Thursday, 15 April 2010

Review | Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell Conviction

Sam Fisher is back once again in a brand new, revamped and thrilling experience as Splinter Cell Conviction takes you through a rollercoaster ride full of brand new content, a thrilling campaign, a simply stand out multiplayer mode and plenty of action to keep you coming back for more and more. While straying away from the original Splinter Cell formula, Sam Fisher has not lost his edge; in fact he has gone off it as now the cold, calculated protagonist is out for revenge. This is not the same complex stealth adventure you might remember and this style certainly takes a back seat to action and firefights, but this is not a bad thing as Conviction rarely has a boring moment, keeps all the best bits from previous installments and Fisher keeps you going through the paces of adrenaline pumping adventure that will be very difficult to forget in the long run.

As you play through the campaign mode, a twisting tale of conspiracy and deceit unfolds. Following the death of Sam Fisher’s daughter, a single focus point unveils and revenge becomes the key to success. The highlight of the story is not so much the content as bar a few well-written moments, it is fairly standard. It is however, the incredible presentation of the events as they unfold. Conviction’s story is told in real time and is painted if you will, into your environments. For example, flashbacks and story segments will be displayed on brick walls as you wonder through lonely back allies, your current objectives will be drawn onto the side of a truck as you side step around it to avoid enemies. This is delivered to absolute perfection and keeps the pace and intensity of Conviction on full throttle and make you feel as if you are dwelling inside the mind of a man that’s bordering insanity.

From the moment go as you set into the world of Conviction you will feel a difference between this and prior installments in the series. It is a similar feeling like when you played Resident Evil 4 for the first time, elements of prior mechanics were present, but were overhauled to make way for a new experience. Sam Fisher’s movements have become quicker and much more simplified, I can only suggest that although I was a huge fan of the previous games, they were indeed very challenging so to fill a larger demographic of gamers, the difficulty of Conviction has been dimmed down to avoid frustration. Anyway, Fisher can still do almost everything you would expect, crouch, take cover, linger in the shadows, the black and white make over when you are invisible from enemy detection makes it’s glorious return, albeit sometimes making it rather difficult to distinguish your surroundings. Conviction has a very user-friendly movement system that sees the game indicator point out your movements from cover to cover and with a click of a button Sam will elegantly move to his next hiding spot, much like in Gears of War. At the heart of it all, Conviction is still a stealth adventure, so the aim of the game is to keep undetected, but if you are caught enemies to their utmost to try and find and trap you. A very cool addition in Conviction is a ghost replica of Sam appears in the last spot you were discovered and stays there, which is then where the guards focus their attention trying to find you.

Unfortunately while Conviction does enjoy giving you opportunities to use shadows, there is certainly nowhere near as much of slithering in the darkness as the prior installments. Sam Fisher is an enraged killing machine and does whatever he has to do to find the murderer of his wife. You will find the new mark-and-execute mechanic to be the best addition to Conviction and one of the most fun things you can do in the game. Mark-and-execute is accessed after every time you rack up a close-quarters-combat kill, which are fairly straight forward if you sneak up on an unsuspecting enemy. With that done, Sam Fisher will have the ability to call on his precise aim and bullet time-esque skill whenever he needs it to lock on to a group of enemies and execute them with bone-chilling precision. No longer are the days of being able to knock out or stun enemies, if it’s not a head shot, Fisher is simply not interested. Some of the game’s most exciting moments are literally driven by this mechanic as at times you will be grossly outnumbered and clever use of the mark-and-execute will get you out of deep trouble in such incredible style. It is I feel important to note that while this is freaking sweet, it does make you feel a little overpowered at times, luckily however it can be justified because Fisher is an expert with just about any weapon after everything he has been through.

Conviction continues to offer other entertaining elements to gamers throughout the campaign, most notably a potentially incredible set of interrogation sequences and the use of environmental objects. Both of these don’t come off perfectly, for example interrogation scenes had so much potential but end up being horribly over-scripted with no versatility in the torture methods and leave you wanting so much more. Imagine if they offered different ways to beat the information out of your targets or if they were interactive like the fight scenes in Heavy Rain. That would have been awesome. As for the environment, moments where you can exploit it are few and far between and getting your hands messy directly is a lot less of a hassle anyway.

