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April 20, 2010 | 12:00 a.m. CST
Sam Fisher has always been lurking in the shadows. For years he used them as a cover, a way to avoid his enemies. Now they’re his main tools for hunting and allow him to close gaps between his foes, escape detection and pounce from anywhere.
Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Conviction is the fifth installment in the Splinter Cell franchise. Ubisoft has revamped the gameplay, leaving stealth behind for a more action-oriented approach. Fisher no longer lives in a universe where detection leads to an almost inescapable failure. Now stealth and high-impact action go hand-in-hand and make for an adventure in the vein of the Bourne films.
Conviction catches up with Fisher after he leaves Third Echelon, the government agency for which he used to perform covert missions. Now he’s on the trail of his daughter’s killer; a trail that leads him back into Third Echelon with a vengeance. Narrative techniques, such as flashbacks, help flesh out the story and characters, but the story takes itself a tad too seriously. Luckily the game features excellent voice-acting to balance it. Michael Ironside, who reprises his role as Fisher, delivers a spot-on performance. Fisher wouldn’t be the same without Ironside’s hearty rumbling voice.
Fisher has some new tricks up his sleeve. Marking and executing allows Fisher to tag and neutralize enemies with the press of a single button. The player must earn the executing ability by first dispatching an enemy with a hand-to-hand takedown. The takedown and executing moves are always a thrill to pull off, and they make the player feel dangerous and predatory. Keeping Fisher constantly on the move is important, too. The enemies are intelligent and will not hesitate to close in on Fisher’s last known position, flank him or toss grenades. Conviction is at its best when Fisher is scrambling around an area, improvising to neutralize enemies and staying hidden while they close in on him. It’s intense and rewarding game play.
When the ability to execute is earned, a red flash accompanied by a noise slashes the screen to inform the player. This is a highly distracting way of getting information across. Conviction also lets players know they are hidden in darkness by fading all the color from the screen. This works well in theory, but it causes a chunk of the game to be in black and white instead of color – an odd design decision.
Another interesting choice Ubisoft made was holding one section of a level where detection leads to immediate failure. Considering the entire game is built against this notion of the old Splinter Cell games, the section is out of place and difficult to traverse. A few other levels take place in crowds during daylight, which is also new to the series. This mixes up the level design, but these stages don’t play to Conviction’s strengths.
The main campaign has 11 scenes, each of which take anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour to complete. It also has a separate cooperative campaign that lasts about five hours. The co-op campaign is a must-play and features all the same action and hunting thrills, but with two players working side-by-side. If that’s not enough, there are also online multiplayer modes.
Ubisoft took multiple steps in the right direction with Conviction. It has varied set pieces, intense action, satisfying combat mechanics and an original, effective control scheme. The drawbacks are minor: a somewhat short campaign, a few annoying trial-and-error sections in certain levels, some badly placed checkpoints and a handful of painfully linear levels. Despite these, Conviction is a new breed of espionage action. The $60 price tag might not be worth it, but a rental is a great idea to keep players happy for a weekend or a few rainy days. And it’s the closest thing to a video-game version of Jason Bourne or Jack Bauer, even more than the Bourne Conspiracy and 24: The Game themselves.
Platform: Xbox 360
Rating: M for Mature