The stealth genre has transformed over the years. What has gone from “if you get seen, you lose” has come around to “be stealthy, but then in some parts you can go nuts and take down everyone you see”. There have been two franchises that have dominated this genre. Metal Gear, which is more of a story driven opus, and Splinter Cell, which is a “you get to be the badass spy you have always wanted to be”. Well after a few years of waiting, Ubisoft has released the next installment in the life of Sam Fisher, Splinter Cell Conviction and it is something that no one could have expected. It takes the stealth genre to new heights, and is what I believe is the natural progression of a stealth game.
The story of Conviction starts off with tragedy. If you didn’t play the last game, Double Agent, then I must proclaim spoilers ahead: Sam Fisher’s daughter is dead. The only thing that made Sam human is gone, and he is going to do anything necessary to find out what happened to her and who killed her. After a heartwarming flashback opening, we find Sam on the hunt for her killer, but there is more trouble ahead. It seems as Sam gets closer and closer to finding the truth, he ends up uncovering a conspiracy in the company that made him the rogue agent he is now, Third Echelon. The story explosively takes off from there, and takes Sam on a wild journey across various regions around the globe.
The story is very interesting, and reminds me of a really good season of the show 24. There is a lot of backstabbing and espionage, and all the characters from the previous games appear in some part of this one. I really enjoyed the story, as it was the main driving force of the entire single player. In other Splinter Cell games, most of the objectives really didn’t have much to do with the story. However, in Conviction every objective that you have to do is tied closely to the story, and you are not doing something just to do it. The story really hit home with me, and I wanted to see what would happen next. The main story is not very long though, with most players taking about 5-6 hours to complete it. There are other things that give the game legs though.
The gameplay of Splinter Cell has also taken a turn in terms of old school stealth games. All of the hiding in the shadows, stalking your prey and hiding their bodies after you take them down is pretty much gone, now it is all about taking down your enemies in the fastest way possible. This is done by the new system: Mark and Execute. First, you have to melee a guard to take him down. Then, you get access to being able to take down several guards in quick succession. You do this by looking at the guards and pressing the right bumper to select them, and then pressing the Y button when they are all in view will take them down one by one. This system, I will admit, does make the game a lot easier. You can blast through rooms in seconds, and the guards do not even know what hit them.
This is the style that they are going for, but at the same time, they could have implemented a better system that is not almost a win button. The other main part of the gameplay is last known position. Once you are seen, a silhouette of yourself is displayed, which is where the guards will be headed to take you down. As long as you are not seen again, you will be able to disappear, and sneak back around then to take them out. Another cool aspect of the gameplay is the interrogation scenes, which are downright brutal. Sam Fisher doesn’t care who he hurts at this point in his life, and he makes that fact obvious. They do hearken back to old school Splinter Cell in some sections though, as there are parts where you cannot be detected or its game over. This gives the long time fans what they want, and it a very cool change in pace of gameplay. That is one thing that this game excels at too, and that is changing up the pace of the gameplay. One second you are sneaking through the shadows, and the next you are chasing down a suspect that you need. They always are throwing something new at you, and I really enjoyed that about the game.
The game in terms of visuals, however, leaves some things to be desired. It looks good, but then at the same time there are textures that are downright bad. The game could have used a little more time polishing the graphics, but it still looks good for this generation. A cool presentation aspect of the game is that you will have your objectives, or flashback scenes that tell you more about what a character is telling you, projected on the walls in front of you. This is an interesting way to present this, and doesn’t take you out of the experience.
The animations are top notch, with when you shoot someone in the head; they drop like a lead balloon. The interrogation scenes demonstrate the brutality by seeing the victims head get slammed into things, and then showing scrapes and cuts in that area. There are some funny animations though, as sometimes if you melee a victim in the wrong spot, the ragdoll physics will cause their body to flail around. Also when you will go to mark and execute, you will do the animation and get the target, whether there is something in the way or not. Overall though, the presentation in this game is very good.
As I stated above, the main story is not very long, but the multiplayer certainly makes up for that. With five modes (four unlocked from the beginning and one from Ubisoft’s service called U-Play) there is a lot of different modes to sink your time into. First, the main mode for multiplayer is the co-op story. This is a prequel to the main game and is about two agents that work for Third Echelon, Archer and Kestrel. The gameplay in these levels is superb, and is really what should have been some of the cooler missions in the main story. I really enjoyed this mode, and I found I had some of the most fun from the entire game here. It is great to just hop on with a buddy and go through this mode.
However, that is where I feel it is the most fun. I find that it was hard to try to go through it with someone other than a friend, as you need someone you can trust to cover your back at all times. The other four modes are standard co-op multiplayer, with Hunter being like a terrorist hunt, Infiltration being like Hunter without you being detected, Last Stand which is Conviction’s horde mode, and Face Off with is you and a friend dueling, but with also waves of enemies. All of these modes are fun, and add hours of gamplay once you are done with the main story. However, I wish they would have included Spies vs. Mercs, but I can see that they were going another direction with the multiplayer.
Overall, Splinter Cell Conviction is a fantastic game that as I said brings the stealth genre to new heights. The game is one of the best Splinter Cells I have ever played, and I feel that Ubisoft has really made a solid game. Yes, aspects of the game are short, but I feel that is a great package for sixty dollars. I do hope, however, that they are able to re-imagine the genre again in the next installment, and maybe change things up even more. I would like to see more of the things done in the style of the multiplayer, as I believe Sam’s story may be winding down. It’s been a hell of a ride and one that everyone who has ever taken interest in the stealth genre must experience.
Review copy provided by publisher.