Sam Fisher is everywhere I go. I see him in the dimly lit streets, behind an SUV, and hanging from a 10-foot air duct. He hides behind every window, and lurks in each darkened corner.
At 23-years-old, and having played video games almost every day for the better part of 18 years, I rarely come across a title that has such a profound impact upon me as Splinter Cell: Conviction. Have you ever played a game where, even when you are at school or work or college, you continue to play out scenarios in your mind’s eye, or fondly replay an unforgettable moment over and over in your head?
Conviction is one such game.
Like so many gamers, I had dabbled in previous iterations of the Splinter Cell series. While I could recognize the potential, I never continued the story beyond the first few missions. Despite having an undying love for Metal Gear Solid, stealth has never really been my thing, and Sam Fisher seemed to be just another character that would lead me down that road to inevitable frustration.
So it was with much scepticism that I took on the review for Splinter Cell: Conviction. Sure, I’d read about Ubisoft’s “massive gameplay overhaul”, and had even watched a member of the development team play through a level some months back. But I still refused to accept that the game wouldn’t be just another stealth-driven adventure to my own insanity.
The tale behind Splinter Cell: Conviction may seem ludicrous to some on the outside, but the intricately woven storyline blossoms brilliantly as you progress through the game. While critics may simply slap a “this is just a story about bad guys trying to take over the world with EMP” tagline onto Conviction, there are much, much deeper elements to Sam’s campaign. His daughter – who he previously believed to be dead – is the chief factor in Sam taking the fight into his own hands, and the way his former Gulf War buddy recounts what your upcoming missions will be is simply sublime.
Anna “Grim” Grimsdottir is the catalyst for Fisher’s new fight, and while at first she seems to be looking out for Sam, several flashforwards elude to a more sinister motive. The fact that you are truly alone in the world is emphasised numerous times throughout the story, and it does a remarkable job of enveloping you into Third Echelon’s complex web of intrigue.
As most fans of the series will know, the gameplay has been completely revamped. Not only are you given the opportunity to question (or violently interrogate, as is often the case) several key characters throughout missions, but the way in which you now approach each level is entirely different from what we have come to expect from previous Splinter Cell games.
The producers were quick to establish that Conviction would have more of a sandbox feel to it than ever before. And while this is absolutely true, it’s slightly disappointing that there are usually only two unique ways to complete each mini-section of a level. Still, having the option to either sneak your way into a room via a glass roof or bash down the door all-guns-blazing is able to give two completely different style of gamers exactly what they want.
The combat system in Conviction is a shining example of how a game can flourish or flop upon the execution of fighting mechanics. You are given a few different options for taking out your enemies. First, you can silently take down a guard with a melee attack; if you manage to complete this successfully, without alerting other enemies or leaving the body in full view of security cameras, then you will be rewarded with Execution points. These points can then be used by Sam to silently pick off your foes at a blinding pace. Use them wisely, though, because they can be more than a little challenging to earn.
Sound is often the unsung hero of many successful titles. Heavy Rain managed to capture the essence of fear, hope, and tragedy all within its unique musical score. Conviction similarly provides an aural soundtrack that will have you clenching your controller as guards close in upon your location. There are no kitchy sound effects, ala Metal Gear Solid – just the foreboding sense that you are deep within the lion’s den.
The game would be phenomenal on its own, without the addition of multiplayer and co-op. But Ubisoft has accepted the fact that, for most games to have a global appeal these days, online capabilities need to be implemented. I’m happy to report that not only has the developer implemented these features, but they provide some of the most exciting multiplayer sequences a stealth action title can ever hope to offer.
Deniable Ops, co-op, and multiplayer modes are all additional features that gamers can take advantage of, and while I dare say that plenty of fans will be disappointed by the fact that Fisher has lost much what made him so popular in years gone by, the Archer and Kestral missions provide a riveting steal-based experience. Depending on your timezone, finding a fellow gamer to play through the Third Echelon agents’ missions can be hit-and-miss, but when you finally experience Conviction’s multiplayer gaming at its finest, you come to realize that you have truly received two stunning games in one.
I cannot stress enough how much more accessible Splinter Cell has become through Conviction. Hardcore fans will certainly have their problems with the new action-oriented gameplay elements, but for the majority of gamers there is something so brilliant about Sam Fisher’s latest adventure, that it is hard to find anything that would prevent me from recommending this game to you.
Even on a 360, Conviction manages to look phenomenal. Locations are engaging, and the semi-sandbox worlds are intelligently built.
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If you are able to open your mind to a new way of playing Splinter Cell, you will doubtlessly become immersed in the accessible world of Conviction.
Music, sound effects, voice acting: all sublime.
The single player campaign will clock in at around about 7-8 hours on normal difficulty – longer on realistic. However, with a multitude of extra campaign and multiplayer options as Archer and Kestral, you won’t be putting the game down any time soon.
Whether you’re an action nut, stealth gamer, or somewhere in between, Splinter Cell: Conviction has all the ingredients to take you on an unforgettable thrillride.