Keeping the faith…?
To say that ‘Conviction’ pushes the boundaries of what Splinter Cell is, would be an understatement. As it really doesn’t conform to the Splinter Cell principles, less even than Double Agent, I think that this rebellion was important. The story is very different now, it’s personal to Sam, and the game reflects this in its rawness. Sam is no longer just a Third Echelon lapdog, he is doing this for himself. This makes the game more aggressive as a whole, the emphasis is on revenge so the gameplay makes up for this by introducing an enhanced combat interface, because in all honesty in the other games when the bullets began to fly, Sam sucked balls in combat.
An area that is somewhat of an afterthought in the other games and only began to see prevalence in DA is the narrative, but in this game the storyline is strong. Sam is on the trail of whoever murdered his daughter, he is in it for himself, for closure. As the story progresses there are a number of twists and turns that lead Sam down differing paths. These paths lead him to different places which manifest as the missions. I won’t go into great detail about the finer points of the story, that would certainly spoil it for anyone who has not played it.
The premise of the story is much more memorable in this Splinter Cell, as in the first games the story was really only something to hold the missions together but realistically most people who played the first three couldn’t tell you a quarter of the story, that’s just the way it was. None the worse for it, but certainly not wielding the epic prowess of games such as MGS for weaving a colourful and involving storyline. In this the writers have really tried to developed Sam’s character as being more than the wise-cracking solo operative who makes light work and conversation of killing. In this we see Sam as a father too, in a short interlude in the game you actually play Sam in his own house and in another part of the game you are transported back to when Sam served in the first Gulf War. This gives the astute player an insight into Sam as a person, maybe this is an endeavour to make his cause seem more worthwhile. Personally I think it is a breath of fresh air from the stale old concepts of mission after mission tied loosely together with what was in all honesty, some pretty watery narratives.
The game is well finished and stands out as a stand alone game as well as part of the Splinter Cell series.
As reality goes this game certainly does well in ditching the old light meter that was used in the first three. Now there is a clever use of monochrome to indicate your visibility to the enemy which is a nice touch that leaves the HUD free from clutter. Sound is up to you as well, run around like a moron and you are going to make noise, crouch and you make considerably less noise, though again there is no sound meter to help you here either, so close proximity encounters with enemies will certainly test you a little more. The enemy AI seems to have improved as well, don’t be surprised if you can’t get away with standing right in front of a guard without him seeing you like you could in the other games, if you move, he will most likely spot you. Bust lights and the enemy will instantly know something is up and will be on the lookout. Get spotted and they will hone in on your last know position to clear that area and make sure you are not there. This element of play makes setting traps and flanking much simpler and more satisfying as Sam is now much more adept in combat.
The gameplay is much more fluid now, almost everything is done with the ‘A’ button, from opening doors, to climbing and interacting with things. This makes the gameplay quicker, but can also be a little irritating when you want to pick up a weapon next to a door for instance, the interface sometimes gets confused and will usually lead to you having to move Sam around a lot until you are in a position where it will allow you to select the weapon.
The brand new cover system is much like that used in Rainbow Six Vegas where you simply move near a corner or surface and hold the left trigger to tuck up against it. This new cover interface is probably one of your best assets as it allows you to ‘slip’ between cover positions, you can also shoot and interact from cover which is excellent if you want to down an unsuspecting guard as he walks through a doorway straight into Sam’s loving arms.
You can still peek under doors and through windows while hanging and now you can use a new mark and execute option that allows you to ‘tag’ enemies and then hit ‘Y’ to execute the marks with an almost 100% kill rate guaranteed. Traps and other things can be marked up too for added effect and you have to earn your marks by performing hand to hand take downs, and some weapons have more marks available than others, it’s a nice touch that adds to gameplay.
Sam has much improved in combat giving you the option to literally shoot your way through a mission if you like, and in some parts of the game a shoot-out is unavoidable. I think this is helped by the arsenal that is now available to Sam. Gone are the days of the old silenced assault rifle, which in all honesty was only good for the launcher attachment. Sam can now choose from quite a reasonable selection of collectable and up-gradable weapons including the not so quiet Desert Eagle and AK-47, though for some reason they have left the knife out of the weapon selections which is a shame. The upgrade options add another level to gameplay as the upgrade points are earned through fulfilling optional challenges.
The new game has retained some of the gadgets of the first games including the fibre optic camera for peeking under doors and the sticky camera which you can throw at any surface and lure unsuspecting guards to their doom with silly music. Conviction has ditched the night vision in aid of ultra-sonic vision, that can literally see through walls and shows up enemies before even you can see them, this can also be used in conjunction with the new mark and execute interface.
The game however, does not retain the lock picking mini games which is a huge shame in my opinion as it was always fun to come up against a door and have options other than to open it or bash it down. Gone too are the hacking mini games. I think this was a bit of a bad move on the part of the game designers as this added depth to the game play and sometimes ‘Conviction’ can feel quite linear. Although Sam is now quite good at close quarter combat, the moves can feel weak and you can’t interrogate guards to find out tasty bits of info like you once could, though they have tried to make up for this with a bigger interrogation mini game that allows you to bash your victims head off of various items that are around, but this can feel quite basic if truth be told and a little samey as the first interrogation in the bathroom is the best one, clearly the one the most thought went into.
yer returneth in Conviction which is nice to see and has some added modes as well as story mode, which also includes an adversarial mode, finally. All the perks that exist in Sam’s story exist in the two player modes as well so other than the missions differing, nothing is lost by playing with a friend.
The game can feel quite linear at times and if your gonna sit down and play it beginning to end in one sitting you’ll find it relatively short. The whole look of the game has changed from the menu to the in game HUD, and how the objectives are projected onto the game world as well as Sam’s feelings and other information. The game is well finished and stands out as a stand alone game as well as part of the Splinter Cell series. About 98% of Conviction is extremely good, the 2% lacking simply being the hacking and lock picking mini-games and the lack of the knife which became Sam’s trademark. Nevertheless, the game play is smooth and enjoyable, and for this it makes it a very strong addition to the Splinter Cell brand.
The Bad: Can feel quite linear and empty at points, cannot lock pick or hack anymore, Sam no longer uses the trademark knife, maybe too much emphasis on gun fighting and not enough on stealth