17th April 2010 - The king of stealth games is back, and Sam Fisher is madder than ever in Splinter Cell: Conviction, the latest Tom Clancy based game and the anticipated return of the long-beloved series. While looking to take the series back to its roots, Conviction also hopes to take it in new directions and add far more diversity and playability to the title. But does Sam Fisher still have what it takes to be crowned the master of stealth and bring glory back to his enduring franchise? Well strap yourself in folks, as AAG brings you our definitive Splinter Cell: Conviction review.
The gameplay side of things is where Conviction had always hoped to make its stand. Many people didn’t go for the last Splinter Cell game (Double Agent), so Ubisoft wanted to take things back a few and reconnect with that which made Chaos Theory the most popular series installation. This included the more defined stealth and choice in opposition approach. However, doing this would have just made this game ‘another stealth outing’, so the developers also wanted to freshen things up a bit. Stir the pot. Up the ante. Double the dosage - You know, just smack a handful of new features in there and blend them together in dazzling detail. To say the very least; that’s just what they’ve done, and its wonderful.
Splinter Cell: Conviction see’s the long awaited return of Sam Fisher, the US Governments secret weapon, and the very first Splinter Cell agent. Only this time, Sam’s not working for the Government - after his daughters death, Sam calls it quits and takes to the shadows, both literally and metaphorically, to find himself and his daughters killer. Three years on, and you get to step into his shoes as he catches his first clue…
This is the pretence of Conviction, but as you get on with it, it soon takes a turn for real Tom Clancy fashion, as you uncover a worldwide conspiracy where you don’t know who to trust and who will have your back. But one thing that newcomers to the series will notice is that they don’t know what’s going on. Splinter Cell: Convictions story will be very confusing to gamers who never experienced the last games, particularly Double Agent, as it constantly refers to past instalments and events within the Splinter Cell lore. This adds to the intimidation of the game. The intimidation I speak of is the games inability to cater to casual gamers and newcomers. Conviction is, without a doubt, a hardcore gamers haven, and its difficult control scheme and deep structure will make it hard for a lot of players to enjoy.
But assuming you know the deal here and can handle the steep learning curve, Conviction delivers what it promises; stealth gaming at its best, but with so much more. Every level plays out at a mini sandbox, giving you many different ways to overcome whatever challenges you are presented with. In their effort to channel Chaos Theory and series fans, Ubisoft have nailed Convictions stealth gameplay on the head. But if you’re not one for patience and close quarters takedowns, worry not. Conviction allows you to take the more manly road here, and mess people up in an all-guns-blazing, no-holds-bared action extravaganza with an impressive array of customisable weapons and gameplay to match. The full frontal action is as deep and enjoyable as most games that are actually based primarily on that. This is where Conviction really sets itself apart from all other games; it delivers any type of play style you want in stunning detail and fashion, all of which are made more impressive by the games amazing AI and level design.
As I just mentioned, Splinter Cell: Conviction has impressive AI. You will see this through the campaign, in many different ways. For example, if you find yourself a nice little camping spot with good views of the battlefield, things could go either way. Take a few enemies out, and they will start to really think about where you could be doing this from, and even without seeing you, could get a clue from your bullet direction and this is when their guns come out to play. They could choose to rush your position, they could flank you, riddle you with grenades, anything! And its great really, because no matter how many times you do the same thing the same way, the enemies will always react differently. They will gather into a group before rushing, leaving one lone gunner in the back line to keep them covered, gather in groups of two at each door to a room, before barging them both down in succussion to catch you off guard, and it really has you feeling like this is real, adding more immersion to the stealth part of things.
Splinter Cell: Conviction hasn’t just got a deep, immersing and very addictive campaign though, it also has its share of multiplayer features. And given how short the campaign is (I clocked it in at around 6 hours on the hardest difficulty on my first attempt), you will spend a lot of your time in these modes. So its good that they’re so damn good then! First up, is an entire co-op campaign, just as long as the single player one too. This tells the story of a prequel to the main games story from the view of two other Third Echelon agents. Next up we have a handful of other modes, from Hunter (take out enemies to progress) to Infiltration (same as Hunter, only you cant get spotted), which although is only available through the Special Edition or Uplay, is the pick of the litter here. But thing is, even with the same gameplay mechanics as the Single Player game, Conviction has executed co-op gameplay perfectly. Don’t play nicely with others, well fear not, because you can play these co-op game modes against another player too. These pan out pretty much the same way, only there is a time limit, and you must have more points by the end to win. Gain points by eliminating enemies, or if you can manage it, the other player. All of these modes can be played online or split-screen (this will please a lot of gamers).
