A diamond with numerous rough spots
Splinter Cell established itself as a realistic stealth game in the previous generation of consoles. The series prior to Conviction was strictly a stealth game, based on mostly "trial and error". Missions were somewhat linear and they all have their limitations. The story itself is nothing too glamorous and hardly fascinating at all, filling with a bunch of what the writers consider "plot twists" when most of us saw the events coming. But still, it had its own group of dedicated fans.
However, the fans of the series are almost limited to hardcore stealth gamers, unlike Metal Gear, which appeals to many due to its engaging storyline of epicness and somewhat diversify gameplay. Perhaps, Ubisoft wants to have a bigger fan base for this franchise, the develop team decided to take a 90-degree turn and explore on new things.
As someone who really didn't care about the series, the game felt to me like a series of gameplay involving the same patterns:
1. Find shadows; either by taking out a light source or stay under cover of something
2. Hold someone hostage, then interrogate that dude
3. Maybe use him as human shield
4. Get to target location, then use computer to retrieve something
5. Leave the scene unnoticed
6. If killing is involved, hid that body
Come to think about it, there are quite a bunch of rules. In Conviction however, the develop team took away the linear approach and gave us a lot more options. In addition, a bunch of new features are also added to give the entire game a noticably faster pacing.
One of the most important new features is probably the "Mark & Execute". Some of the more hardcore gamers may see this as a "noob" gameplay feature, but the fact is, you need it. There are numerous moments when there are a bunch of foes that you would like to take out stealthily, but killing one will probably lead to the second foe to become aware of your position. So what you can do is "mark" them, then hit a button to "execute" them, so nobody will be aware of your presence, since - duh- they're all dead.
Of course, in order to gain an opportunity to "Mark & Execute", you will need to do something first. In this case, you will need to take down a guy using melee attacks. This actually encourages the player to appoach the enemies and take them down using fists and elbows. There are a lot more thrills and it feels way more rewarding than the previous installments - where all you get to do is hold someone hostage then knock him out.
Remember when I mentioned the faster pacing? The "Last Known Postition" is the reason behind. It's simple, you kill someone, other dudes spot you, a silouette of yourself pops up, they shoot at that direction, then go search for you in the position where they think you are. That is a really nice AI tweak to the series, and it felt a lot more realistic. Sam Fisher isn't perfect, and should be allowed room for mistakes. In this case, the development team allow you to be detected, and actually use that to your advantage in which you get to flank your enemies. That easily leads to an entire pacing change, since you can do it old school, taking very cautious steps and try to take each bad guy silently, or you can go in with a shotgun, blazing rounds to lure enemies, then flank them. This makes you feel like a freaking legend in some super secret government agency, instead of "just some other dude who is really good at hiding in shadows".
The cover-to-cover system also does a big deal to the game pace. It basically works as follow:
1. You dodge behind cover
2. You see another cover close by and you want to get there quickly
3. You aim towards that cover
4. An arrow appears indicating where you'll be facing when you reach the cover, hit space to move
Very simply, and yet makes a lot of sense.
However, there is also one thing about the gameplay addition that really didn't work out for me. There are times throughout the game when you get to torture someone and gain info from them. I don't really understand what is so amazing about those torture scenes (wher you actually get to take part in). You can move the guy around in a designated area, and press a button (specifically the "C'" key on the keyboard) to trigger a short animation of Sam hitting the bad guy. The funniest thing is that, they all were "I can't tell you because if I do, my boss will kill me, and it's for real!!!!" They break everytime when all you did is hit their heads on to the table. These scenes really sucked, except for that one where Sam broke the dude's arm and stab a knife into his hand.
Presentation-wise, it's okay. The soundtrack is fine, but not entirely memorable, except for the one they play in the multiplayer walkthrough:
As for the graphics, it's ok. It doesn't blow your mind or anything. However, what I really liked about the game is how they show you the level of enemy detection. There is basically this white vector arrow showing up when the enemy caught a gimpse of you passing by (as seen in trailers). In a matter of seconds, it will turn red if you failed to move out of sight of the enemy. If it turns red, the enemy spots you; if you managed to move out of sight, the arrow disappears. An impossible-to-miss sound effect also plays during this sequence.
Why did I give it a 2.5 out of 5? It seemed liked all I was doing is praising the game. The anser is because there are four very fatal flaws that the development team failed to take notice.
First of all, the later missions in the game really sucked. After a spoilery event occured, chemical lights will replace light bulbs in the game, and they cannot be shot to create shadows. That whole feel of Splinter Cell is reduced by half. Many of the stealth elements are gone at this point of the game since there will be lots of lights, and you will be using your rifle a lot more than you pistol.
Second, the game is awfully short. You thought the single player campaign of Modern Warfare 2 was short? This has an even shorter one. The campaign itself was fun on the first playthrough, but it just grew on me. And unlike MW2, the single player campaign is hardly epic at all, and that there is little worth re-experiencing. Yes, you have more options on how you complete a mission, but there are not many. Four to five hours of single player gameplay for a game that should be single-player oriented? This is unforgivable.
Third, the multiplayer is messed up. I have trouble of actually finding someone to play multiplayer with. Tried doing some research, didn't help. No instuctions on what to do to make sure that you can play the game online with someone. I'm going to blame them. And from the control settings, there are no way for me to communicate with other players anyway. No mic setting nor text input. They done screwed up.
The fourth one is an absolute killer. I can look pass many flaws of a game, but it's impossible to look pass frame rate issues. It feels extremely choppy on certain occasions, and those are IMPORTANT occasions like huge firefights or something like that. No way I can look the other way for this one.
To conclude, this game had many awesome ideas, and were all executed nicely, but it is not long enough, and the mission desgin really need a lot more work. The muliplayer is bad. But still, it's definitely a first-time-experience which is almost bound to blow your mind. It's worth renting, but due to DRM isses, no one will put the PC version up for rent. So, if you own a 360 and happen to have a friend who has a copy or maybe the game is available for rent, don't hesitate. Just as long as you don't pay $59.99 (to me, more than $30) for the game, it's worth it.