Going to try something new here. When I usually post an article I do so on HookedGamers.com, the main site I write for. However, in an almost completely shameless attempt to help get my work out there I figured it wouldn't hurt to post what I write elsewhere. Today I bring you my review that I did a couple weeks back of Splinter Cell Conviction as well as the Spoiler Alert for both the singleplayer and multiplayer endings. I should have a Portal 2 preview up sometime this week as well. Out of the Shadows
If there's one thing you can safely say about Ubisoft it's that they love putting out games in the Clancy franchise. The great thing about this is that almost every one of them have been quality titles that you'll end up playing for months afterward. When the first Splinter Cell title was released on the Xbox back in 2002, few believed that the would-be series had the potential to challenge Metal Gear, the universally acclaimed stealth franchise. Today, however, with five core titles under its belt, a novel series, and even quiet talks of a film, Splinter Cell has without a doubt taken the crown.
In 2007, a handful of months after the release of the fourth game in the franchise, Double Agent, Ubisoft announced an exclusive deal with Microsoft to bring the fifth game in the series, Conviction, exclusively to the Xbox 360 and PC. The demo shown in May 2007 showed a vastly different depiction of the franchise, with Sam Fisher mingling through crowds while evading and fighting police with brutality not seen before in the series. However, after missing its intended release date in November of that year, the game was put on hold and sent back to the drawing board amidst gameplay and other development issues. When the game debuted at E3 2009, any doubts about the title were laid to rest thanks to a seemingly complete redesign and an entirely different approach to stealth combat. A Father's Hatred
Things have been tough on Sam Fisher since the death of his daughter Sarah prior to the events of Double Agent. He infiltrated a terrorist organization in an operation that ended up saving New York but at unbearable cost: the death of his best friend Lambert by his own hand. On the run from the law and even his former agency, Sam spends the next three years trying to find a reason to live. However, when a group of mercenaries come after him Sam is tipped off on the identity of the man responsible for the death of his daughter: Andre Kobin, a thug-for-hire with a long rap sheet. Infiltrating Kobin's mansion, Sam murders his way through wave after wave of body guards before putting his hand to Kobin's neck. In the ensuing struggle Sam learns a terrifying fact: his daughter's death wasn't an accident.
From there, Sam begins his quest to discover the roots of the conspiracy, one with implications that go far beyond his inner circle. I won't spoil it for you but the 24-esque story will keep you on the edge of your seat throughout the course of the game.
One of the most pleasing aspects of the game's story is in the focus on the characters rather than the events happening around them. The Splinter Cell franchise has always been about being the man instead of the tool. In this way Splinter Cell has provided plausible geo-political scenarios that let players explore conflicts and the use of cyber warfare. Conviction isn't truly about stopping a conspiracy that threatens Washington D.C.: rather, it is about the franchise's principle character Sam Fisher. Fisher's character has always been defined by player actions, witty quips, and the occasional emotional dialogue between main characters. This time around the story develops both on the fly and is far more personal than any other Splinter Cell title. This shift isn't dramatic, however; as the change has been coming since the release of Chaos Theory
The cast of supporting characters is a mixed bag, unfortunately. Victor Coste, an old war buddy of Sam's and the narrator for the story, comes off as a character that definitely needs to be reoccurring in the next game. Tom Reed, the head of Third Echelon after the death of Lambert, is the game's main antagonist and is almost cookie-cutter in design. Heck, all that Reed is missing is a sinister laugh. Anna Grim Grimmsdottir, the only other reoccurring character in the series save for Sam, serves as your guide and aids him with both intelligence and advice. As good as it is to see Grim return and in a far more prominent role than in any of the previous titles her character's design and delivery are far different from what is depicted in the previous games and in the novels. Instead of the workaholic yet charming Anna, we get this no-BS, balls to the wall character who seems to want nothing more than save the country at Sam's expense. This is understandable given the situation she is in throughout the course of the game but it just doesn't match up with what you'd expect out of her.
Despite some flaws the story is delivered in a very satisfying and emotional way that will have you wanting to return for a second or even third playthrough. The ending is a bit abrupt but it is nothing that precludes the possibility of yet another outing for Sam. Panther Is On the Move
What we have in our hands is an action title among action titles. This comes at the cost of the series' coveted stealth mechanics, as the game truly emphasizes confronting the enemy rather than sneaking through the environment. The developers of Conviction say that they think of Sam as a panther who strikes as quietly as it is fast and with no mercy whatsoever. This probably couldn't be better put.
If you can get past the mindset of sneaking, you get a solid third person shooter that stresses melee combat. The kind of brutality that players are able to inflict upon the enemy is that of which Hollywood only wishes could be put on the silver screen. One such memorable sequence involves Sam snapping the leg of an opponent and throwing him to the ground before putting a bullet in his chest and head. The moderated brutality of the game is almost awe-inspiring and in a completely different league than games like God of War where gore is always the answer.
