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

Growing pains

I'll be honest- I've never cared for the Splinter Cell series before. In fact, I've never cared for any game that you could, with any amount of credibility, call a "stealth" game. It's just not my style of game, but when I heard that Splinter Cell: Conviction was taking the series in a more action oriented direction I thought would give it a shot. The result is a mixed one that manages to combine some brilliant ideas with some pretty dumb design choices, all of which ultimately left me feeling pretty indifferent about the whole thing.
The main selling point of Splinter Cell: Conviction is its new-found focus on action. It's a smart move given modern gaming trends (as well as the success of recent stealth/action hybrids like Batman: Arkham Asylum), and for the most part works fairly well. When everything is working as it should, it's fun to quickly move through a room taking down unsuspecting guards with Sam's wide variety of moves and gadgets. Whether you're getting the drop on someone from above, blowing them up with a remote mine, or lining up multiple quick kills with the new mark and execute feature, the basic combat in Conviction can be pretty entertaining. All the Splinter Cell fanatics that keep complaining about this game not being a "real" Splinter Cell game can just suck it up, because Conviction offers plenty of cool features that simply couldn't have been done with the slow paced trial and error gameplay that defined its predecessors.
While I enjoyed Splinter Cell: Conviction's shift in focus, I'm simultaneously dumbstruck by some of the finer points of its design. First and foremost, Conviction has some pretty terribly placed checkpoints- I needlessly saw the same boring cut-scenes over and over again just before the hardest parts of the game. I also found the controls to be super unwieldy when things got hectic. The actions I performed the most weren't placed on the most accessible buttons, the aiming and movement weren't that precise, and perhaps worst of all, melee just straight up didn't always work. There's just not enough consistency in its design, which led to a handful of incredibly frustrating sequences where the tools given to me didn't seem to line up with my objectives. Even worse than the controls was the enemy AI. I have no reservations about saying that Conviction has some of the worst, most exploitable AI I've seen in a while- almost any classic AI pitfall you can think of rears its head in one way or another. Combine this with the controls, and I felt like I was getting through large portions of the game with pure cheese.
Fortunately for Splinter Cell: Conviction, almost all of these problems disappear as long as you remain undetected, making it a fine example of a modern day stealth game. The flip side is that once your stealth is broken, the fickle controls and awful AI cause things to quickly deteriorate into a sub-par action game. It's a step in the right direction, but Splinter Cell: Conviction could still benefit a great deal from more polish.
For additional information on my review style and scoring system, click here.

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