Splinter Cell: Conviction has just become one of my top three most anticipated games for early next year. Yesterday I went across the water to Sydney to have some hands on time with the game and meet with its Associate Producer – watch out for my interview with him next week.

As a quick refresher, Conviction takes place shortly after the last Splinter Cell game where Sam Fisher is no longer a member of the Third Echelon (the government agency he worked for) and is on his own personal mission to find the people responsible for murdering his daughter. I have already gone over what is new for the series in my last preview, so feel free to check there if you need to catch up. This preview is going to focus on my hands on time and how it actually feels to be one bad mofo hunting bad guys in the dark.

The demo I played is the same one from Tokyo Game Show and took place in a warehouse in Washington DC. Sam has to first interrogate a guard, and then rescue a scientist that some terrorists are using to build themselves an EMP bomb.

The actual interrogation plays out very well. It is actually quite shocking to see how much more vicious Sam is in this game. During the interrogation you get three moments to interact with the environment. The final moment will always involve Sam stabbing his hand into something (the hood on a car, a tree stump or whatever else you are near). But the first two "interrogation moves" are context sensitive to what you stand by when you press the interrogate button. So for example if you are standing near a car Sam will knock the guy to the ground and kick his head against the bumper. If I had a criticism regarding these interrogation scenes is that they may hurt replayability. I played through this same demo about five times and by the third time I was bored with the interrogation and wished there was a way for me to skip past it.

The rest of the level, however, I loved going through again and again. The levels are built like mini-sandboxes, allowing for different points of entry and multiple ways to deal with your problems. Right after the interrogation I moved into a large room that had about eight guards moving around. The first few times I played, I was spotted and had to run around using the last known position feature to play cat and mouse with the guards. By the final time I played, it took me a minute to plan out what I wanted to do and set everything up. Once this was done, it took me all of five seconds to execute my plans and kill everyone in the room without them having the faintest clue what hit them. I also would like to point out that I did this while hanging from a pipe and did not touch the ground until they were all dead. This was one of the most satisfying experiences I have ever felt in a game. To say that I felt like "The Freaking Man" is a huge understatement.

The key to all this is in the mark and execute feature, which takes a bit of getting used to, but once you do is extremely rewarding. Marking your targets is easy however, in order to execute them you need to get a hand-to-hand takedown first. This requires you to take your time and strategize. Like all Splinter Cell games, if you go in guns blazing you will die. But that does not mean this is your granny's Splinter Cell game of yore. No no, speed is the name of the game here. And to help with that is the new moving cover system. This is a very simple system that allows you to move Sam from cover point to cover point quickly and quietly. It takes away a lot of the time you would usually spend physically sneaking around a level. It looks great, is easy to do and makes the pacing of the game much better.

Also, what would a Splinter Cell game be without toys, right? The sticky camera is back (which allows you to mark targets, make noise to attract guards, and explode to take out anyone close by). You also have an EMP grenade for knocking out the lights, and I had access to Sam's signature goggles but with the new pulse mode. What this does is allow you to send a sound pulse through the environment that lets you see enemies through walls (you may mark them through walls too). This was crucial for planning how to get through some of the tougher rooms I had to deal with.

The controls took a bit of getting used to at first, but this was mostly because there were a lot of new features. It was during my third play through of the ten-minute demo that I felt comfortable with the controls and really began to experiment using all the toys I had available.

So far the new Splinter Cell looks fantastic! The graphics are great, the presentation is unique and flawless and the gameplay has a lot of what people loved from the original games but some new features that truly bring it into this generation. Sam is faster, more vicious and more precise. I cannot remember the last stealth action game where I felt so damn cool, satisfied and rewarded for executing a plan I came up with.

2010, bring it on!