun. Competitive multiplayer options are a bit lacklustre, and the lack of in-game scoreboards for the other modes is baffling. Enemy AI is pretty dumb, making the game very easy once you know how it works, and stealth game fans will be disappointed to find the action side of the game so heavily emphasised, but it’s still good fun while it lasts. Overall, it’s really an ideal rental title rather than a must-buy, even for die-hard Splinter Cell fans.

Best Bits

- Exciting story, well told
- Split-screen works well
- Co-op campaign is entertaining
- Story makes sense even without prior knowledge of the series
- Mark & Execute makes you feel like a real action hero
Worst Bits

- Short single player story
- Very little replay value
- Extremely easy once you’ve got the hang of it
- Controls are a little too simplified; why is everything mapped to A?

by: Smurfzursky

Copyright © Gamecell 2010