Sometimes Change is Good.
Splinter Cell: Conviction Review
Purist may want to reconsider, for without an open mind and willingness to accept something different from a rather storied franchise you’ll miss out on one of the most polished and exquisitely transacted action games in years. Splinter Cell: Conviction doesn’t recapitulate Sam Fischer’s old form of probing path finding and doesn’t penalize or reward meticulous trial and error. Instead it’s a very modern and slickly paced entry that will leave its mark indelibly on the franchise from here on out.
The most affecting change comes from Sam himself, and permeates through every element in the game from the tone to the brutal and speedy combat. Picking up three years after Double Agent we find Sam investigating clues regarding his daughter’s murder, of which the emotional torment can be both heard and seen in every move Sam makes. After interrogating a suspect in the matter he uncovers a plot that reaches far beyond his own personal cause but, of course, things are always more intertwined than they first seem.
Let’s make no mistake though, a lot of people will outright dislike what this game is, and the ways it’s not typical Splinter Cell. Creeping through the shadows is still a worthwhile means of success, but you’re presented with far more reason and means to tackle your enemies than given reason to avoid them. For players looking to slink through unseen there’s still the option a fair amount of the time, but the reward system is structured to promote execution or termination more than it compensates stealth.
The stealth side of things is good, better than most stealth games out there, but doesn’t meet the expectations of the franchise. Out in the open everything is normal, in the dark everything goes black and white. It’s a simple enough system but can get annoying at times when you can’t see anything with certain detail. Moreover, enemies can be literally feet from Sam, looking right at him, but if their flashlight isn’t on him they won’t budge. It’s silly and will take you out of the game instantly.
When they do spot you you can quickly move along cover, a white outline will appear at your last known position which they’ll come to investigate. You can use this to your advantage most of the time but again you’ll sense that this isn’t a very natural survival instinct of your enemies. Still, the cover mechanics in the game are some of the best to date. Intuitive, accurate, and the levels design never make it feel like an awkwardly forced game mechanic.
If you’ve seen some of the preview videos then you’ve probably seen the Mark and Execute gameplay. As a premise it seems this would make the game far too easy, and that’s not necessarily inaccurate. Conviction still forces you to earn that right, and gamers instigating a straight up fire fight won’t get the luxury. To be able to do so you’ll need to take down an enemy with some hand to hand combat, which itself comes in all sorts of strategies.
You can sneak up behind an enemy and take him out, pull off some death from above by handing onto a pipe or ledge and landing on someone, pull a guy through a window and toss him to the ground and so on. All are viable options, and each presents a risk and reward if you’re trying to keep the cover of darkness. One you’ve done one of these moves you’re able to press on the right bumper or R1 button to mark targets, then you execute them in slow motion with the single press of a button. You’re able to mark targets in plain view, with your snake cam, and even with a pair of sonar goggles through walls.
The system works but it also isn’t perfect. For one, sometimes you’ll shoot baddies that have run behind a wall. Also, the still lets you load up executions even if you’ve been spotted during your hand to hand kill. It would have been nice to add some challenge by making sure you had to be precise, and shooting guys through walls never seems right, especially with a triple-A title like this.
Splinter Cell is nothing without its gadgets and even though Sam is no longer part of Third Echelon you won’t need to worry about it. At the start, he’ll use whatever he can by tearing off a side view mirror to see under doorways. Pretty quickly though you’re given all the toys you need; EMP grenades, flash bangs, grenades, remote mines, and sticky cameras. Its par for the course in shooters now but what Conviction does with them makes it special. Light plays a key role, especially with enemy weapons mounted with flashlights. So using an EMP to shut them down for fifteen seconds is a valuable asset. With hand to hand takedowns essential as well, disorienting a target can often be the key to success.
I feel it’s crucial to mention that Conviction’s single player campaign is painfully short. On rookie it can be blown through in five hours, on realistic difficulty it might bloat to seven or eight. If that’s all you think you’ll get out of the game then you should know that. Though it is meager in length it tells a gripping, emotional and intense story wrought with action. It does, however, follow the current trend of attacks on America, but it does so doing enough justice to the Tom Clancy namesake.
You can get far more out of the game than just that little amount of time though. There’s a co-op campaign that’s entirely different, which can be played online or on a single system through a split screen. Playing as two other Splinter Cell agents you take on four missions separate from the main game. I didn’t get a chance to play through it all, but messed about with a few of the levels while a buddy was over and it was pretty awesome.
You or your partner can mark targets, and whoever is in the best position to execute them can do so at will. Sometimes, you’re able to perform a dual execute which is really exciting. The teamwork involved has a great deal of depth to it, but still manages to be approachable for everyone if they’re looking to have just a little bit of fun. If one dies, the mission is failed, but you get a lengthy window to revive your mate before that happens which keep the stress down. They can also sit up while downed to help you out as you make your way over, which is quite useful if you play like my friend and I where one of us would always be on a higher level and the other down below, coordinating our takedowns.
The scripting in Conviction is impressive, as I mentioned, and the voice work does a good job filling in. What’s amusing, however, is that Sam Fischer is well voiced with how you perceive his emotional state and how that would sound but I couldn’t help think that it didn’t always match how he looked. Maybe that’s a personal thing. Overall the voice work is exceptional. Better than that though is the soundtrack. It’s cool, fitting and weaves in and out to perfectly emphasize the action happening around you.
Less spectacular are the graphics. The environments are wonderful in creating a believable setting, and the character designs are quite nice, but they don’t feel quite as real as some other modern shooters. The framerate dips at times, usually when you blow an entire area up. All told the game looks really good, but some things just stick out as very game like – which perhaps is to be expected.
Splinter Cell: Conviction is not the game a lot of diehard fans wanted, but it is still one of best action shooters to come along. With one of the best cover systems in gaming, forgiving gun mechanics and a stealth system that rewards speed and daring over acutely timed trial and error, it’s impossible not to categorize this change in the franchise as a win. It does provide a short, albeit very well told, single player campaign, though. But the separate co-op campaign, or the Hunter, Infiltration and Last Stand Deniable Ops modes greatly lengthen how much sit down time can be derived from this title, and those aren’t superficial additions either. Conviction is damn good, and easy to recommend.
HOW DOES IT SOUND? A very fitting soundtrack that never gets tiresome. Voice work is great across the board. 9/10
HOW DOES IT LOOK? It looks good, but I’m not sure the black & white stealth is a benefit. Make no mistake, the game is highly stylized, gritty and detailed, but it doesn’t quite beat out any of the other leaders in looks. 8.5/10
HOW DOES IT PLAY? Really well, but also a tad too easy. Gun controls are very forgiving, allowing a large target box for headshots. Enemies for some reason can’t see if light isn’t directly on you – breaking the immersion. 8.5/10
HOW IS IT PRESENTED? The backstory is mostly told by images projected on the walls, and objectives follow suit. It’s a risky way to present a game and surprisingly it works really well. 9/10
HOW LONG WILL IT LAST? The single player campaign is short, and for people that really only like SP, that’s a real shame. But there are three other modes and an entire co-op campaign that really lengthens what’s offered. So this comes down to whether you want to go online or not. 9/10
OVERALL SCORE: 91%
OVERALL SCORE IS NOT AN AVERAGE BUT AN RATING OF THE OVERALL GAME.