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Splinter Cell: Conviction Super Review

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 Right now, you’ve got two factions of Splinter Cell: Conviction “fans”: Folks on message boards prematurely bashing it for “trying to be Modern Warfare 2,” and thus “not Splinter Cell” enough. And people like me, who called it their most anticipated game of the year precisely because it didn’t look like a typical Splinter Cell game. Looks like we all get to be wrong. Because much like the details of Sam Fisher’s daughter’s death, you shouldn’t believe everything you hear.


Above: Less of this than you'd think

Personally, I was happy to see Splinter Cell deviate from the “Wait, wait, hide a body, wait some more” formula. While the series wowed initially with impressive visuals and realistic AI, the annual gameplay had grown a bit dull and lifeless, brought down by the weight of conspiratorial portent it so desperately wanted us to care about, it assumed we’d restart failed missions several billion times just to sit through more of it.


Above: Some nasty surprises await!

In that respect, things have changed for the better. Literally projecting Sam Fisher’s motivation on the walls rings true as a welcome new method through which games, like BioShock and Half-Life, unspool a narrative while you play, and not while you watch. However, we were all a bit misled to believe this was all part of a much larger change for the series. And this is where Conviction will get extremely divisive.


Above: Corridors of guys to kill - get used to it

You Splinter Cell purists bitching up a storm on the web: We see you. “You can’t hide bodies? WTFAIL!!1!” Okay… I suppose hiding the remains of your dead adds an element of realism. Thing is, we’ve never found the realistic aspects all that fun to play, so I missed stashing cadavers about as much as I yearn for more crate puzzles in a Tomb Raider game. After all, the last thing I want to in a game is clean up after myself (I recommend the whiners try The Sims.)


Above: Projected objectives and flashbacks leave out some cutscenes altogether

Things have been streamlined, thankfully. And while you can commend the developers for emphasizing the “action” in “stealth action game,” frankly, it’s not enough after Batman: Arkham Asylum kicked our collective asses with what being a cunning creature of the shadows should actually feel like in modern gaming. While the comparison isn’t entirely fair, one can’t deny that both should share the same goals, approach and intended appeal. Sam Fisher is pretty much Batman… if he were much slower, sucked at close-quarters combat, and all his dope ass gadgets were replaced with upgradable guns.


Above: Instead of a of stealh meter, the whole game turns black and white when you're concealed. Making the rare moments of light and color feel sort of like this:

 

The brand new Mark and Execute maneuver certainly helps in that regard. Stealthily take out someone using your bare hands, and you’ll land you a couple “free*” kills. Here, you can mark your multiple targets from behind cover, then - *pip-pip* - execute numerous enemies with the touch of a single button.


Above: Mark and Execute mutiple fools in less than a second

*Hardened Clancy-philes may consider this “dumbed down,” but trust me, that shit is earned! This is no free kill. It’s not exactly easy to take a guy out up close, and pulling off the perfect Execution requires a keen sense of timing, since even the haphazard squeeze of a silenced trigger will alert everyone in the vicinity.


Above: Interrogations follow a x3 beat that gets old after a while

It feels like Splinter Cell: Conviction desperately wanted to break free from its mold to become more focused on gunplay. But it doesn't, really. Outside of a level that flashes back to the first (best?) Gulf War, squeezing the trigger and emptying a clip is pretty much a liability that’ll instantly remind you that THIS IS NOT A SHOOTER.


THREE THINGS: This is Splinter Cell: Conviction. This is Iraq twenty years ago. And that is NOT Sam Fisher

Splinter Cell has always been - and very much still is - about being patient. You’ll certainly spend a lot less times cooling your heels under the cover of darkness, but that’s still very much the basis of the gameplay. Enemy behavior and overall presentation are still a marvel to behold. But Conviction couldn’t shake something that’s plagued the rest of the series in many players' eyes, and that’s the overwhelming feeling that when you survive, it’s based largely on luck, and not your own badassery.

As Fisher’s campaign goes on, many pieces of the environment that showcase any sort of uniqueness - like pipes, window ledges, and shootable lights - eventually just disappear… And the game reveals what it really is: wave after wave of being outnumbered by enemies in hallways with very little deviation.

The cover system may be one of the smartest we’ve seen in next-gen gaming, but the enemies are smarter. I’d easily wager most people will spend 3/4s of the single-player campaign loading and retrying after you’re repeatedly struck down by enemies that always cruelly outnumber you (Another series hallmark!)

