I've often said that last year was the year of the sequels. This year is fast shaping up to be the year of similarities.
By this I mean Darksiders is similar to Zelda, Dante's Inferno is similar to God of War and PlayStation Move is a lot like the Wii. Splinter Cell: Conviction, it turns out, is a lot of Batman: Arkham Asylum, and let me be clear when I say that this is not a bad thing. The similarity comes into play with the speed. You no longer hide in the same dark corner for three to five minutes studying a patrol pattern. No, this time you move quickly through the shadows, study the scenario, come up with a plan and then execute it. It's fast, sleek, and very satisfying when it all goes well. As a fun bonus, even when it doesn't go well, cleaning up your mess can be equally satisfying.
While this is not your traditional Splinter Cell, I'm happy with that. There will be certain die-hard fans that will hate this new direction, but I think it was the right choice. Not just for the series but the genre as a whole as it give you more options. In previous Splinter Cell games, each level was a sort of puzzle, and it was up to you to figure out the best way to solve it. Now, the levels are more open with a mini-sandbox feel, giving you more options about how to deal with a situation. You are almost never penalised for killing people and if you wish to sneak around killing as few enemies as possible you may.
The game brings in a few new features. The first is the Mark and Execute. This allows you to mark a certain number of enemies with the RB button and kill them all in one quick moment with the Y button. In order to use this you must first perform a hand-to-hand takedown and make sure you have line-of-site for your targets. This gives the game a more tactical feel, and finally lets you feel like a bad-ass spy. Some may complain that this has make the game too easy, but I assure you, it does not. Thanks to some clever level design and enemy placement, the mark and execute is rarely a "win game" button. Plus if you really feel it takes away the challenge of a Splinter Cell game, then don't use it. Problem solved.
The other feature is the Last Known Position. If the enemies do spot you, this creates a ghost image that shows you were they last saw you, and therefore assume you are. This lets you play a cat-and-mouse game with the enemy, and comes in handy as the enemy AI can be quite brutal. They will often try to flank you or box you in, and on many occasions throw grenades where they think you are. This also adds a nice layer of challenge to the game, because much like Batman you cannot take that many bullets before needing to see a load screen.
Ubisoft have also removed most of the HUD and instead use colour to tell you when you are hidden, and directional queues to warn you when an enemy may be able to see you. When you are hidden, the colour fades from the screen making it black and white (with enemies and targetable items still in colour). I like this because it takes away a lot of the screen clutter you often find in stealth games, and adds some tension while keeping the game moving at a brisk pace.
Another thing that helps the game keep moving is the use of projection, as all mission objectives and some cinematics are shown as projections within the environment, which looks very cool and gives the game a great atmosphere all the way through. The final feature is the interrogations. These are set moments where you beat a person using the available environments to get information. In truth, these were not as exciting as they could have been, and it is a shame the developers weren't a little more creative to make them more vicious and entertaining.
All of these new features come together perfectly to make an exciting stealth action game. If you enjoyed Batman's predator levels then you should love Conviction.
The story picks up soon after the last one where Sam Fisher has gone rogue and is hunting down his daughter’s killer. It's told well enough, especially considering most Splinter Cell games are not known for their plots. Whilst this one is not too different, it is a much better character drama and a more personal story for Sam – making him a more interesting lead character than ever before. I enjoyed the ride while it lasted, which granted, was not very long. Most people should be done with the single-player campaign in five to seven hours.
While that is a little disappointing it does give you the time to move over to the games glorious cooperative mode. It is amazing how well the new gameplay design crosses over to co-op, which has it's own separate campaign telling the story of two spies (one American and one Russian) teaming up to save the day. Playing Conviction with a friend is really where the game shines, as using all the above features you learnt to use in singleplayer with a friend is very satisfying. Good teamwork is key, and the only way to get through these challenging missions.
There are also the Deniable Ops modes, which add other multiplayer options to the game. These range from a terrorist hunt, to having to defend an area for a certain amount of time, or even versus mode where you can go one-on-one hunting down another spy friend while enemy AI in the level hunt you both.
Some of the environments Ubisoft have come up with are exceptional; the single-player especially has some stand out levels. My favourite ones are those in a public space with civilians around. It adds a new element never seen in a Splinter Cell game before and reminded me a little of the Hitman series.
The graphics are a bit of a mixed bag unfortunately. Whilst looking good most of the time, there is one level in particular that feels out of place regarding both gameplay and graphics. This level also shows some of the worst looking character models I have ever seen in a game this generation. For such a sleek and polished game, it is a shame that one level acts as such a blotch to the games image, as it feels like it was added at the last minute. Fortunately, voice work is fantastic, with even seemingly irrelevant civilian characters demonstrating some amazing talent.
Splinter Cell: Conviction is an exceptional game that packages together some entertaining content. The fun co-op multiplayer pads the short single-player out nicely. I'd also imagine many people would want to play through the singleplayer multiple times to try out different things. As I said earlier, some may not like the new direction the series has taken, but I am a fan and I think if most people give it a chance, they will become a fan too.
It is still a stealth game, only this time instead of crawling around slowly like a killer snail you are prowling around and hunting like the predator you should be.