One of the games only bad points is that in all its technical achievement and detail, a few nippy bugs and glitches have snuck their way through the Ubisoft’s defences. While these are in no way major or gameplay compromising, they do deteriorate the game slightly. Ranging from comments from the enemy like (‘He’s jumping out of a window, I seen him!’ when you climb over a stair set hand railing) to minor character glitches (one example is the AI sometimes completely forgets what they were doing, and even when standing next to a dead body, act like nothings wrong). Like I said, these are only tiny compromises, but do deteriorate the overall game, however slightly.
Conviction takes its gameplay, and delivers it hand in hand with its stunning visuals. One of the first things you will notice is how the games objectives and narrative is delivered. All your objectives are projected onto walls, floors, everything for easy, yet very stylish viewing. Same with flashbacks and memories, as they are projected from seamless air onto walls and floors, which really gives you a personal feel with Sam Fisher in hand with the very personal story and trust concepts.
Another given is the games lighting detail. In true fashion with previous Splinter Cell games, this plays an important part of the gameplay while never ceasing to amaze and astonish. When in shadows, the screen takes a black and white effect, while enemies, objectives and traps all stay coloured to really stand out and help you plan your attack.
But pretty colours and textures mean nothing without the setup to make them solid. And good thing too, as Conviction has some of the best level designs around. As I mentioned earlier, the game gives you a lot of choices and paths to take through a mission, and the levels really reflect this, giving you paths through areas you never discover until your second, or even third playthrough. This, along with the diverse AI tactics, keeps the game fresh and very replayable.
Yet another section of the graphics that deserve a mention is the games animation. It is all very fluent and smooth. It looks and feels real as you sneak up on enemies, crawl your way around buildings, take out enemies in hand-to-hand combat and overall, just move about. All up, Splinter Cell: Conviction has some of the best in-game animation I’ve ever seen.
But not all is well and good in the looks department. As with the gameplay, the only downfall is a very minor problem that really doesn’t affect the overall gameplay. This time, it’s the lip synching. Extremely dodgy and very out, the synching of the characters voices with the animation is not overly empowering, but is quite noticeable.
Splinter Cell: Conviction seems to have nearly perfected every department this time around. Gameplay, graphics, and now; sound. Like usual, the game has a stellar cast of top-notch actors and a great soundtrack.
Michael Ironside returns as the legendary voice of Sam Fisher, but a surprising addition to the latest games cast is James Woods. Star of the great John Carpenters Vampires, and of Family Guy fame, James Woods lends his voicing talents to the games primary antagonist. The game is filled with great talent, and really gives itself a Hollywood movie feel, what with the dramatic camera angles, big time story line and now quality acting and animation.
But voice isn’t the only thing making this feel like more than just a game. Conviction also brings a very stylized and fitting score and soundtrack to the table. Its subtle sounding really helps the games stealth part while also keeping you on your toes and ready for anything; just like one of the many hardcore firefights that’s likely to break out at some point.
Despite being a very short campaign, Splinter Cell: Conviction has more replay value than most games can manage. Not just because every time you play through a level you can do it differently, but also because its so fun to play over and over. The unique blend of stealth and action really shine in this game, and it never tires.
But then there’s the many different Deniable Ops and Co-op modes. Essentially the same things, only Deniable Ops is for single player goodness, these challenging and varied game modes will have you playing for hours on end, and with buddies to team up with, the co-op story is another great addition. There is hours upon hours of fun to be had here.
The latest instalment of Splinter Cell had a lot on its shoulders. It had to pick up the pace after Double Agent, while also trying to appeal to new gamers. While it may have more than picked up the pace, it may be a little tricky for new gamers to get into it, as its story is one for series purists, and the game is a somewhat hardcore and difficult one. But that’s not to say its no good, quite the opposite in fact. Conviction looks, sounds and above all; plays great. It nails everything you could want in a game almost flawlessly; Single-player campaign, single players challenges, co-op campaign and challenges, competitive multiplayer, and promise of new, FREE content every Thursday. What more could you want? A cape perhaps?
AAG SCORE: 9.5/10
+ Very diverse and personalized gameplay
+ Looks and sounds great in every way
+ Loads of content; both single and multiplayer
- Campaign is very short
- Few bugs and glitches throughout the game
- Intimidating to series newcomers
Reviewed & Written By John Elliott