Splinter Cell: Conviction Review
If I described a game in which you, the stealthy predator of the night, hunted down rather chatty evil-doers on your vengeful and righteous quest to incapacitate a monster of a big-bad, you might be forgiven for thinking I was talking about Batman: Arkham Asylum. If I described a game in which you, the bad ass hero search for your lost family member, all while ripping apart everything in your path with your bare hands, you'd be oddly (and eerily) on the mark if you spit out playing a P2 on a co-op run through of Gears of War 2. And, finally, if I spelled out a video game in which you, playing as a not-quite-all-there father, desperately attempting to seek revenge against those who have harmed your family, I would start to think you were stalking me if you answered the game that Jack Thompson requested in his Modest Video Game Proposal. Sadly, all three of those would be wrong. I would, in fact, be talking about Splinter Cell: Conviction, the newest entry in the stealth and gravely voice based stealth series carrying Tom Clancy's name. Will Splinter Cell: Conviction snap necks on it's way to ultimate victory, or will Mr. Fisher and co. find themselves on the wrong side of an update to a series that didn't seem to be in dire need of updating? Read on!
Splinter Cell: Conviction's storyline, as hinted at above, isn't exactly original, even within Tom Clancy's recent works. Stop me if you've heard this one before: Patriotic America and Marty Stu Jack Ry...I mean, Sam Fisher, stands up against evil PMC's and even evil....er....UnPatriotic American's running certain parts of the Government all while flying his je...er, all while snapping necks left and right. What started out as an interesting, rather novel character (Gasp! An action hero who was over the hill!) has now fallen to become the closest anagram to Dom from Gears of War and Batman that Ubisoft could get away with without infringing on copyrights. "MY DAUGHTER IS DEAD!" segues nicely into "WHERE'S MY DAUGHTER" and all such nonsense. The only thing holding together Sam Fisher is Micheal Ironside's voice work, but even that has it's holes. Fisher is now in his early to mid fifties, and yet even after running, jumping, sprinting, and shooting his way throughout two hours of combat he still sounds like the most exertion he had all day was rolling out of bed in the morning. It's jarring and a tad head scratching.
The plot, however, is only a mere secondary concern next to the game play, and it is here were SC:C manages to hit both it's highest zenith and it's most damning depression. In general terms, the game is split up rather evenly between sneaking and all it's assorted joys, and out-and-out firefights. In less general terms, the game is split up between the game you want to be playing and the game you wish you could get through so you could go back to playing the game you want to be playing. For a game that was supposed to move the series away from pure stealth and towards a hybrid of stealth and shooting, the game does a surprisingly good job at stealth and an equally shockingly bad job at action. Sam Fisher, and the actual game play of Conviction is at its best when you're sneaking about, silently dropping from the shadows to snap someone's neck with your feet, and, well, acting like Batman if Batman got rid of that no killing rule. Your ability to hide in the shadows is no longer represented by a light meter but a black and white filter that flicks on if you're hidden in shadows (and, conversely, returns color to the world when you pop back into lighting), and, issues such as seeing doorways when the filter is on aside, the system works pretty well. Sam's stealth moves (such as dropping from above to kill an enemy, sneaking up from behind to kill an enemy, pulling a poor smuck over a ledge, etc) all work rather well and practically make sure that you never feel like you're fighting the game when attempting stealth kills.
If only the same could be said about the firefights. Now, bad gun play in a stealth game is nothing new. In fact, many people would consider the 'even if getting spotted doesn't mean game over it does mean harder game play' a perk to the genre. The problem arises when the game forces you to fight. In fact, there's an entire level in which all of your stealth abilities are removed, you've given an unlimited ammo assault rifle, and are essentially sat down for thirty minutes of pure torture as you attempt to blast your way past not only AI enemies but also the game's silly control scheme and terrible shooting. Every gun feels horribly inaccurate past a few feet, most enemies have silly high amounts of health (Honestly, if I put an entire assault rifle clip into your chest I except you to either A) Die or B) Be a zombie), and most everything in Sam's arsenal is (somewhat hilariously) without a silencer, making them essentially useless. And, someone, please remind me again why there has to be a dedicated duck button (rather than, oh, I don't know, rolling it into the cover button, which, by the way, you have to hold down constantly if you want to stick to cover) and yet reload is a finicky button press? If all this bad gun play was compressed into one short level, it might be bearable, but, as it stands, pretty much every level has at least one area in which stealth is nearly impossible and your only option is to shoot it out. A few levels have several such areas, and, trust me, they don't get better with repetition.
As a companion to the bad firefight sections, the game has a pretty bad soundtrack to boot. In a rather early mission, the moment I was spotted while trying to sneak my way past a guard, the game decided to blare bad techno music at me. I'm still not sure if that was meant to pump me up for the coming firefight of punish me for screwing up. Other than the techno incident (Which was repeated a handful of other times throughout the campaign) the sound is rather good. Sam Fisher, as mentioned above, sounds gravely, and the supporting cast (both people and weapons) sound okay. Nothing spectacular, which can also be said about the graphics. The game looks passable, although a few instances of Sam shooting people through the environment popped up. Perhaps the only part of Splinter Cell: Conviction that can be considered praiseworthy is the presentation. Mission objectives are displayed on the environment themselves, giving the entire game a less ordered and more "Sam Fisher doing whatever the hell he wants" feel. If I can raise one complaint about the presentation, it's that the pressing the objective button (OH COME ON! OBJECTIVES HAVE A DEDICATED KEY BUT *RELOAD* IS RELEGATED TO A STICK PRESS? Okay. I'm done now. Really. COME ON! WHAT WERE YOU THINKING! There we go. It's out of me) displays your objectives on the objects in front of you. Normally this isn't a problem, but it can make reading the text hard-to-impossible depending on how many disobedient house plants happen to stand in the way of your text.
Overall, Splinter Cell: Conviction isn't a bad game. In fact, the stealth portions of the game stand their ground against some of the stealth genre's greats. The stealth game play, however, is probably not worth suffering through the horrible, horrible, horrible gun play for. If you can stomach the bad story and even worse gun fights, however, you'll find Sam Fisher is still ready and waiting to snap another neck.