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I think Splinter Cell is an interesting series. I like the concept and gameplay and I feel the third game, Chaos Theory, is really what defines what Splinter Cell is and should be. Evidently, the developers felt differently because the follow up, Double Agent, felt like a regression and it doesn’t matter which version you play, either. They’re not bad games but I do find the return to more linear level design odd. After Double Agent comes Conviction which apparently alienated some series veterans because of its more action-oriented approach. Developed by Ubisoft Montreal and published by Ubisoft and Microsoft Game Studios, Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Conviction was released for Xbox 360 and PC in April, 2010. For this review, I played the Xbox 360 version because I checked the game’s PCGamingWiki page and discovered it’s terribly optimized for PC and even with some of the fixes offered, issues may still be present on modern hardware. And I just didn’t feel like dealing with that.
Conviction features two parts of the overall narrative; the cooperative campaign and the solo or main campaign. The cooperative campaign acts a prologue to the events of the main campaign but I wasn’t able to play through it so this review will focus only on the solo campaign. Set a few years after the events of Double Agent, Sam Fisher left Third Echelon and is now investigating rumors that his daughter’s death may not have been an accident. Despite being out of the “business” so to speak, Grim manages to rope Sam back in by revealing his daughter is indeed alive and uses that as leverage to get him to assist in the investigation of a conspiracy involving a private military company and Third Echelon that threatens the United States.
The tone of Conviction is very different than that of the games that came before it. It’s darker and conveys more brutality which does fit the new aggressive gameplay style. Conviction is very much a departure from the typical Splinter Cell formula. Ultimately, I thought the plot was alright but I do wish it wrapped up a plot point involving a specific shadow organization better. As a result, I was a little surprised when I reached the ending because I felt there was more story to be told.
Before really getting into the nitty gritty, I want to share something interesting I discovered. This game takes the franchise in a very different direction which is evident from the get-go. Apparently, Chaos Theory is “hardcore”. That is a quote. I don’t know what the fuck it means but according to the Creative Director of Conviction, the gameplay in Chaos Theory is fun but “hardcore” and they wanted to make Conviction more accessible. You know what makes this sound even more stupid? More accessible in this case means action game. Conviction is an action game with some stealth elements. Stealth action, aggressive stealth, I would even call it a cover-based shooter. So my interpretation of this whole thing is stealth games are “hardcore” and action games are accessible. That’s how this reads to me. Chaos Theory is “hardcore” (whatever the fuck that means) and Conviction is accessible. Conviction does not feature the same stealth gameplay that we’ve come to know and love but made more accessible. No, it feels like a different game. It places a bigger focus on shooting, it features more violence complete with some gore, and it’s more vulgar. These aren’t necessarily bad things but I can tell you Conviction doesn’t really feel like what you would expect from a Splinter Cell game.
That quote is a good example of why people need to stop using buzzwords like “hardcore”. Stop saying “hardcore”. That word in particular doesn’t make any fucking sense most of the time, the way I’ve seen it used, and especially in this case. Then there’s the word “accessible” which I don’t consider a buzzword but it is used very oddly here. I think what they really mean to say is “we want the next game to appeal to a wider audience so we’re making it an action game” and I’m guessing it’s because there was a bigger demographic for action games at the time Conviction released. Before Conviction, Splinter Cell primarily focused on stealth and Chaos Theory is a stealth game. A fantastic stealth game in fact. Yes, you are given the option to take a more action-oriented approach but it’s typically safer to remain quiet and out of sight. You’re better off sticking to the shadows and using your weapons and equipment to help you get around quietly, misdirect and engage enemies only if necessary. It’s really not complicated. It’s stealth. But I guess according to some people, that’s “hardcore”.
Unlike the previous games, Conviction centers very much on action although you are often given the option to sneak around quietly. This is a faster-paced experience than the previous titles and many changes to the formula have been made. Some good and others not so good depending on how you look at it. You can snap to cover, shoot from cover, and move from cover to cover. In general, movement and getting around feels faster and more fluid which isn’t a bad thing. However, stealth in Conviction is primarily restricted to staying out of sight. If you’re in the dark, your surroundings turn black and white which is an indication Sam is invisible to enemies. He can still run, sneak, climb around and shoot lights to create darkness. You can no longer pick up and hide bodies or whistle to lure enemies but you do have access to a lot more firearms. You can carry two and pick up weapons dropped by enemies. By completing challenges, you earn points which can be spent at weapon stashes to upgrade weapons and gadgets. Conviction also introduces the Mark & Execute ability which allows you to kill multiple enemies in rapid succession. But in order to do so, you need to perform a hand to hand kill first.
What really makes Conviction feel different is how it often encourages aggression over pure stealth. Conviction gives players a decent amount of lethal toys to play with including pistols which come with infinite ammo, submachine guns, assault rifles, and a shotgun among others. Gadgets make a return and are unlocked as you progress through the story. Unfortunately, there’s not as many as there was in the previous games. No airfoil rounds, gas grenades, smoke grenades, or sticky shockers. Several stun and disorient foes. Others like the frag grenades, and remote mines will kill foes. The sticky camera returns but no longer offers the option to unleash gas. However, you can detonate it to kill nearby enemies, similar to the remote mines. Unfortunately, the Multi-Vision Goggles do not make a return but in their place is Sonar Goggles which allows Sam to see nearby enemies through walls and detect certain hazards like lasers.
