It seems that Ubisoft has told us around 37 times now that the next Splinter Cell really will be the one in which Sam Fisher is let off the leash. Not bad considering that there are only four games so far. Never once though, have we felt that a ‘Cell game has ever truly liberated the gruff-voiced old shadow-bastard.
But now that we’ve seen Splinter Cell: Conviction in action, we believe that the promise is finally coming true. Not only is Sam off the leash, but so is the stealth genre itself; seemingly free of all the irritating constrictions and niggles that have held it back before. Here’s why we think that Conviction just could be the most dynamic and exciting stealth game yet.
It’s ludicrously fast-paced. The problem with most stealth games is that the satisfaction of a slick infiltration always comes with the pay-off of very slow, overly methodical play. Great for tension and cerebral satisfaction, but not so hot for thrills. In Conviction, Sam is a bull in a badly-lit china shop. The whole experience, from level layout to equipment to enemy behaviour, seems set up to balance a considered, predatory approach with the scope for inertia and aggression.
Sam is now a devastating force. No more controlling a supposed hardcore badass who has to hide away like a little girl or else die.This time around, Sam looks like a cross between Marcus Fenix and Batman. We finally get to see what a government-trained skull-buster can really do.
Punishing close-up melee attacks and increased speed mean that being spotted now just means a change of pace rather than a swift death. Stealth might be his background, but he’s now more than deadly face-to-face too.
Sam’s new tricks do not mess around. The new skills and toys we’ve seen in Conviction have their origins in his old toolbox, but look geared up for poundingly visceral offence by comparison. The fibre-optic keyhole cam is replaced by a piece of broken glass, and while checking out the interior of a new room, it seems that Sam can now “program” in a couple of auto-kill gunshots to be executed on his targets upon busting in. No more skulking around outside like he’s waiting at the headmaster’s office.
And the old EMP gun? That weedy little lightbulb killer? How about an EMP grenade? Screw taking out one small light source and waiting three days for a weapon recharge. Now Sam can blow out a whole corridor and charge straight in for a hit-and-run beat down. Yep, we said hit-and-run. From the demo it looks like Sam can now move fairly quietly at speed, so the compromise between pace and safety should be nowhere near as pronounced as before.
The levels are your playground. There would be very little point in giving Sam all that dynamism and versatility if he was still constrained by the linear pathways of the old games. We’re now promised that each level will be a small sandbox, with Sam able to invent and carve his own path to his objective using a free choice of methods. With Sam having what looks like some seriously upgraded environmental manoeuvrability this time around, it sounds like a fast, massively brutal Hitman to us. We’re in.
Story, objectives, and even emotion are now evoked through simulated black and white projections beamed onto the in-game environment in real-time. They’re very cool and deeply atmospheric, but they’re not just there to make things look arty. Their main purpose is to allow swift and economic communication to the player without ever stilting the breakneck pace of a level.
No pop-up dialogue windows, and no stopping to concentrate on audio information. Just a brief, Prince of Persia-style fly-by at the start to show off the layout and build your anticipation, and then you and Sam are off the leash. And yes, we think that you really, really are this time.