The lights are on
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
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.
Great review. Must say though that when I tried it, it was pretty fun. Still nice review.