Splinter Cell: Conviction is easily the most accessible game in the franchise, period. Featuring Sam Fisher in the most brutal role I’ve seen him in, this chapter of the Splinter Cell series quickly jumps from a personal and tragic story to a political espionage actioner, but that’s not necessarily a good thing. The narrative is fairly bland, barely delivering something compelling enough to keep you coming back for more, but luckily, the gameplay delivers, creating a game that is the most flexible and accessible installment of the series.
In Conviction, we find Sam trying to get on with his life after he lost everything dear to him, but naturally, he’s quickly called back into service. The game does a decent job of immediately getting you in, using flashbacks and flash forwards to give you a little glimpse of what’s to come. Sadly, things deteriorate as you learn more of the story, using some cheap devices, taking away from the gravity of Sam’s motivations, making for a forgettable tale and taking away from your motivation to find out what happens. Though the plot did very little to compel me into sticking with Conviction, the gameplay really holds its own, making up for these failings.
One of the largest changes in Conviction is how the game deals with stealth. Previously, there was a light meter incorporated into the hud to show how visible Sam is, allowing you to still view your surroundings. This time out, when you’re in the shadows, the game turns to black and white. Normally, this wouldn’t be an issue, but once you’re in the shadows, it can become difficult to see what you’re doing or where you’re going. To combat this, you’ll get access to sonar goggles, showing you exactly where your enemies are as well as a decent vantage point of the environment.
Though you’ll be able to see in the dark with these goggles activated, moving while wearing them is not encouraged. Once you start moving, the screen will distort, mimicking the way these goggles will jiggle around while on your head. While these visual effects are slick in theory, in practice, it nearly renders your sense of sight useless. On the other hand, it does encourage some experimentation with how you use them, forcing you to take things a bit more deliberately and methodically in order to properly see what’s around you which has always been an emphasis of the Splinter Cell series.
Combat provides players with quite a bit of flexibility when tackling various objectives as you’ll employ different approaches however you see fit. Stealth is obviously the preferred method when entering a room full of baddies, but you can run in, guns blazing. Naturally, if you stay out in the open, you’ll quickly be felled, but if you use cover, remain in the shadows and put some thought into your actions, you’ll find there’s quite a bit going on here. This comes as a result of a new feature that marks Sam’s last known position, showing where your enemies think you are. When this happens, the opposing forces will fire and approach the position, but if you remain unseen, you’ll be able to flank the enemies or even set up distractions so you can get a better vantage point, eventually eliminating anyone foolish enough to attack you.
Another new feature comes with the execution function, allowing you to mark a given amount of enemies, then taking them all down with the push of a button. While it’s an extremely cool ability, it’s too overpowered to be available to players at all times. In order to place a limit on this ability, it only becomes available after using a melee attack to kill a baddie or by using them as a human shield. This forces players to get close to any target and take them out, reinforcing the calculating and brutal nature of being a splinter cell agent.
While the single player story portion of the game is fairly short and forgettable, the other modes do a fantastic job of adding some longevity to the game. A slew of co-op and competitive modes (some of which can be played alone, but are substantially more enjoyable when played with a friend) help make this game into something more appealing and fun.
Modes like Hunter or Last Stand, while fun, have been seen before. The hunter mode has enemies patrolling an environment and all you have to do is simply eliminate them. These groups of enemies come in waves, where you’ll have to take out a set of troops before the next one is available. Still, there are interesting touches like the fact that if you’re discovered and you’re not able to take out a baddie before they call for help, reinforcements arrive, substantially increasing the challenge while encouraging you to remain unseen.
The last stand mode is probably the weakest of the bunch as it pretty much plays like Firefight mode in Halo, Survival mode in Left 4 Dead or Horde mode in Gears of War, where you must defend a position from incoming troops. It’s not bad, but it’s done so much better in other games. One interesting and extremely challenging mode is Infiltration, where, like in the Hunter mode, you must take out all troops in an area, but the trick here is that you mustn’t allow the enemy to see you. Once you’re spotted, it’s game over, making this purely stealth-based mode a challenging and satisfying experience.
The best multiplayer options of the lot lay in Face-Off and the Co-Op story mode. Face-Off is more or less the same as Hunter, but while you’re taking out NPCs, you’ll also have to contend with a second player who is fighting to eliminate as many of these baddies as possible as well as you. The Co-Op story is really where the game shines (even more so than anything in the singleplayer missions) as you’re able to open up new possibilities on how to approach a scenario. You’ll be able to coordinate your actions with a pal, creating distractions, flanking enemies and taking different routes to clear an area.
You’ll also be able to revive fallen partners in the game, but it’s often easier said than done. I found that when my partner was taken out, not only would I have to get to him before they bleed out, I’d also have to clear the area of any adversaries that may take me down as well. Along with that, both players have the potential of being captured, as a foe may overpower you and use you as a human shield, and you’ll have to wait for a clear shot before you can take out any aggressors, adding a slick extra touch to the game.
Where the story elements are the low point of the game, these extra modes help pick things back up and allow you to experience something that isn't hampered by these drawbacks. While some of these modes are available for you to play on your own, they really shine when another person joins you, especially in the co-op story mode. If you've never been a fan of the series, give Conviction a try. Between the new gameplay elements and the stellar online modes, this could be the installment that changes your mind.
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal Studios
Release: February 23, 2010
Available On: Nintendo DS, PC, Xbox 360
Similar Games Played:
Splinter Cell (Xbox/PS2) – Love it
Splinter Cell Pandora Tomorrow (Xbox/PS2) – Like it
Splinter Cell Double Agent (X360/PS3) – Meh
Metal Gear Solid 3 – Love It