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TGS 09: Splinter Cell Conviction hands-on

Ubisoft has definitely been watching 24. Like Jack Bauer himself, Splinter Cell protagonist Sam Fisher has "gone rogue" a million times before. But this time Sam's properly pissed off with his old employers; his daughter's been 'killed', dirty stubble sits on his face and he's head-shotting mercenaries as if to impress the loud-mouthed announcer from Quake III Arena.

The big screen thriller influences are everywhere in Conviction. Combat is loud and brutal like Bourne, dream-like narrative is projected on to the scenery and Sam himself dispatches rooms of baddies near-instantly and with surgical precision - just like Jack Bauer.

Conviction is the most brutal, edgy Splinter Cell yet and - to its credit - the latest, Tokyo Game Show demo shows the new game off far better than what we saw at E3.

The latest press tryout is a level from later on in the game, where our moody hero's tasked with infiltrating an EMP staging ground in the city outskirts. It's the usual terrorist compound; chain link fences, gossiping guards with rifles and sinister plans going down in the shadows... and Sam Fisher's about to crash the fun.

Straight off the bat we can tell Ubisoft Montreal's improved the control set-up. Like before the left trigger is associated with sneaking/cover and the right trigger is used to fire your weapon. Thankfully the previous demo's bizarre choice to assign actions to clicking the left stick has been changed and the focus moved to the face buttons; X grabs enemies and generally performs actions, B activates your gadget, A jumps/climbs and Y executes.

The reshuffle makes for a better flowing game and brings about a stronger Splinter Cell feel. As we head towards the base, dropping in and dashing between cover is effortless; just like Gears of War sprinting between objects is a simple task of pointing the right stick towards you next piece of cover and pressing A to automatically run towards it.

A new on-screen HUD item momentarily appears on screen when you're spotted - or about to be spotted - presenting an arrow that points towards your about-to-be-alerted foe. Just like Call of Duty 4's kill cam, this helps take some of the frustration out of failing as you always know where your hide 'n seek went wrong.

Conviction is all about these kind of subtle enhancements that help take the confusion out of stealth gameplay - and they're much better demonstrated in this larger, more open demo. We stalk the perimeter of the base, dashing from cover to cover in the shadows, and eventually make it within smelling distance of a group of four armed guards at the entrance.

Projected prominently on the side of the building (part of Conviction's edgy new art style) is our objective; to interrogate this group's boss and discover the status of the EMP device inside - which means we're somehow going to have to top three guards and capture the fourth.

This is the structure of Conviction; room-by-room set pieces where hiding, planning and finally acting is the order of play. In a way it's very similar to the excellent predator-style stealth combat in Batman: Arkham Asylum - and that's a good thing.