The release of Splinter Cell Conviction on Xbox 360 and PC looks to be a shot in the arm to a series that was beginning to get a bit stale, although the story had moved on and new features were introduced the core game play had remained much the same, in fact the stealth genre as a whole needed a bit of shaking up.

Then a new Splinter Cell game was announced, one that was set to turn the genre around, making it much more action orientated – to emphasize that point footage was released of a grizzled looking Sam Fisher, sporting a beard and shaggy hair, but then news went quiet and gamers became a bit suspicious as mentions of further delays began to surface.

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It seems to me that what Ubisoft had shown at a very early stage was more of a tech demo, a new direction for the way gamers play action-stealth games. After that unnerving quiet period, and a many changes to the story and game play, Ubisoft came out and announced Splinter Cell Conviction. The shaggy hair and beard had gone, but the darker and more edgy than ever Sam Fisher remained. Sam was now on a mission of revenge, free from the restraints of Third Echelon, the government black-ops division, and looking for those who killed his daughter. With a story thick in emotion, Ubisoft looked into ways to create those same feelings in the player.

One of the key ways in which they achieved that goal is with the way cut-scenes and mission dialogue is presented. At the beginning of each level a brief overview of the mission area is shown as the camera locks itself into view behind Fisher, control is now placed in the hands of the player as mission objectives are projected onto the environment around Sam. For example, in the opening moments of the game Sam is in a gents toilet interrogating a bad guy, after roughing him up, smashing his head off of a urinal and other parts of the scenery, the guy gives up key information. Rather than coming up as on-screen mission notes, or breaking out to a cut scene, black and white footage is projected onto the walls around you.

Other times mission objectives are projected onto the sides of buildings that you need to infiltrate or environmental objects in the direction you may be facing. It may not sound much when reading it but once it plays out in front of you the immersion is second to none. Flashbacks beamed onto a wall of happier times with Sam and his daughter always manage to catch you off guard and evoke emotions of compassion for a man who has been pushed to his limits.

This means that it’s no longer time for Sam to sit hiding in shadows, it’s no longer time to be playing by the rules. Having broken away from the government agency he remained loyal to for so many years, Sam no longer faces the restraints he once did. So unlike previous games in the series when you get spotted or use lethal force you won’t fail the mission. The kind of game play this time around is more akin to what you would see or read in a Jason Bourne movie or book. Conviction offers more options in the way you go about completing your objectives than ever before. These options are not just a matter of going in all guns blazing or taking the silent path either. It means that you can choose to cause a diversion by getting your gun out in a public place, or exiting through a window to shimmy along the outside of a building to take your enemies down in the next room.

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I was lucky enough to play through two of Splinter Cell Conviction’s levels recently and even on my tenth time through I was finding new methods to how I approached things. This gives the game a great amount of replay value, the more times you play through a mission the more stylish you can go about taking the bad guys down. Which brings me nicely onto one of Conviction’s other new features, the Mark and Execute move.

When taking down a bad guy with a hand to hand stealth move you get awarded with an execute point, with up to three being available at any one moment. Once you have some execute points available you can begin to mark your targets while hanging from a ceiling, peering under a door, from a sticky camera fired onto a wall, outside a window, or from a shadowy corner. Bursting into the room you simply need to hold down a single button and in a slow-motion demonstration of lethality Sam will take down each of the targets.

It’s easy to dismiss the Mark and Execute feature as a way to water down the complexity of the previous games. But Ubisoft have done a fantastic job in making it a part of the Xbox game play rather than a get out of jail free card. This time around many areas will be teeming with enemies. So marking a few targets and planning things out, like dropping a chandelier onto the heads of a group of guys before drooping in and then hitting execute to take out the rest for example, is certainly the way to proceed. Don’t go thinking that it all makes the game a bit easy, because it certainly doesn’t! Yes the game is a lot faster paced than before and you have a plethora of new weapons and hand-to-hand combat moves available to you, but storm into a room of machine-gun toting bad guys and you won’t be lasting long.

Obviously there are going to be many moments when Sam is spotted by enemies, or plans don’t go as expected. Once the enemy knows where you’re hiding they will lock onto that position, laying down covering fire while other guards flank around in an attempt to get the upper hand. Quickly moving Sam to a new location will leave a ghost type outline behind which shows the last known location and the spot where the guards will be gunning for. This puts the upper hand back into your box deadly tricks, and can also be used as a tactic. Getting a guard to move nearer while you come at him from an entirely different direction is just as satisfying as it would of been had you sneaked up behind him.

Stealth still plays a key element in Splinter Cell Conviction, but rather than sitting in a dark corridor watching for enemy patterns, dragging bodies into the shadows to hide them, the game encourages you to move much faster. When situations take a turn for the worse there is always a way out, always a way to get the advantage over your pursuers. This is a Splinter Cell game for more modern times, a progression of the action-stealth genre. If the rest of the game is on par with what I have played already then this could well be a gaming master piece.

Splinter Cell Conviction is available to order now on PC and Xbox 360.

This article was written by Steve Butler, editor at the excellent gaming blog site DailyJoypad.com

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