The Challenges are the game’s way of encouraging different playstyles. As mentioned earlier, completing them rewards you with points that you can spend on weapon and gadget upgrades to make them more efficient which does prove to be helpful. One thing I do like is that your challenges, points, and unlocks are carried over into the other game modes, or at least Deniable Ops which is the only other mode I was able to try. The upgrades are pretty basic, nothing too in-depth. Weapons can be upgraded with different attachments that affect their power, range, and accuracy, and Gadget upgrades improve their radius and/or duration. The game comes with numerous Challenges to complete, encouraging both stealth and action-oriented tactics. So you’re basically rewarded for everything – sneaking around quietly and mowing down and blowing up foes. That said, I found the gunplay to be satisfying thanks to the loud and powerful sounding weapons fire and gore effects. When enemies are shot, blood does squirt out and will splatter on surfaces. Bullets and explosions can destroy parts of the environments, particles and debris fill the air during firefights, and it all looks pretty cool. It may not be typical Splinter Cell but I do think the action is fun.
To put it bluntly, Conviction basically rewards you for murdering everyone. Honestly, I don’t really have a problem with this and I do enjoy the new gameplay style on offer here. But I admit it’s not really Splinter Cell. Using firearms is no longer looked at as a last resort and engagement is always lethal. When you sneak up on foes, instead of simply grabbing them, Sam will violently kill them although you are given the option to take them as shields. Even interrogations look brutal. Sam will beat the shit out people, slam them into things, and throw them around until he gets the information he needs.
As cool as all of this is, stripping out some of the mechanics from the previous games seemed unnecessary but I guess simplifying the stealth was needed for a faster and more consistence pace. However, I can’t say evading foes offers the same kind of satisfaction as that of the previous games. As long as you remain out of sight, you’ll be fine. The game doesn’t give you as many options or include as many obstacles as the previous titles. You’re not given many ways to lure or misdirect foes. If you get spotted, you can either kill everyone or run away and try to evade them again. Once enemies lose sight of you, they will focus on your last known position often making it easy to flank them.
Most of the game is set in Washington D.C. but the beginning does put you in Malta and a flashback mission has you navigating around Iraq. The environments are mostly linear but they do often give you multiple routes and ways to approach situations. Whether you move through a doorway, jump through a window, climb a pipe, or move from cover to cover out of sight – you typically have multiple options. You won’t have to backtrack and there’s no reasons to explore other than to find new ways to evade or engage enemies. The game keeps you focused on your primary objective and the only hazards you really need to worry about are enemies, cameras and lasers.
I was unable to try the primary Coop & Multiplayer mode but Conviction does offer a Deniable Ops game mode which I think does add some significant replay value to the experience. This mode can be played solo or with another player and comes with multiple sub-modes like Hunter, Infiltration, and Last Stand. In Hunter, the objective is to eliminate all the enemies by any means necessary. Infiltration is similar but you cannot be detected. And Last Stand requires you to defend an EMP generator against waves of foes. As mentioned earlier, your points and unlocks from the campaign are carried over and you can buy and upgrade uniforms. Deniable Ops does let you choose your equipment, offers several maps, lets you adjust the difficulty, and configure some options for more challenge like a time limit, pistols only, and no gadgets.
Visually, I think Conviction does look pretty good for the time it came out. The environments are detailed, the visual and gore effects look cool, and the character animations look good. In general, I think the presentation is pretty slick and does convey a somewhat gritty feel that meshes well with the plot and level of violence on offer. The soundtrack is pretty good with many intense tunes that help elevate tension and the audio work, overall, is solid. Weapons fire sounds great helping to make the gunplay sound satisfying and explosions are booming. On the technical side, the game crashed to the dashboard a few times but other than that, no problems.
As far as action games or aggressive stealth games go, I honestly think Conviction is pretty good. I mean it doesn’t feel like Splinter Cell but I did enjoy my time with it. The stealth has been simplified in favor of more action and while I understand why that sucks, especially if you’re a Splinter Cell fan, the result isn’t terrible. It’s just not Splinter Cell. Personally, I like games like this. I like action games and I like stealth games that give you the option to kill foes with cool firepower. I am disappointed with the lack of gadgets and equipment compared to the previous games because sneaking and climbing around in the shadows and distracting and dispatching foes with a variety of cool tools like you’re James Bond or Batman is all part of Splinter Cell’s charm. In the end though, as much as Conviction deviates from the traditional Splinter Cell formula, I can’t say the developers made a bad game. The campaign may be on a short side but it does have plenty of replay value and the core gameplay is fun. Furthermore, the multiplayer and Deniable Ops mode can also keep you coming back for a while. The stealth may have been simplified but the game does balance stealth and action nicely, encouraging both types of approaches and rewarding you for them.
Splinter Cell: Conviction may not be the Splinter Cell game fans were hoping for but I would recommend it because it is fun. I still say Chaos Theory is the best game in the series up to this point and that’s because, in my opinion, it perfected the traditional Splinter Cell formula. Double Agent failed to capture that magic and Conviction just goes in a completely new direction. Ultimately, Splinter Cell: Conviction is a solid stealth action title. Definitely check it out.