Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Conviction – hands-on

In the limited demo it’s possible to get behind the guard and awesomely drag him over the wall as intended – but it’s also possible to awesomely stroll right on by the mansion and awesomely hop over a wall around the back. In awesome darkness we shimmy up the wall and put two awesome bullets into unsuspecting guards using the awesome new Mark and Execute system, and we’re into the mansion.

Like Arkham Asylum, the new Splinter Cell is a stealth adventure where you survey the scene, pick your moment and – as Andréane puts it – do something… awesome. “We’re not using the shadow stealth as a constraint or as an obligation. You don’t have to hide because you might get shot or killed with an automatic game over; it’s a tool for the prepare/execute gameplay. It’s good to be in the shadow while you prepare; to look at yourself and you know you’re kind of safe.”

From those shadows you can pick your targets, set traps using your sticky cameras and objects strewn throughout the environment, and mark targets for later execution. Sam’s Mark and Execute system is as powerful as expected. Once a target is marked with a red dot a you can instantly put a bullet in their head from any angle, but it’s powerful enough that it needs to be earned. By disabling an enemy at close quarters Sam earns a refill of his Execute meter, which varies in size depending on his weapon – his standard pistol has two, the MAC11 SMG has three.

In every situation Sam has two or three good options and several more terrible ones; in Ubisoft’s tiny five-minute level there are at least five different situations where you’re forced to make choices and come up with your own ideas. You can burst into Kobin’s office like Rambo, guns blazing, or work your way around from the outside in silence; you can take a hostage and walk into the room with a shield, or use Mark and Execute to enter the room Jack Bauer-style.

“You can still play it just like you used to if you want,” adds Andréane. “We give you the opportunity but we don’t force it. Before there were no options and you had to play the game in one particular way; now you can try it in different ways. If you like it you can play it that way and if not you can return to the old ways of playing classic Splinter Cell.”

But you won’t want to play it that way. For the first time in Splinter Cell, there are real choices to be made – not Double Agent’s fake be good/be not quite so good morality system, but here you choose whether to be stealthy and silent or to be brutal and deadly; whether to let a passing guard live to see another Christmas or die in screaming agony; and in short, whether to play the game your way or Ubisoft’s way. Okay, so our way may not have worked for us today, but in a few months’ time Splinter Cell Conviction really will be unbreakable.

Above: A ghost image of Sam appears to show you the last location an enemy was aware of you. It's a useful tool for flanking

It’s a shame to say goodbye to everything Ubisoft built for the original, intriguing Conviction but aside from a handful of control quirks and odd design decisions this reborn Splinter Cell Conviction feels like the best possible next step for Clancy’s classic stealth series.

Aug 14, 2009