Co-op Only! Sam Fisher Need Not Apply.
Since I have not played and do not intend to play through the single player campaign, this review is only for the co-op mode for Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Conviction.
There is no Sam Fisher in co-op, instead you play as Archer, an agent of the Third Echelon, and Kestrel of the Russian counterpart of Third Echelon known as Voron. You must help each other through the thick and the thin and covertly complete your mission objectives. The idea intreged me enough to want to play the game. Working together with another player is something I find a lot of multiplayer games lack. Sure there is the tired co-op mechanic of reviving a downed team-mate that now lays standard with anything inspired by Gears of War, but outside team based multiplayer shooters, that's about all we've been subject to in the sense of co-op multi-player.
But not with Conviction! There is also an interesting mechanic at work here. Your partner can become subject to a sleeper hold! What really helps this along is that, even though you might be downed, your partner get captured in one. CRAZY! What is really interesting though, is how you go about handling the situation. Even though you are laying on the ground, you're able to sit up from your downed position and shoot the captor and save your friend and hope they can make it to you before you bleed out. But be careful because if you sit up, you will attract enemy attention.
Another really cool feature is Execute and the co-op Execute. Basically, whenever you or your partner successfully take out an enemy with a melee attack, you both gain an Execute trigger. This allows you to mark your enemies and pull the trigger on all of them at once. The game slows down enough to show off the assassinations, but what was truly cool about it was the ability for your partner to join in on the execute to gain a bonus. If you together kill 4 or more in the execution, you regain the execute trigger . This might be co-op mode's saving grace, effectively allowing you to cooperatively chain together attacks, wiping the floor with your enemies. Well that and the advancements in the bleeding out and sleeper hold system.
Getting back to the story though, the narative could have been a lot better than it was, as is the case with a lot of mission based games. We found ourselves completing a mission and then getting thrown right into another mission without much explanation. There was times when I was confused as to what was going on, and why it was happening. The objective notifications were MIA, and most of the time the only notifications were visually printed on floors, walls and boxes in the games environment.
It's a nice little visual, but if you didn't see them you really didn't know what to do next outside of pausing the game to read your objectives. It's as though this design idea was intended to speed up the game's flow, but really only slowed us down at times. Once we finally reached the climax of the story did we realize that we had no idea what was actually happening, and before we knew it, the loose ends were all tied up with a pretty lackluster ending.
Hitting back on the point of game design. There is an active cover system at work here, much like Gears of War. On top of this is a couple of other interesting systems, one where you stealthily hide in shadows like a rogue and the other, known as the "Last Known Position," where you can effectively trick your foes into thinking you're somewhere you're not and then ambushing them. The stealth and this tie together nicely, but where the stealth complements the Last Known Position, it murders the effectiveness of the Sonar Vision (Night Vision).
The reason being is when you're in the shadows, the game informs you by color masking everything that is in shadows to gray scale. The idea works pretty well, as you can tell where the shadows are and what is covered by light. The real downfall of all this is when it gets coupled with the your Sonar Vision. I really wish the development team reconsidered there shader choices here. Sonar essentially turns EVERYTHING grayscale, but also removes the light maps aswell. This gets confusing to say the least. You might be hiding or you might not be and there is no real way of knowing without tinkering with your vision controls.
In addition, you are able to see through most walls for enemies, and your partner, but they all appear highlighted in white. This as well leads to confusion as you may be trying to find enemies and/or your partner, but are unable to differentiate the two. I wish they took a que from Left 4 Dead by distinctly highlighting your ally differently than the foes just to get rid of some of this unnecessary confusion. Maybe give the ally a beacon that flashes on the sonar spectrum only?
All in all this really ties the visuals down to an anchor of awful. It's a damn shame because the lighted areas looked pretty interesting to say the least. I felt that if they were to keep the gray scale on both of these mechanics, they should have at least not saturated the shadow coverage fully, as to give you some sort of visual distinction between the shadow and sonar, much like how you can tell whether or not you're in shadows or under light with sonar off.
This alone put a hinderance on us advancing through the game at a steady pace, but it wasn't the only factor. I also have a big beef with the controls of Conviction.
I'll let you in on a little something about me first. I'm a pretty big fan of PC gaming, and more so about customization. It's not that Splinter Cell: Conviction lacks customization; weapon upgrades, armor options, and the like. But PC gaming there is a 90+% chance with every game that you can modify your control configuration right down to the finest details, but it's absent in Conviction.
This might seem like nit-picking, but this is a major selling point to me with video games, and it's a big reason why I don't shell out the full price on a lot of console games. Don't get me wrong, I love video game consoles just as much as PC. However, they always leave me with much to be desired in the control schemes, and sometimes lack thereof. Default control schemes mean there is a finite amount of ways to adjust your style to the game and that really doesn't always translate well with some player's preferences.
Adjusting your play style to a game is one thing, but locking down your abilities and playing with something you're NOT comfortable with is another, and it gets annoying. This put a hampering on what ever enjoyment I got or could have got out of Conviction and it's really sad. I saw a lot of potential with the co-op in Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Conviction, but it just felt like I was biting into a fruit that was not yet ripe.