The lights are on
Splinter Cell has made a name for itself over the past decade as a venerable Tom Clancy series, with its stealth elements being favorably compared to Metal Gear Solid's elements. Starting with Splinter Cell on Xbox and PC, coming out stronger with Pandora Tomorrow and Chaos Theory, and embracing the Xbox 360 for Double Agent, Conviction was fairly well hyped. I still remember the "I got Shotgun" commercial advertising the SPAS-12 as a pre-order exclusive. Although I missed out on that, I recently got the game and fell in love with its polished and responsive controls, the ability to play it as an action game and go stealthy whenever, beautiful soundtrack (I'm serious) and a story reigning supreme.
Sam Fisher's been through a lot over the last few years - his daughter was killed in a car accident, he was forced to end the life of his best friend, and he's saved the country more than a few times. Once again he's forced to save the US, with his guilt over his daughter's death being used to leverage him. He is forced to operate under former coworkers that he can no longer trust and beat the truth out of anyone who hides it from him. The are few spoilers but by saying even one of them I'd essentially spoil the entire story, which anyone definitely wouldn't want, period. The most heart-pounding moment to hear one of the important facts is when they experience it as Sam Fisher. If players already know what happens next, they won't feel a thing when a fact comes to light that changes everything - literally, everything - that Sam is fighting for. Fisher's interrogations are brutal. Victims are kicked off second-story balconies, have their hands pinned by a knife into a tree stump, heads are smashed into urinals, and they are hung off the edge of a three-story building - if anyone gets in Sam's way, they won't live to get in anyone elses'.
Third Echelon is the enemy now, the foe. The only thing that he couldn't leave behind at the HQ with his old life was Anna Grimsdottir, his handler. After establishing contact with him, she reveals herself as a defector working for the US President. Sam wants out of the spy business, but Grim has a few facts up her sleeve that Sam could be easily swayed by. After learning that his daughter's death wasn't an accident, Sam will do anything to return the favor after the murderer effectively killed him. An associate of Sam's, Victor Coste, puts it accurately at the beginning of the game:
"The thing you have to know is this: the Sam Fisher you knew is dead. America killed him, asked him to make one sacrifice too many cross one line too far. A drunk driver killed him, some anonymous ***hole who ran down his daughter and vanished. She was the one thing in his life that humanized him. And his agency killed him. It set him up, turned him loose, and told him to pull the trigger on his best friend in a dirty New York basement. Irving Lambert died by Sam's hand that day, and so did Sam. So he left. Left Third Echelon, left the life he knew, left America and Mom and apple pie, left it all behind."
The fact that I just spent that whole section on the prologue and early events should hint that the events that are actually in the game are even larger.
The control layout is awkward at first but surprisingly easy to learn and may be one of the best third-person controls on consoles. Gunplay is razor sharp and I never had to deal with conflicting context-sensitive actions. The story's sense of urgency affects the gameplay as well - players are never put on a timer, as far as I know, but I almost never sit in one spot for too long. I enter a room, look around, and form a plan on how to get through without being spotted - I never waited for a guard to turn his back, I simply popped him in the the head and continued on.
The new mark-and-execute method of eliminating foes works very well no matter how players progress. For those who would rather strike quickly with fast-paced firefights will find a great entrance by starting the fight quickly eliminating three tangos, or performing the execution on the fly to escape when players are pinned down. The catch is that to gain an execute (players can mark foes without an execute) players must make a necessary melee kill. This encourages the stealth gameplay - good players can easily sneak up behind an enemy and take him down from the shadows, and using the execution to quickly drop everyone else in the room. Players who would rather take the noisy approach can opt to take the unsuspecting enemy as a human shield in lieu of killing them - an execution is granted to players either way.
Conviction uses the Persistent Elite Creation (P.E.C) as a form of unlocking weapons. By completing challenges (these are far more from statistic - never once did I get many of them by simply playing) players earn credits which can be used to unlock new guns, mods, camos, or uniforms. I always found myself looking through the menus to see which challenges I wanted to tackle, such as murdering a guard while he was investigating a car alarm that I purposely tripped.
There is also a dedicated co-op campaign - this serves as a prologue to Sam's tale, focusing on an EMP shipment bound for Washington DC - instead of taking scenarios from the campaign, this was built from the ground up for co-op and supports splitscreen, system link, matchmaking, and private matches. Stealth is more important here, as enemies are plentiful and on harder difficulties there is a stiff (and imminent) penalty for forgetting to look both ways before crossing the well-lit corridor. Marks and executions are also shared, leading to some spectacular moments of co-ordinating executions to combat the legions of enemies. It is rather short, but never did I feel like I could breathe until the enemies were dead.
There is also a Deniable Ops mode, which focuses on scenarios such as defending a generator in a Horde-like fashion, sneaking through an enemy installment undetected, and killing everything in the way of co-op protagonists Agents Archer and Kestrel.
The Face-Off mode is okay, pitting the two players against each other while optionally integrating AI bots into the experience. Killing the bots or the other player rewards players with points - first the 30 points the round, typically. Savvy players will use the bots to distract the other player for an easy kill, but it lacks the depth of Chaos Theory's spies-versus-mercenaries mode.
If you like action, stealth, story, or any of the above, get Conviction. You won't regret it.
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