We could take or leave other parts of the evolution, as well. The ghostly image that marks your Last Known Position actually does a disservice to the enemy AI by making them look like morons, and there’s something about using your own fragile body as a decoy that sort of defeats the purpose. And the slick cinematics found in the Interrogation scenes quickly reveal themselves to be unskippable cutscenes punctuated with violent quicktime events.


Above: Share Marks and save your buddy!

If we seem overly negative here, it's because we really hoped for more from the single-player mode. However, as anyone who's followed the series knows, Splinter Cell's multiplayer modes are always the better half anyhow, and Conviction's multiplayer co-op campaign is a saving grace if there ever was one. For all the dev team's assertions of tactical strategery, co-op is the place we saw the most evidence of it, plus it’s more fun than any moment you’ll play by yourself.


Anove: This is what we wanted

Here’s where you and a friend will play as through a completely different storyline as Third Echelon agent Archer and Russkie badass, Kestrel. For some reason, these are the levels that open up and truly showcase how quick and deadly you can be, whereas the rest of the game gradually shrinks and strips away features until your just barreling down a crowded tube full of men who can survive headshots. In case you’re wondering how much fun we had orchestrating kills and sharing execution moves with friends, know this: The game would’ve scored a point lower without Co-op.


Is it better than…?


Batman: Arkham Asylum?
Oh, hell no. And even an entry-level Bruce Wayne makes Sam Fisher look weak, Power-puff spy by comparison. During most missions, all Fisher has at his disposal is the ability to crouch. Whereas, Batman owns the darkness, Fisher is dependent on it, and his ability to shoot out lights just goes away after a while, seemingly for no other reason than to make each hallway harder. For Batman, the stakes are even higher: If he’s seen, he’s dead. Yet, Splinter Cell: Conviction  had me nearly snapping the controller in two following every restart after agonizing restart. Plus, there wasn’t a moment I didn’t feel like grappling out of a situation.

Modern Warfare 2?
No. But then, why should it be? Let this be the last time we have to say this: Splinter Cell: Conviction is not a shooter. In fact, Sam Fisher isn’t even all that great with a gun. Spray and Pray is nowhere near an option here, and firing automatic weapons should generally be reserved for a last ditch effort to survive. If you were looking reasons to dislike Conviction based on a tenuous comparison to MW2, don’t bother, ‘cause it ain’t there.

Splinter Cell: Double Agent?
We think so, even if the internet has proclaimed Conviction’s inferiority without having played it. Even if you aren’t a fan of a streamlined approach, it’s hard to ignore the evolution in the latest entry is more than befitting of the term “Next-Gen.” Add to that, the latest game continues to tell Sam’s story, which should be goofy and outlandishly unapproachable by now, both masterfully and believably. Don’t call it cinematic... because it’s actually better than that.

 

Just for you, Metacritic!

While co-op kicks an unholy amount of ass, the Fisher campaign wasn’t the drastic departure from the series’ punishing trial and error we were all expecting. Fans may mourn the loss of certain aspects, yet there’s still a commendable evolution found within an experience much richer in player choice and consequences they shouldn't ignore. Outside of the occasional moments where the game starts ham fistedly projecting Fisher’s emotions on the wall (FRUSTRATION!) the storytelling takes full advantage of the medium in a way that few games ever do.

Apr 13, 2010

More Info

Available Platforms: PC, Xbox 360
Published by: Ubisoft
Developed by: Ubisoft, Ubisoft Montreal
ESRB Rating:
Mature

We Recommend

116 comments

  • mriopel - May 18, 2011 11:59 p.m.

    Why thy no make for PS3 :'(
  • Lionzest7 - September 12, 2010 7:02 a.m.

    While this review is old, I read it just for the sake of seeing how chris' taste was against mine, but I think even if he was a bit bais against SC itself, his rating was justified. This game isn't for everyone, but I think 8 suits it just fine. Loved the game though personally.
  • Triscuitable - June 19, 2010 4:08 p.m.

