The latest military-themed third-person action shooter game from Ubisoft endorsed by esteemed geek-writer Tom Clancy, Splinter Cell: Conviction is not the best. Now a much more tightly controlled sneak-peek-and-dispatch affair, you’ll still be most effective when creeping around in the dark and then springing out to surprise your opponents, but getting there isn’t nearly as much fun as it used to be.
A principal reason for this is the level design. Effectively channeling you along wide corridors in the way they want you to move, you constantly find your ability to move hampered by foliage that is, in fact, a solid wall decorated with leaf-like textures, or incongruous crates, barrels, machinery and other detritus that has no reason to be where it is other than to funnel you into going down a particular path. You can still clamber up walls, cling to pipes and so forth, but very often you’ll find them little more than a clumsy distraction rather than genuinely useful.
That’s the bad stuff and, while disappointing, it’s not a deal-breaker since nearly everything else is so good. Graphically sharp, superbly animated and with reasonably credible AI (intelligence) from the enemy characters, Splinter Cell: Conviction wraps a fairly basic revenge story around some well-paced scenario-based conflicts featuring the flavour-of-the-times weapon, the EMP (electro-magnetic pulse), as the central fixture. Recently also witnessed in Kiefer Sutherland’s 24 TV show, the EMP knocks out electrical devices which, in this day and age, renders nearly everyone everywhere utterly helpless, it seems, given our over-reliance on computers.
A new gameplay mechanic, “Mark & Execute”, has divided gamer opinion, with many thinking it makes the game too easy, but in a clear effort to attract less experienced players, the single-button press to automatically dispatch multiple enemies feels very cool and at least gives the impression that Sam Fisher, the super spy under your control, is a highly-trained and effective killing combatant capable of such impressive dexterity and fluidity.
The game comes into its own in the separate co-operative two-player campaign – playable either in split-screen mode with a friend in your own house, or over Xbox Live – requiring a pretty high level of collaboration and coordinated behaviour to reap the most satisfying results. There’s also the option to play three other game types this way: “Hunter”, a kind of terrorist hunt; “Last Stand”, like “Horde” in Gears of War; and “Face-Off”, a race with your buddy to kill as many bad guys as possible within a time limit.
The single-player campaign element of the game is short lived, but augmented by an additional “Deniable Ops” section (effectively the “Hunter” and “Last Stand” multiplayer modes for one player) which provides a welcome extension as well as an opportunity to fulfill some more of the in-game “PEC Challenges” that task you with evading and removing enemies in a particular way.
While I personally miss the more free-roaming elements of previous installments of this franchise and believe Ubisoft’s best multiplayer mode came in Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory, the ability to play through a campaign in co-op is a great addition and Splinter Cell: Conviction is certainly going to have more mainstream appeal thanks to its more controlling design and user-friendly features.
Regardless, it’s fun, it makes you feel super badass and there’s plenty of replay value.
About Max Everingham
Max Everingham is the owner of Game State, a B2B videogame software analysis and marketing consultancy. Max is a videogames veteran, having worked in the industry for over 13 years, including brand and product marketing positions at EA and Codemasters.