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Splinter Cell Conviction

Splinter Cell star Sam Fischer has always been about stealth.  The old formula involved catching foes unawares one guy at a time and sneaking up behind them to put them down.  Then a couple of things happened.  Number one is Ubisoft clearly started watching 24.  Number two is Sam Fischer decided that while it’s fun to sneak up behind guys and take them out one at a time it’s even more fun to shoot 4 people in the face in the span of 3 seconds.  As gamers, we should be thankful for both of these things.

Anybody terribly attached to the old school Splinter Cell games should prepare themselves for this new experience.  Make no mistake, this is *NOT* a 3rd person shooter now.  However, the emphasis is now very clearly on a new kind of stealth that focuses on how to take down groups of enemies at a time.  This is accomplished through a number of things, but the focus of the game (and the first thing I must talk about) is the new mark and execute system.  If your unfamiliar with the game, this system is going to sound insanely overpowered, but bear with me.  The system enables you to “mark” targets (signified by a small symbol above their head).  While this serves as a good means of tracking them, the major point is it allows you to execute the marked targets with the press of a button.  So, yes, there are situations in the game where you can jump out in front of four enemies and press one button, and Sam puts a bullet directly into the head of all 4 before they can even react.  Doing this all the time would be overpowered, but the game makes you work for it, and offsets the OPness by making situations where not using it would basically make the game impossible.  The first, and largest, check is that to earn the ability to execute you must perform a hand to hand take down.  These are also vastly different from old the school Splinter Cell take downs.  Sam delivers some viscous blows to the head with his pistol, or even more fun if you’re using a silent weapon, actually shoots the unlucky henchmen in the head, or the chest twice (double tap baby).  The context of the hit changes on location and weapon, so you can do fun things like smack people with the butt of a shotgun or slam a dudes head into a wall.  Any execution move must be preceded by a hand to hand kill, so the familiar sneaking up on guys remains a big part of the game.

"Have you ever fired your gun in the air and yelled aaaauuuuggggghhhh?!"

The other balance is that there is a limit to the number of foes that can be executed at once, determined by the weapon your currently using.  Yes, the large assault rifle may be able to hit from a long distance, but only two enemies at a time can be “marked”.  One silent pistol, on the other hand, can mark  four at once.  I used said pistol for most of the game, and found that the larger guns (assault rifles and shotguns) were only used in situations where I screwed up and had to engage in direct combat without the execution ability active.  So how does this all play out?  I realize this is pretty specific, but I really think the developers watched season 1 of 24 and decided to make a game around one of the final shootouts.  In the show, main character and ultimate badass Jack Bauer sneaks into a shipyard full of nefarious henchmen.  He slowly sneaks around, determining how many guys he has to deal with and their general positioning.  After a tense 30 seconds of buildup, Jack springs.  In a flurry of movement and gunfire, they all end up dead and our hero remains unscathed.  This is the ideal way to deal with most of the encounters in Conviction.

As an example, one level has you sneaking through a large mansion, with a large basement area filled with antiques and crates.  I was hanging from a pipe on the ceiling.  Four enemies came into the room, aware they had an intruder but unaware of where exactly I was.  This brings me to the best piece of advice I can give to anybody whose actually playing the game ; PRE MARK YOUR TARGETS.  While the ability to execute remains dormant until the close quarters kill is done, the ability to mark said targets can be done at any time.  So before I did anything else, I marked the four guys.  The symbol above their head is grayed out instead of the menacing red that signifies the “press button and this dudes eat it”, but the mark remains.  Most importantly, the mark will instantly turn red (read: active) as soon as the execute ability comes up, which means having everybody tagged will enable quick take downs instead of doing the hand to hand, then retreating to set up your marks.  With everybody marked, I watched as the four slowly explored the room, forming into a triangle formation with one dude int he middle.  As soon as the middle dude walked directly below the pipe I was hanging on, the show started.  The “death from above” prompt came up and Sam dropped.  Landing directly on top of the first guy and snapping his neck in one motion earned me the execute ability, and I was hammering the button even before the neck snapping animation finished.  As the other three yelled things like “there he is!” or “SHIT!” Sam quick drew his pistol and pivoted three times, putting a shot between the eyes of the remaining enemies before they even had time to raise their guns.  That is how you take down a fucking room.

Oh yeah, all your objectives show up on walls and stuff. Neat? I guess?