    @michaelmcc827 Can I say something in this? I LOVED the original Splinter Cell games. I played the first, Pandora Tomorrow, Chaos Theory, Double Agent, and Conviction. AND I LOVE CONVICTION. You'll find that it has probably the HARDEST difficulty setting in any Splinter Cell game. Realistic difficulty is not only brutal, but punishes you for every mistake you make. Sam is now nimble, and able to climb up and along objects in under 5 minutes, which is really nice. Also, not being able to hide bodies is a good thing to talk about. You weren't able to do it in Metal Gear Solid, and if a guard found a body, all hell broke loose. So making sure guards didn't reach a body was the first thing on your list. Same here. Plus, remember how long it took to hide a body? It took around 5 seconds to pick one up, and it slowed your speed DRAMATICALLY. I think it's better now. Also, to drive your fanboy gene INSANE, here is the list of platforms I played the games on, in order of the list I mention when I said I loved the games. Gamecube, Gamecube, DS, Wii, Xbox 360. Go beserk, you whiny little wiener.
  • Triscuitable - June 19, 2010 3:56 p.m.

    Just bought it the other day. HOW COULD YOU SPOIL THAT THE IRAQ LEVEL HAD YOU NOT PLAY AS SAM?! (I already beat the level before I read the review, but that is one of many brilliant twists in the game.
  • Stebsy - April 20, 2010 7:20 a.m.

    finished the single player and its not that hard. if you find yourself having to restart then change your approach, this deserves a 9.
  • wiitard07 - April 19, 2010 12:53 a.m.

    Great review Chris! I was expecting a bit more out of the singleplayer than you got out of it, but hey, whatever. Good to see that the Co-op is as great as it looks, can't wait to pick this one up for me and my little brother.
  • EnragedTortoise1 - April 18, 2010 12:52 p.m.

    Fanboy wars are fun to watch...
  • ColonelKc - April 17, 2010 12:25 p.m.

    WHAT? This game is not hard. You guys must suck at the game or something.
  • JohnnyMaverik - April 17, 2010 12:43 a.m.

    YOU ONLY GAVE IT AN 8 BECAUSE IT'S NOT ON THE PS3. SONY FANBOYS >.< Nah I kid... Nice review although seriously, Splinter Cell Conviction... coulden't give less of a fk. I can't wait for Ubisoft to stop making Tom Clancy crap.
  • J-spit - April 15, 2010 11:19 p.m.

    In the game the slap wasn't funny. Until he did it again. I had to ask why he was so hostile at the time.
  • TickleMimic - April 15, 2010 9:54 p.m.

    to clarify "it" in my last post i mean their opions. They are nobodys and have no journalistic credibility, like Chris does. Can't wait to hear about this in the podcast haha
  • lovinmyps3 - April 15, 2010 9:54 p.m.

    I've almost beaten the single player and so far my biggest complaint is that it hasn't changed enough. It's still a lot of waiting in shadows to get that hand-to-hand kill. I'm a hardcore Splinter Cell fan too (I even read those shitty books) and I was really looking forward to the pacing to be picked up. It's definitely changed but just not quite enough.
  • TickleMimic - April 15, 2010 9:51 p.m.

    Great reveiw Chris! I'm planning on picking up a copy because they changed the stlye of gameplay. I play video games because they are a way to escape reality therefore why should a game make me hide bodies. Anyways everyone should quit their bitching and go play the old games if thats what they like don't try and jam it down my throat. Cough*michaelmcc827*Cough
  • crazyqazqaz - April 15, 2010 12:40 p.m.

    Jesus I've never heard such a bunch of big headed whiners! Stop arguing pathetic little details and get on with your lives. Seriously, can't we all just get along?
  • CaseD - April 15, 2010 9:45 a.m.

    My problem is I want the co-op, but I hated the SP gameplay in the demo. I just can't seem to bring myself to paying £40 for half of a game, I guess I'll hope for a price drop at some point in the future, and that it isn't anything like MW2 in that respect (going up £5 in my local gamestation, WTF!?)
  • StoveToTheFace - April 15, 2010 9:23 a.m.

    come on really this game is great im playing it on the hardest level and its not that hard so if a negitive is how hard it is you suck at games cuz this isnt hard if anything its too a lil to easy..once you get the hang of it, you will be slaying everything in the room with a few well placed shots. same would beat the shit out of wayne btw if they both had no gear on...granted the new batman was better but both are amazing games this sound get a easy 9
  • Samael - April 15, 2010 2:46 a.m.

    Oh boy...I didn't know how to comment on this. I think I'm just gonna echo Aeshir's post, as he said everything I was going to say but said it better.
  • GoldenMe - April 15, 2010 12:01 a.m.

    Good review, ruined by a bitch-fest on the comments. (Example: michealmcc)
  • Silverstone - April 14, 2010 10:58 p.m.

    I lol'd.

Showing 1-20 of 116 comments

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