Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Released: 13th April 2010
Other Formats: PC
Ubisoft had a difficult decision in how to approach the latest Splinter Cell game. In fact, after the critically disappointing Double Agent, the follow-up was officially announced in May 2007- set for release later that same year. However, the project was then “put on hold” by Ubisoft who decided to re-think their approach. The game re-surfaced at last year's E3, with an all-new visual style, with Sam Fisher having shaved his dishevelled beard for a cleaner, more casual look.
The wait has been long, but the qualities that seethe from Splinter Cell: Conviction's surface make it abundantly clear from the get-go that this has been a labour of love, a project in which the developer, Ubisoft Montreal, were unwilling to release without it oozing with polish. Coming to play Conviction is joyful and eventful- whether a fan of the previous titles within the series, or as a newbie to the stealth-action franchise.
Linear in its outset, Conviction actually presents more choices to the player than it first appears. In its open level design, progression can come about in a number of variants. In a differentiation from the previous SC titles, Conviction is less insistent on focusing entirely on the tip-towing of its stealth game play mechanics- instead allowing the player to take the fight to the enemy with a more action-orientated design. Not that it's particularly useful, since you will more likely focus on its stealth, cover-to-cover approach for combat to be truly effective since it can be be justifiably overwhelming if employing the role of action hero, with a non-stop barrage and spray of bullets coming from AI operatives. Sticking to the shadows is probably your best bet (neatly visualised with an amalgamation into black-and-white visuals), whilst sticking to cover (by holding the left trigger) and systematically bouncing from cover-to-cover to avoid the onlooking gaze of unaware opponents, with arrows super-imposed over cover objects to indicate where Fisher will end up, making stealth game play smooth, direct and as hassle-free as can be. The aforementioned black and white visuals and pointer arrows are only two of the uniquely distinctive aesthetic tricks that the team employ to give the game its dynamic looks. Objectives are also projected onto the scene, with expositional markers key to the overarching plot also intertwined seamlessly into the environment. Certainly a neat trick but also suitably pointless and unnecessary- I felt the addition of such elements withdrew me from scenes instead of the intended purpose to immerse me, with their distractions pulling me out of the otherwise engaging experience.
The “last known position” 'ghost' is an inclusion, however, that I felt was particularly outstanding, with an outline of Fisher shown where last seen. Key in crafting neat tactical approaches, the ghost ensnares AI to pound that one spot (seemingly unaware that Fisher can, in fact, move!) to flank them from behind. In all respects, it's where the player can plan ahead into unique encounters that the game really works, ensuring thrilling and often nail-biting tension sequences to crop up from minute to minute. The 'ghost' only adding to the already hugely accomplished Splinter Cell tactical style of play that makes the series so successful, with silent take-downs, taking out light sources, and use of gadgets also playing a key role in survival. Gadgets are wondrous if you are to experience Conviction at its best- where a sole flash bang is unlikely to suffice if you wish to take on a whole room of goons. Instead, gadgets can be used in conjunction with each other for constructive progression through levels, where enemies can be tackled head on with EMP blasts that stun them momentarily, whereas a stealth approach can be established with the excellent 'sticky cam'- allowing you to take in your surroundings, or entice enemies nearer to its self-detonation with its “make noise” effect. In balancing all of the abilities available to you (and combining this with the correct equipment of firearm- where a pistol will more than suffice), Conviction puts its lead leg forward, establishing a breathtaking action game. The deadly mechanic of “mark and execute” is also nicely integrated, and results in a devastating fury of succinct bullets bound for each of Fisher's targeted nemeses (highlighted using 'RB')- often seeing room-fulls of enemies dispatched in one clear sweep, and marks Sam out as his natural born killer personality. Not that Michael Ironside otherwise does anything to give Fisher any redeeming qualities as a character, in his droll voice delivery that rambles through the script with a feel of utter boredom and laziness.
The underlying problems with the game can almost be overlooked for the quality that lay elsewhere within. Sometimes frustrating, the game has large sections of game play with little checkpoints between, so savouring cut scenes time after time is likely to grow aggravating when trying to accomplish your task. In one section, I had to walk to a desk every time, talk to the clerk, only then getting into the action. I witnessed this time and time again, no doubt ensuring heightened stress levels, only making progression even harder.
Elsewhere in the game's superb presentation, Kaveh Cohen and Michael Nielsen do their best in composing an uncompromising score- where they leap from slowly drawn out melancholic moments to upbeat, tension-heavy orchestral pieces (often not too dissimilar to the Bourne score). In a story that leaps from set piece to set piece in its short running time, Splinter Cell: Conviction presents a number of remarkable and hugely memorable sequences, such as the foot race around the Washington Monument, or infiltrating the Third Echelon headquarters in nerve-tingling fashion with the help of Sonar goggles. With enough attention to detail to match the most classy of games of this generation, you can't help but feel the extended development time has done no harm to the game whatsoever, with sets vibrant with life and minute constructions. Game play is forever smooth and well worked, with gun play also being well suited to its genre tropes. Definitely worth recommending, Conviction is a blast.