While taking the direct killing approach does seem the easiest way to go about completing Conviction, there is some flexibility offered through the well-designed levels. You will find yourself traversing some interesting locations including a fairground and a beautiful museum, all of which offer a great set up for thrilling segments. There are always multiple different ways to tackle any given situation and you will find yourself varying things up to avoid repetition. This may be silent headshots, to parry’s to the back of the head, to pure violent massacre, whatever strikes your fancy as the optimal route to victory. What you will not have trouble with is choosing from your vast array of weapons and gadgets, because for the most part they are actually not required. That’s right, weapons are all pretty similar and you eventually gain points to upgrade all your guns with cool attachments, but they can all do the same thing without any problem. As for gadgets, Conviction should have added scenes where you are required to use your nifty Spy Camera and the Sonar Goggles as all of this super cool stuff is called into action a couple of times and then you pretty much forget you even have them (remember the days of using the spy lens under every single door you opened in prior Splinter Cell’s?) Conviction’s campaign lasts an incredibly disappointing 8 hours at tops, this is a huge let down as you feel they could have fleshed out the story and you do end the game with a desire for more. With an obvious lack of technological use for Sam Fisher, it seems completely reasonable to expect added length and addition for extensive use of Sam’s gadgets.

I realize that in plenty of my other reviews I find myself concluding that it is ok for a game to avoid multiplayer and offer an incredible campaign. Well Splinter Cell Conviction offers a great campaign with a great multiplayer mode and that is its true claim to excellence. Totally separate to Conviction’s story, the multiplayer puts you in the shoes of 2 stealth agents advancing through their own set of missions and objectives. Combining your efforts to tackle hoards of enemies and tactically traversing your surroundings to find the best way to complete your goals is an absolute joy here, truly a top of the line multiplayer adventure. The mark-and-execute mechanic really flourishes when it is handled eloquently between 2 players, you will find that there is no better feeling than setting up a group of enemies to be taken down in such style, in mere seconds using your lethal skills.

This thrilling experience is littered with moments that force cooperation and the feeling of success is truly an incredible reward. If one player is downed then he has the ability to sit up and use his side arm while his friend comes to revive him. Enemies also have the ability to grab you and lock in a chokehold, forcing your partner to carefully pick the enemy off to free you. All of this is executed very well and it is fun each and every time it occurs.

Conviction offers other multiplayer modes also if the cooperative campaign just wasn’t enough. Hunter mode is a thrilling game of cat and mouse where you and your partner are thrown onto a map and are forced to eliminate all the guards. The catch is if you get caught however, reinforcements are sent in, increasing the amount of guards you have to kill. This is perhaps where Conviction really introduces the stealth game-play best and this will certainly have old fans of the series frolicking with excitement. The other game mode is Last Stand that resembles the oh so popular horde mode that seems to be included in almost all games now. You are constantly attacked by waves of enemies and it is up to you to hold them at bay. This is accompanied by a very well designed difficulty curve making deep progression possible with patience and good teamwork. The final multiplayer experience is Face-off mode, which is a very cool game-type. This puts you and a human player onto a map flooded with enemies and it is up to you to rack up points by killing them but also finding and killing your human opponent. This adds tension and urgency and makes the thrill of the hunt that much more exciting knowing that another clever human player is sneaking around the map looking for you, allowing mind games and trickery to be employed.

Technically, Conviction does not actually impress as much as it should. For a brand new title the graphics feel quite dated and while from a distance can be enjoyed, up close it is not a pretty sight. A very good color palette helps mask this and the dull lighting helps to portray a very foreboding ambiance symbolizing Sam’s anger and pain. The voice acting however, does stand out and Sam Fisher’s narrative is exceptional throughout the entire story, backed up by a very decent group of voice actors.

Overall, it is hard to not enjoy Splinter Cell Conviction. Its great campaign, excellent cooperative modes and intricate story telling make it a joy to experience, however when comparing to other games of a similar genre including Metal Gear Solid 4 and Batman Arkham Asylum, it doesn’t really stand above the crowd, in fact it is lingering underneath. Conviction does some things very well, and others not so well, which is a shame. It will also inevitably leave a lot of prior hardcore Splinter Cell fans disappointed, as this is not what the series is actually about. Saying that, it is a ferociously fast paced and exciting adventure that is every bit as brutal as it is satisfying.

Igor Kharin
CeX Contributor
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