Another brutality highlight are the interrogation sequences you will come across every now and then. Throughout the course of the game Sam comes across certain characters that, shall we say, need to be persuaded to give him the information he requires. These sequences are a limited sandbox environment in which Sam carries his enemies by the neck and can introduce them to various objects in the environment. The environmental actions are completely optional though you will find yourself being drawn to various items just to see what happens. Some of the highlights present include forcing a man's head into a paper shredder, introducing them to a urinal face first and even showing them exactly how hot the stove is with the side of their heads. It's vicious, sure, but very entertaining. Just keep your children out of the room when you do these things.
While the stealth mechanics have been significantly reduced the gunplay has been greatly improved in comparison to previous titles. While you always knew that there would come sequences in the other games in the franchise that would force you to face off against a wave of enemies, Conviction is specifically set up for kill-them-all-and-move-on gameplay. More often than not you'll find yourself in a room with five different bad guys you'll have to kill them all in order to proceed. Thanks to solid shooting mechanics (though accompanied by a slightly awkward control scheme) this usually isn't a problem.
To make up for the lack of stealth, Ubisoft has added a feature that aids players in avoiding detection should you need to get away from your enemies. Utilizing what is called the Last Known Position system, if you break the enemy's line of sight, a silhouette of Sam appears where the enemy last saw Sam and they will focus their fire on that position. This continues until either the enemy finds you again or they discover that you are not where they thought you were. The enemy doesn't return to normal patrol patterns after you are out of sight for a while; if they lose track of you they will continue to search the area until you leave or you kill them all. This feature is very well designed and definitely useful in large environments full of hostiles.
One of the key ingredients in the gunplay recipe is the new Mark and Execute mechanic, though it is hardly new to the Clancy franchise. Simply put, upon executing a melee attack on an enemy the player is granted the ability to mark enemies and objects in the environment in a way similar to what was utilized in both Rainbow Six Vegas titles. Sam's marking ability is only limited by the stats of the weapon being utilized (though these can be upgraded). With the press of a button Sam goes into an automated state in which he gets a kill shot on all the marked enemies within just a few seconds. The mechanic can become a crutch later on in the game, as it becomes a little more linear and almost forces you to take out all enemies but it's certainly a welcome addition to the series.
One thing you can count on when playing a Splinter Cell title are gadgets and high tech weapons and believe me when I say you have quite a few to choose from. At various weapon stashes Sam will find a collection of weapons, including pistols, shotguns, assault rifles and various other accoutrements. These stations also provide complete refills of ammo and gadgets. The Clancy franchise's almost prerequisite Persistent Elite Creation system is back and once again you'll find yourself completing challenges in order to earn points that can be spent on upgrading weapons and gadgets present in the game. The difficulty of these challenges vary but most of these can be completed in either mode and really serve the replayability of the game. United Under a Common Goal
The conspiracy present in Splinter Cell Conviction began some time before the events of the single-player campaign. Conviction's multiplayer segment explores this aspect of the game's story. While the story isn't nearly as powerful as the singleplayer experience the cooperative mode is a must play.
Players are put in the shoes of Archer, a Third Echelon operative, and Kestrel, an operative on loan to Third Echelon from Russian rival agency Voron. Other than Malta there are no other levels that take place outside of the United States in the game's single-player campaign. Archer and Kestrel are sent on a whirlwind tour of the former Soviet Union, beginning in Moscow.
Instead of having a small arsenal at your disposal like Fisher has in the main game, Archer and Kestrel are relegated to only two or three gadgets depending on the stats of their uniforms. Various camo patterns can be purchased for several uniforms in the Persistent Elite Creation system and your outfits can be augmented for extra gadget pockets, ammo or armor though you can only equip three of the nine choices available. These options are also only available in the multiplayer portion of the game.
The co-op stresses the use of coordinated attacks upon groups of enemies though it is forgiving should you find yourself in a position that is anything but to your advantage. The Mark and Execute system is also in use, so both the number of marks available is greatly increased and players can kill their partner's marks. This is a great system to utilize when in a room filled with upwards of a dozen enemies and is almost a necessity when sneaking isn't an option.
In addition to the cooperative campaign, players also have the option of competitive and adversarial modes. These modes, called Deniable Ops, allow players to proceed through all four co-op maps as well as two additional maps exclusive to the mode. These modes are quite entertaining in themselves and are the perfect environment for speed runs and are perfect for those looking to get a little time into the game without having to play through the storyline for the 12th time. A Man Stands By His Convictions
Splinter Cell Conviction is both a welcome entry in the series as well as a strong departure from the norm. Gone are the many strong lighting-based stealth mechanics, replaced with a simple can/cannot be seen lighting scheme that both works and detracts from core Splinter Cell gameplay. This has been replaced with several interesting and intuitive combat actions. While it may be a mixed bag for hardcore fans of the franchise, Conviction is by far one of the best action games of this generation and is definitely a major contender for Game of the Year 2010. If you're a Tom Clancy fan then you'd be hard pressed not to sit down for Sam Fisher's latest and possibly final entry in the franchise.
And now, finally, my latest episode in my YouTube series Spoiler Alert:
That's all folks! If you're interested in seeing my other work feel free to google 'Slackerchan' though you can find me on Screwattack, Gametrailers, and my main site HookedGamers.com. See you in a few.