Dealspwn Rating: 8/10
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Michael Ironside is a self-confessed pacificist, a fact that might cause some to chuckle (although probably not in his gravelly-voiced presence) considering his appearances in numerous bullet-ridden films to date, not to mention as stealthy G-man Sam Fisher in all five of his Splinter Cell adventures. The latter is a role that Ironside confesses to have had some issue with, talking to CBC at the end of March and relating how he felt that ‘Sam ended up representing a sociopathic and sometimes pathologically lying organization in the third and fourth game. [...] It was sad. Sam was just sitting there thinking, “I'm a gun in the hand of an irresponsible entity.” I didn't want to go any further with that.’
Not anymore. Sam’s back, only this time he’s definitely not sad. And he’s not representing anyone except for himself.
Conviction is a game that encapsulates one hell of a bad day in the life of Sam Fisher. Don’t expect cold, ranged, tactical precision, the thing that fuels this title is sheer rage, and lots of it. Mind you, you’d be pretty pissed off too if the country you’d fought to protect had turned its back on you, if the organisation that previously used to sign your cheques suddenly stabs a knife in your back and if it turned out that your daughter’s death and more of a calculated, personal attack. Fans may well miss the three glowing green lights that used to be as much an indication of Sam’s practically robotic soul as his ability to see in the dark but, like Ironside himself, I rather think that this makes for a much more fascinatingly complex central character.
This new Fisher has more in common with the three Bs – Bourne, Batman and Bond – than the stealthy super-spy of old. He’s been out of action for a bit since we last saw him and there are a few grey hairs stating to show on the temples, so it stands to reason that he’d be a little more direct perhaps. Ubisoft Montreal essentially chucked most of the game’s development out of the window with only a handful of months to go, starting from scratch in double quick time in a new direction and the result is a game not unlike Arkham Asylum, but with more guns.
Fisher is now much more brutal and far more direct. One of the big gameplay changes is the introduction of the executions. Marking targets will enable you to off them automatically at the touch of a button, provided that you have enough Mark points at your disposal, points that are earned through melee takedowns and hand-to-hand combat. The melee system is pretty clunky to be honest, it’s not a patch on Batman’s rhythmic punch-fest, but Conviction is still a Splinter Cell game at heart and so head-on confrontation is not really the order of the day. This is just a game that happens to give you the firepower to extricate yourself through bullet-spraying violence should you need, but it still encourages shadowy stealth.
Rather than working out a way past your opponents, though, Conviction is more about using the shadows to work your way to them for those melee takedowns and the precious Mark points that they yield. Say you’re hanging from a window ledge and there are three goons in the room, one with his back to the window. This new system will allow you to Mark the two other henchmen in advance, before silently assassinating the closest adversary and hitting ‘Y’ to trigger the now available executions.
Fisher also has a new set of context-sensitive interrogation techniques to break up the pacing a little bit in between infiltrating enemy encampments. If you want information from a target, Fisher will grab them by the neck and you can shuffle your way around the room, slamming them into any and all objects that you happen to find. One of the early scenes, playing out in a grimy bathroom, is highly reminiscent of the brutal opening to Casino Royale. These scenarios are over relatively quickly, and the interaction is pretty limited, but they prove brutally striking, turning even the most seemingly innocent of items into tools of torture.
Some players will miss the little things that have served to make the series great so far, but this is a wholly different game. Just as in Arkham Asylum, you want the soldiers you’re facing to know that you’re about, and the fear factor works to an even better extent than it did in Batman’s title so hiding the bodies in this game would seem almost pointless. Moving in and out of darkness all of the time, silently shooting out light bulbs to increase your playground of menacing activity adds to a pervasive sense of fear and the guards will become nervous, jittery and chatty with terror. The shadows in this game are no longer for hiding from your opposition, but for scaring the crap out of them.
The multiplayer is just as good, if not better. The split-screen co-op is a joy, with you and a partner taking on the roles of bickering US and Russian agents in a tale that interweaves with Fisher’s own. It’s short and sweet, but makes for an entertaining few hours. The Deniable Ops aspect of the game is pretty much a third-person parallel of Modern Warfare 2’s Special Ops, with 4 modes to choose from that pit you and your fellows against AI bots: Face-Off, Hunter, Infiltration, and Last Stand. The Spy vs. Mercs mode has gone, but there is a Spy vs. Spy multiplayer mode that sees you facing off against an equally stealthy adversary, with a whole room full of minions to manipulate to your own ends as you try to outsneak one another in true Splinter Cell style.
Graphically, this game stands up pretty damn well. A big fan of art direction, I was taken in by the monochrome effects used in The Saboteur last year, and Ubisoft have done something fairly similar here. Neutralise the lights in an area and step into the shadows and the game suddenly becomes black and white, only regaining its colour when you step back out into the light or if an enemy’s torch finds your hiding spot. It’s a wonderful effect indeed, and one that underlines the importance of light and shadow to this game’s core, although it must be said you’ll probably spend well over half of the game crouched and bathed in monochrome, somewhat under-representing the graphical quality of the game as a whole.
Nonetheless, Conviction is a very good game indeed. It could be longer, we find ourselves saying that fair bit these days, but considering the troubled development and the new direction, there’s no doubt that this game could have a been a lot worse. It is a testament to the development team that Fisher’s fifth outing feels so different, yet still manages to retain the character and essence of the series. Part of this is down to Ironside himself who, in between chewing boulders, sounds a lot less detached than he did in Double Agent, but a large part of the credit must go the new gameplay. Occasionally it runs out of ideas, forcing you to shoot your way out of things, but at its best, and this is for at least 70% of the game, Conviction makes you truly feel like a super-spy with nothing to lose, empowered to use whatever tactics you want to reach your ends.
- Superb cinematic storytelling
- Immensely satisfying predatory gameplay
- Unique visual stylings
- Too short
- May not please 'hardcore' stealth fans
- Occasionally lets itself down by forcing you into a firefight
The Short Version: Splinter Cell: Conviction is by far the most accessible game in the series and, as such, may well annoy some of the series stalwarts and 'hardcore' stealth fans on principal. However, those that do write this game off do so at their peril for, armed with a good story, a fantastic game engine, and a superb combination of shadowy stealth and predatory tactics, Conviction yields only to Chaos Theory, and only by a hair's breadth, as the best title in the series.