stealthoneill's Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Conviction (Xbox 360) review

A competent cover-based, stealth action shooter!

 Sam Fisher’s story finally reaches an epic climax.   His return is a triumphant, bloody, well-paced gaming experience that once again twists and turns around the activities of Sam’s parent agency Third Echelon. In this ‘conclusion’ to the Sam Fisher story, we rejoin our hero on an adventure of discovery through his past missions. It relates not only to the death of his daughter, but also recalls events as far back as the very first game. 


The story is all about revenge; Sam is ‘Re-activated’ by the character that has remained previously unseen, Anna ‘Grim’ Grimdottir who has information about his daughter's (Sarah Fisher) death. Anyone who knows the story of Splinter Cell knows she was run down before the last game began, hit by an anonymous drunk driver and left for dead. The events of this game follow Sam as he not only begins to deal with his past crimes but he also begins to heal.   The main change in this story is that Sam no longer works for Third Echelon, he is a lone wolf who discovers the very country he has spent his life protecting is quick to not only turn their back on him, but also actively send a team to hunt him down and bring him in. America’s greatest ally had become its greatest threat.  Now for those who are familiar with the work of Robert Ludlum, this feels alot like something out of one of his books. The Jason Bourne character almost parallels the story of Sam, minus some detail and some of the background.   This could have made a great ‘Bourne’ game. (See, I didn’t dwell!) 


The greatest difference in this game compared to the previous titles is the new game play mechanic. Lending heavily from successful titles like the ‘Gears of War’ series, Splinter Cell: Conviction feels more like a cover-based shooter than a stealth-based action game. Yes, there is a stealth mechanic in the game and it works reasonably well but for the most part it is completely optional. In previous titles the player relied heavily on the darkness of an area to get from point to point. Splinter Cell back then felt largely like a puzzle game with shooting overlaid as an afterthought 


: It was tactical and slowly paced. This isn’t what Conviction went for, and good on them for going with something completely different. Now players move swiftly through levels engaging a range of enemies that require a different skill set to take down.   There is a puzzle element there as players engage each enemy at different points to ensure no alarms sound. If everything goes wrong a quick press of the D-Pad players switches to a secondary weapon or one of the many gadgets you will acquire along the way. Fisher eventually collects all his regulars: mines, sticky camera’s, flash bangs and grenades, etc, and for the most part, these feel well balanced and organized nicely for quick access. The weapons begin to pile up as you move through each  mission Players can carry one pistol and a secondary weapon, comprised of SMG’s, rifles and a single shotgun. There is definitely a varied choice for whatever style player you are. Numerous weapon stashes throughout each level allow you to upgrade and change your weapon choice, depending on what you feel is coming up. The amount of weapons feels slightly unnecessary. I moved through over three-quarters of the campaign using only my pistol and maybe a grenade and remote mine when things got a little hectic. I used each weapon once to get a feel and realised one thing very quickly: They are loud, inaccurate and mostly useless when trying to plan an entry. This game was built around the pistol and hand to hand takedowns; anything else feel’s a little forced in. 


The biggest game play change is the new takedown mechanic. Approach an enemy and hammer a button and a generic animation will show you silently taking down your foe. Once you complete this you gain access to a new ability. ‘Mark and execute’ ability allows you to tag enemies in a room, press a button and kill them all instantly. They have appeared in numerous other Tom Clancy games in one form or another and equate quite literally to a win-button. They try and limit the use of this by not allowing you to stack these up.   If you melee-kill someone you get one execute. You can’t melee the first ten guards and expect to walk through the rest of the level with ease. Generally its obvious and scripted when you will need a mark and execute manoeuvre such as a hostage rescue.   This doesn’t happen all the time, just a little too much for me to be OK with it. 


The game now has an inbuilt challenge system that feels, at best, a way to draw people back in to a game they may have already completed. Nothing is offered as anything special for a reward apart from gamer score and maybe a weapon unlock or two. Most people will find the challenges tedious and picky. I found some didn’t unlock after I tried them and gave up in the end after multiple tries.   This is a nice addition if you like to complete an entire game, but for the majority of people it will be nothing more than a way to unlock better weapon upgrades. I completely upgraded my pistol, the shotgun and MP-5 and a couple of gadgets, while the rest of the points just slowly built up over the course of the game, neverto be used. 


Graphically Splinter Cell: Conviction holds up reasonably well, I found a few areas where the texture warped or the wall disappeared as I panned the camera but for the most part things worked well. The new sonar goggles provide a nice scan of the surrounding area and the character models look nice from a distance. Sam Fisher is once again voiced by the gruff Michae Ironside.Though in my opinion this is a better effort than he made with Splinter Cell: Double Agent, I will still admit to being disappointed he didn't voice Sam as the broken man, since the story portrays him as a man with nothing left. His daughter is dead and he killed his best friend, yet he still sounds exactly the same? Towards the end as Sam’s anger comes out Ironside really steps into the part, the final scene being a great voice clip I will remember for a long time. Side characters feel scripted enough to remind you are playing a game and the obvious comments from the enemy take you right out of the experience. The locations Sam visits are the most varied of the series. The only one that really feels out of place is a Gulf War Flashback to ensure players know how close Sam is to one of his old Navy SEAL friends. I would have liked to see some call back to previous games here, maybe the old proving grounds from the very first game when you visit Third Echelon, but otherwise each location was varied and offered new challenges to keep you pushing through. 


Mission objectives are now projected on surfaces around Sam. Walls, floors and ceilings are often covered in writing or small video clips during interrogations. These feel like a nice change to the stop-and-review method of gaining new objectives and keeps you drawn into the experience nicely. The videos become annoying when it is something you want to watch yet can’t find a surface flat enough to overlay it, but it mostly allows you to continue forward without pausing each time you get an update. 


The multiplayer element of Conviction feels old and misplaced. The obvious reason for the weapons in single player is to bring them over for the two modes. The problem I have with them reinventing their multiplayer experience is this: Splinter Cell: Double Agent had a competent, fun and rewarding multiplayer side to it. There was no need for reinvention and a lot of players I know would have been happy with them updating that same system on to the new game with extra modes and levels. The Co-op on offer includes local and online, allowing you to pretty much play however you feel comfortable. Playing with friends can be clumsy and plain fun and for the most part the game understands this and steers away from more difficult sections too allow you and a friend to really enjoy what you are doing, although some of it is hard, but they draw you in first! 


Overall Splinter Cell: Conviction feels like a competent story driven stealth-action game. It is accessible to new splinter cell players, as well as bringing in some story elements to keep long time fans interested enough to keep driving forward while they adjusted to the new mechanics. It’s a fun, challenging game that has its ups and downs. Ultimately the game suffers from its lack of replayability. People will play the multiplayer and the co-op promises to draw extra players in from time to time but after the eight hours it takes to complete the story, there is little to return for. 


A great effort and a story that will leave all splinter cell fans happy.

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