If that sounds enjoyable, play this game.  Mark and execute awesomeness is not the only cool thing that Conviction brings to the table however.  The game looks very good, with smooth animations for Sam and those he will be killing.  Speaking of which, Sam moves like a damn panther in this game, especially compared to the older Splinter Cell titles.  The new action focused stealth hybrid brought on this change and it is a welcome one from the very slow pace of the older games.  Another major change is how your stealth meter works, namely there isn’t one.  Instead of an on-screen UI to show you how hidden (or not) in shadow you actually are, the game accomplishes the same thing with color scheme.  If Sam is hidden in dark, the game takes on a mostly black and white color scheme, which is instantly recognizable without being overt.  It adds to the “COOL” factor of executions too because to go back to my previous example, as I fell from the pipe and landed on the guy, the muted black and white world suddenly exploded into full color as I pwned fools.  I’m all for the recent gaming trend that tries to have the UI be as sparse as possible and give the player information in more organic ways than “HEY LOOK NUMBERS!” (unless I’m playing Borderlands, in which case, I love the numbers popping out of skag’s heads).  While you still have your ammo count and weapon selection window, I’m happy to the see the stealth meter go bye-bye, as well as the health meter, as Conviction uses the now shooter genre staple of regenerative health and being able to tell your close to death as the screen tinges with blood and the controller vibrates.

After doing this Sam says, and I am not making this up, "Gravity. Still works."

The story also feels very 24 inspired.  The plot is easy to follow, involving traitors within the government, Sam “coming out of retirement” to help even though he doesn’t really want too, revelations about his daughter, and totally unrealistic situations overcome by one man.  (Read that again, seriously, Ubisoft was watching 24 while making this game, I mean literally, as they were coding it, they must have been.)  Sadly, the plot isn’t really that interesting.  It isn’t horrible and serves as a good enough device to move the game along, but never was I playing going “OMG WHAT WILL HAPPEN NEXT?!?!”.  The ai is mostly solid, although even on realistic difficulty they can behave in pretty dumb ways.  For example, one neat feature the game uses in your “last known position”.  When seen by the enemy, a whitish ghost like silhouette of Sam will form around him.  If you manage to move stealthily away, the “ghost” you remains for you to see, and this signifies where your attackers THINK you are.  This is fun for flanking purposes, but it sometimes takes the AI an abnormally long time to figure out your no longer at your last known position.  They can be right on the other side the cover you were using, popping up taking shots, and only after they come ALL the way around and the barrel of the gun practically into your ghost will they wise up and resume looking for you.  Realistic difficulty my eye!

The game has what I’m told is awesome co-op multiplayer, but I’ll be honest and say I have yet to engage in said gameplay.  Enosh you have Gamefly, get this game for a weekend so we can do the separate campaign and get some achievements damn it!

The single player campaign is short (7-8 hours) but there is a “denial ops” mode that is basically one-off maps that has you either protecting an objective from incoming enemies, or stalking around the map with the goal being to eliminate everybody.  These don’t really have a story, but since you probably weren’t playing the real game for the story anyway, these extra missions are fun.  Also, while the level design is solid across the whole game, I feel like the denial ops maps are actually better constructed than the campaign proper.  It seems like there are more ways to actually go and different avenues to approach rooms in these denial ops maps.  This offers an additional 6 or so hours of fun, coupled with a co-op campaign that is about the same and the game is easily worth the money.

But don’t get bogged down in the details.  Clearing a room full of guys with a couple of broken necks and a bunch of head shots is immensely satisfying and fun to set up.  Most of the splinter cell gadgets make an appearance as well, but I honestly just focused on using pistol for 85 percent of the game.  Enemies will sometimes refer to “the famous Sam Fischer” as they nervously try to find you which makes sense, because the game really does make you feel like an insanely well-trained combat operative.  While the story is nothing to write home about, the controls are sharp and the game play is unique.  I look forward to more Splinter Cell games in the same vein as this one.  If for some reason you are a fan of the old but haven’t tried Conviction yet, give it a shot.  Everything evolves, and Splinter Cell evolved in a great direction.


One Response

  1. 7-8 hour single player campaign is pretty short. Splinter Cell was always one of those games that I liked, but never bought on release day. I’ll wait for a good used sale and pick this one up. Halo Reach is coming!

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