Splinter Cell: Conviction

Posted on July 6, 2010

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How do you make the world’s most lethal spy creep out from hiding? Leveraging his daughter against him to turn him into a wrecking ball against the agency he bled to serve would get you started. But, unless you’re looking to add a few skylights to your home, office, and your head, why would you want to rattle that hornets’ nest?

Would stopping the American government from being overthrown be enough motivation? In Splinter Cell: Conviction, toying with what’s left of rogue spy Sam Fisher’s life makes for a high-stakes adventure clad with knee-jerk shooting, espionage, sabotage, and jaw-dropping brutality. 

Conviction starts out as a manhunt to find your daughter’s killer. But Third Echelon, the agency that betrayed you, gives you a whiff of your daughter Sarah’s trail, but like a typical covert ops agency Third Echelon dangles your daughter Sarah’s life in front of you like a carrot, coaxing you back into a fight you’ve left behind. Because of his past, Fisher resembles a rampaging bear woken early from hibernation more than a human. Ubisoft went a bit overboard with reveals and twists in Conviction, but the story lays the brick and mortar for Fisher’s remorseless, even ruthless killing.

What sets Conviction apart from other action games are the game mechanics designed to emphasize Fisher’s many talents as an iron chef of death. The mark and execute feature tilts the odds in Fisher’s favor no matter how many baddies flood the scene. Mark and execute allows players to tag up to four enemies and waste them with the click of a single button. But, to earn mark and execute, players must first pull off a silent takedown, which seamlessly joins stealth gameplay with unleashing hell on enemies. 

I thought mark and execute would dampen the experience since manually aiming dominates most shooting experiences in games. But, with the pace of fight sequences requiring lightning-quick reactions, mark and execute makes the entire game work and proves to be a breath of fresh air for a stale, overused mechanic in games. Combining mark and execute with the plethora of gadgets at Fisher’s disposal, players can easily turn any skirmish into a domino-effect of destruction.

The ability to take down an entire squad with two button clicks delivers the feeling of true assassin and calls for fist pumps throughout the game. Ubisoft’s also dreamed up last known position, a mechanic that shows players where they were last spotted with a white shadow. This makes for great counter situations if you can react fast enough. In the slowest part of Conviction, players are treated to visceral interrogation sequences. These scenes show just how ticked off Fisher is, and how creative a rogue spy can be with everyday household items.

For all of its brilliance, Conviction rebels against its Splinter Cell lineage in that silence is no longer crucial to success. Fans accustomed to the sneaky Sam Fisher will be jarred from those comfy dark corners and into fast-paced encounters with the enemy. And let’s face it, the other Splinter Cell games rocked, so some people will be understandably upset with Ubisoft’s new direction for the series’ crescendo. 

What I missed most from other Splinter Cell titles was the hacking, file scrounging, and other side missions that encouraged a spy feel to the game. Because they require steel nerves, ninja stealth, and patience, those side missions would pump the brakes on Conviction, so omitting those missions isn’t surprising. 

What would make mark and execute even better? Co-op mark and execute. Ubisoft brings back a co-op story line to satisfy players’ undeniable thirst for tag team spy action. Co-op story mode keeps Conviction breathing after the first play through, while online modes such as Hunter and Deniable Ops are challenging objective based modes requiring teamwork and mastery of mechanics.

Apart from empowering game mechanics, Ubisoft streamlined the experience by adding on-screen objectives and cutscenes. This keeps the player at the helm virtually all of the time, cutting down on pausing and watching cutscenes. Unfortunately, players don’t have much control over the final scene, as it is all but a scene on train tracks. But, the weight of the story and blistering action leading up to the climax forgive a passenger-side feel to the final minutes of Conviction.

Having played all the Splinter Cell games, it was difficult to play Sam as an action-hero rather than a covert operative. The suit fits the bill, however, given the stakes and the deterioration of Fisher’s humanity. But, with all the action games out there, Splinter Cell held the crown as the best action title that didn’t call for buckets of blood. Once a good soldier capable of sparing the lives of his enemies (when possible), Fisher became what he hunted–a killer only concerned with his agenda.

At the same time, Ubisoft did well to honor the series by giving the Splinter Cell series a natural progression you’d expect from literature. Whether an old school Splinter Cell fan from 2002 or a newcomer joining the dance at the end of the song, Ubisoft delivers a heavy-hitting title with fluid action. From predatory stealth kills to explosive sabotage tactics, Conviction boasts balance in all approaches to the game and clear polish throughout the experience.

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Posted in: Reviews