The Splinter Cell series has always focused on methodical stealth; sticking to the shadows, hiding bodies, subduing enemies non-lethally, etc. With Splinter Cell: Conviction, the gameplay is a far cry from its slower paced roots, and almost as unrecognizable as its anti-hero protagonist, Sam Fisher (who seems to suffer from constant rewrites in his personality throughout his career as a spy). But despite the changes, it does end up being a fun ride, even if it isn’t without its issues.


The story starts off a while after the events of Splinter Cell: Double Agent. Sam is trying to stay off the grid when he’s inevitably pulled back into service to combat corruption within the US Government and his former agency, as well as to find his daughter’s killers after being informed her death was not an accident. As you can probably guess by that short outline, the storytelling is a mess that could potentially turn off newcomers, but even longtime fans will find a lot to fault with the various clichés and plot holes. Nonetheless it does a good job of framing the action and providing a motive for Sam to continue on his massacre, while the stylistic decisions and voice acting (particularly Michael Ironside as Sam Fisher) keeps the plot engaging. Despite it's issues it also still manages to be one of the better Splinter Cell stories I've come across.

The gameplay has been tweaked this time around for a much faster pace. Despite his advanced age, Sam is more capable than ever and can extinguish human life at an alarming rate. Longtime players might be disappointed at the lack of options for dealing with enemies, but the stellar gunplay and level design does a good job of giving players different options for going through a situation. The level design can feel a bit unnecessarily restrictive at times, but for the most part these are exceptions to the rule.


The big new gameplay feature that players will make heavy use of is the Mark and Execute function. After performing a melee kill, Sam can mark between 2-4 enemies (depending on his weapon) and take them out instantly, saving players from having to deal with them. While it might make some situations much easier than they should be and could be seen as cheating the player out of gameplay, it’s a joy to pull off successfully and prevents players from having to deal with the less than satisfying gunplay (which is definitely not a strong suit of the game, despite what the wide arsenal at Sam’s disposal would have you believe).

The game also does a good job of switching things up throughout the campaign to stave off boredom. As you progress, Sam will unlock new weapons, gadgets and abilities that he can upgrade and use at any time with points. From weapon attachments, to increased gadget effectiveness, the game allows you to tailor your abilities how you like, but in the end there are only a few weapons and pieces of equipment I found myself using consistently since many weapons lack suppressors or have limited effectiveness with the Mark and Execute function. The points you use to upgrade weapons also go into your co-op character’s gear, and in the co-op/multiplayer portion of the game there is definitely more use for the upgrade points you’ll find (but more on that later).


The campaign is a bit on the short side (I was able to complete it at slightly over 5 hours), but it avoids repetition by keeping you on you guessing on whatever might happen next. While the array of locations might be a reason for the less than stellar writing, the variety of places you visit (from an airfield in Virginia, to a mansion in Malta) does ensure you won’t get bored. You’re never certain where you’ll go next, and to keep things fresh you’ll encounter new enemy types and traps to force you to adapt as you go through the game. The one major complaint I have in regards to the variety is that the game forces instant fail stealth levels onto you more than you might be comfortable with, and the way they go about it reeks of dated gameplay design.

The multiplayer aspect of the game is easily where I had the most fun. As of this writing, Ubisoft has released several new maps with a variety of game modes that can be played with a buddy. While older fans may miss the classic Spies vs. Mercenaries mode, the standalone co-op campaign (which ties into the main story) and variety of co-op and competitive modes should give you more options for some fun as long as you have a good friend to bring along. The variety of suits, gadgets and options for tweaking modes (such as pistols only and no gadgets) can give you and a friend a lot of fun times.


The main co-op campaign serves as a prologue to the events of the main game, with two characters known as Archer and Kestrel working together. While the plot is no more comprehensible than in the main game (and even less so when you and a buddy are chatting over cutscenes), the gameplay seems to be at its best here. The co-op campaign is about half the length of the main campaign from my experience, but like the main campaign it also does a good job of switching up objectives, locations and obstacles.

The fast paced stealth gameplay feels even better suited here, and the co-op campaign tries a lot of new things I haven’t seen other co-op games do. Memorable moments like clearing an entire room using Mark and Execute with your friend, or killing an enemy who is strangling your buddy while you yourself are downed are easy to come across, and the level seems more open than in the campaign (possibly to account for two players who might try different paths). You’ll have to work closely with your partner if you want to finish the campaign, but the payoff is well worth it.


In the end, Splinter Cell: Conviction isn’t perfect. It’s full of annoying little design flaws (like poorly placed checkpoints, instant fail levels and unsatisfying gunplay), and the writing isn’t great. But when the game gets it right, it can be an adrenaline packed blast that uses unconventional stealth to great effect. If you have a friend willing to play it with you and can look past its issues, Splinter Cell: Conviction is a fun game, even if it isn’t one of the best Splinter Cell games out there. Get past the differences from previous games, and you'll find yourself having a very enjoyable time.