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

The best co-op game of 2010, and a strong stealth/action title.

The Sam Fisher we once knew is gone along with his tremendously skillful abilities to slink around in the shadows and carry out orders for the NSA sub-branch agency known as Third Echelon. Instead were giving in favor a vengeance seeking rouge agent on a personal vendetta to pursue the man responsible for the death of his daughter. Conviction is more than a new outing in Ubisofts long running stealth/action series Splinter cell-- its a more fierce gameplay experience that gives players a lot of lethal tools to rid enemies in all sorts of brutal ways. A big product of this is a handful of new gameplay mechanics that allows Sam to string together a composition of accurate kills, vanish with ease and move cover to cover.  These are awesome new additions, though hardcore devotees of the series might have liked these new gameplay tweaks and additions better if they had not replaced standby staples such as lockpicking and the abillity to move bodies around. But in spite of this, Conviction stills provides a good mix of stealth and action that works well in the singleplayer, but far better in the excellent co-op modes.

Meet Andriy Kobin, whom Fisher isnt too happy to see.
Storywise, Conviction takes place shortly after the previous game, Double Agent and the death of Sam´s daughter and his best friend and former boss Lambert, have forced Sam to resign from Third Echelon and hunt down the man he believes to have killed his daughter. As the story unfolds however, Sam is thrusted into various conspiracies and he soon uncovers a plot that involves unleashing  weapons of mass destruction on american soil. Sam still remains a loose cannon, though. He has no longer any rules, orders or any other constraints to prevent him from accomplishing his objectives-- whenever that involves snapping someone´s neck, rushing in guns blazing or slamming a dudes face into a mirror.

The story isnt necessarily original because of the plot itself but rather in the way its conveyed and progressed. During missions, both objectives, story sequences and small cutscenes are presented directly within the environments as if they were projected on the surfaces. There are also numerous cutscenes and interrogating scenes that are fully interactive and the story is also bolstered by some excellent voice acting with actor Michael Ironside reprising his role as Sam fisher.

But in addition to Sam´s gripping tale, there is also a separate co-op campaign that details some of the events prior to the singleplayer mode. Advertised as a prologue campaign, the two agents "Archer" and "Kestrel" --working for Third Echelon and its russian equivalent Voron respectively, are forced to locate four stolen warheads and prevent them from being sold on the black market. The story here is just as compelling as ever and the addition of the same unique storytelling mechanics as in the singleplayer along with a clever twist at the end makes this mode very worthwhile. The co-op campaign also features its own exclusive levels, set-piece moments, challenges and suprises.

Since Sam is an elite agent no longer tied to the government, he no longer needs to obey the rules of engagement. Sam has
If you have a fetish for headshots, then you will love Splinter Cell: Conviction.
during his absence learned some new tricks that dramatically changes the gameplay this time around. Perhaps the biggest addition is the new "Mark and Execute" feature. Here Sam can at any given time designate enemies and track them as they patrol around in the environments. If he then manages to pull off a close combat kill, he can then execute these marks when within range.

When executing enemies the game enters an autopilot and instantly takes out all your marked targets within seconds. During this time, players are treated with some close up shots, slowmotion and other convincing effects that makes each execute look slick and satisfying. But since you can only pull of this move after a hand to hand kill, strategy and finess still implies. If Sam happens to get detected, its no longer game over. A ghostly like silhouette appears at your last known position if an enemy manages to alert other nearby enemies, giving you a faithful opportunity to vanish, flank or setup traps for converging enemies.

These new gameplay elements works in tandem to make you feel more empowered than ever before, but as always, Sam can only take a few shots before biting the dust, so sneaking around carefully is still crucial. However, the stealth aspects have been much more simplified this time around. When hiding in the shadows, the colour on-screen becomes desaturated to black -and -white and comes back when you are out in the open. This make it all the more convincing to shoot out lights to create shadows and move cover to cover and shadow to shadow, which works great thanks to a robust cover system.

During the singleplayer portion, you will sneak about in the streets of Washington, Third Echelon headquarters, a flash back at a mission devoted to Iraq and rid the White house of enemy presence. The streamlined mission structure and varied environments helps to make up the pacing of the singleplayer which is broken up by checkpoints, weapon stashes-- to upgrade guns and gear and more strickful missions that involves eavesdropping on conversations or infiltrating certain areas undetected and unharmed.  A few awkward sequences and a reletavely short lenght brings it down a few notches and if youre going into Conviction and expecting a great singleplayer experience, you might come away a little dissapointed and newcomers of the series wont be up to speed all that well about the overarching storyline.

Make a hole!
The co-op does make up a lot for this though, and the gameplay mechanics from the singleplayer are translated greatly over to the multiplayer and executing enemies in tandem or taking turns in interrogating enemies is really fun. Your upgrade points and beefed up weapons are also persistent so you can rock it out with your maxed out pistol both in the singleplayer and co-op modes. Overall you will spend around seven to ten hours in the singleplayer and the co-op campaign offers an additional four to six, but its in the deniable ops missions that you will get the most of your money.

Comprised of four game modes that involves anything from clearing zones of patrolling enemies to doing the former without being detected to holding of waves of enemy assaults as you protect an EMP unit-- these modes are playable both solo or cooperatively and can be incredibly addictive and challenging on the harder difficulty settings. When all these modes come together there is a lot more content here than you might think and the two campaigns offers lasting replay value and the various deniable-ops modes can ensure an unhealthy addiction.

Presentation wise, Conviction shines with its sense of lighting, unique storytelling, spot on voice acting and distinct environments. While you will come across some unsightly bugs or some stiff character models that lacks proper lip-synch, it still looks fine by todays standards but does little to push the potential of the Xbox 360. The soundtrack is nice though and ramps up at moments of intensity and lends an atmospheric tone during quiet suspense. Its no technical marvel, but it is a passable visual package that does manage to stand out abit from the pack.

So yes, the Splinter Cell series has gone through a unique change, one that will invite newcomers but fans should have no problem grasping the new gameplay changes and enjoy it for what it is. While its it abit rough around the edges and players who picks it up strickly for the singleplayer mode will be left out in the cold,  Splinter Cell: Conviction still offers a ton of value and reason to come back.    
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