Sam Fisher is back and he's on a mission to find his daughter's killer. Arguably gaming's most intimidating interrogator, players will use Sam's expansive arsenal of moves to unravel a conspiracy filled with twists and turns. There's a lot to love in the franchise's latest chapter, so here's what we thought of the Xbox 360 and PC exclusive:
Splinter Cell: Conviction is the best game the franchise has offered in quite some time. After a few delays, the final product has definitely been worth the wait; though we wish the fun would have lasted just a little bit longer.
While most Splinter Cell games have traditionally focused heavily on stealth mechanics, Conviction lessens the sneaking around, which ultimately allows the game to flow much more smoothly. The art of not being seen still plays a major role in the game; you just won't find yourself crawling from cover to cover the entire time. Probably the best improvement to this aspect of the game is the black-and-white to color dynamic: when Sam is hidden, the world goes black and white, when he can be seen, it's back to color.
Perhaps most notable this time around is the game's new expository system. Conviction skips a lot of the conventional cutscenes we're used to and instead opts for an innovative environmental-projection packaging where video and mission objectives are artfully displayed on walls, vehicles, and other objects. This, too, helps the game skip along and we really enjoyed the seamlessness it was able to provide. This is by far the best narrative of any Splinter Cell game.
We also really enjoyed the execution currency system. For every sneak-attack melee kill you perform, you're granted the ability to take out multiple targets in one gorgeous cinematic sequence. This really encourages the player to take advantage of Sam's skill set and be creative.
New fluid action, design improvements, and better gameplay make Splinter Cell: Conviction a definite must-have for fans of the franchise--we're just a little disappointed the single player campaign ended as quickly as it did. There's plenty of replay value in the solid co-op game mode, so those looking for an added incentive to buy can find it there.
It's been quite a while since I visited any sort of Tom Clancy game, which I find funny because I remember a time not so long ago when the market seemed Clancy-supersaturated. Though it's great to see Sam Fisher back, I'll admit that the intricacies and patience of the stealth series never matched my gung-ho style. Conviction is a smoother action experience--more of a living Hollywood movie than the tactical games of past. On the other hand, this moves Conviction further into the immersive action/shooter territory already occupied by shooters that are getting, to some degree, ever more complicated.
The main single-player game is short but difficult, and shooting people often seems as good a strategy as being clever and quiet. The presentation and atmospherics might have been my favorite part--the overlaid flashbacks and mission objectives turn the game into slick interactive television. Sure, to some degree, they also make the game a tiny bit less realistically gritty, and while I hope future Clancy games don't lose their military gadget-nerd legacy altogether, I appreciate Ubisoft extending a hand to those of us who found the previous entries a little hard to access. More action, in this case, is appreciated.
Splinter Cell, and other games of the "stealth" genre, are unique in that they directly address one of the great challenges of virtual worlds, situational awareness. No matter how good the graphics, gameplay or presentation of a game may be, it's still very difficult to achieve the kind of visual hypnosis one gets from a good film or television presentation by driving an avatar with a plastic stick through a 2D environment on a computer monitor or TV screen.
The subtle clues we use to navigate the real world--peripheral vision, depth perception, etc., are stripped away. Of our five senses, we get about half the benefit of our sense of sight, and a decent amount from our hearing (at least if one has a good 5.1 surround sound setup). Force feedback controllers that rumble in the hand may add a tiny bit of touch to the mix, but that's about it--at least until they start making games in taste-o-vision.
Under most circumstances--and Splinter Cell: Conviction is a great example of this--games add what are essentially cheats in order to make up for these missing senses. These range from onscreen heads-up displays, to maps, to a pulled-out third-person camera angle that provides some of the missing field-of-view.
The Splinter Cell series uses the mechanics of stealth gameplay to add even more additional layers of contextual information. In this case, it includes a change in the color saturation to indicate how hidden in shadows Sam Fisher is, an on-screen warning if he's spotted by an enemy, and a sci-fi-esque pair of night vision goggles that can see in the dark, through walls, and provide feedback beyond what one would expect even a real-world superspy to have.
In practice, no game, no matter how well done, comes close to the you-are-there feel of simply walking down a street in real life. But, the stealth genre, which includes games such as Splinter Cell, Metal Gear Solid, and Thief, has done a better job than most at turning these limitations into a compelling gameplay feature. And that's also why, even though it is a very solid overall entertainment experience (so engaging that we managed to blast through it in a single weekend), we're mildly disappointed Conviction doesn't rely more on that, choosing instead to dilute the stealth with more common cover-and-shoot action.