Splinter Cell: Conviction is very aptly titled. The previous installment, Splinter Cell: Double Agent from 2006, was as efficient and enjoyable as any other series entry, but it certainly wasn’t a work born of mad love for the property, or any desire for franchise progression. Since Conviction was first announced back in 2007 (accompanied by a trailer that broadly signified a vast change of direction) the project has been sent back to the drawing board at least once, which speaks volumes about the team behind it. It is this relentless dedication to freshness, as well as a steadfast loyalty to the character of Sam Fisher, that makes Splinter Cell: Conviction truly stand apart.

Although Fisher has always been a well-sketched version of the classic ‘indomitable hero’, his superhuman stealth abilities and no-nonsense demeanor made it difficult to empathise, or even develop much of an interest, in his character outside of his decidedly dicey day job. The previous Splinter Cell games were all lean action thrillers about international information warfare, with Sam Fisher present merely as an engine to drive the plot, but Conviction is a game about Sam Fisher. There may be numerous links to stories past (perhaps capable of very briefly confounding newcomers) but this is every inch the classy Jason Bourne-esque reboot.

The gameplay is also endlessly inventive. By keeping only a few of the old fundamentals, Ubisoft have managed to do away with much of the trial-and-error frustration that plagued some of the earlier games. This is as much an action game as it is a stealth game, and the two genres make for utterly perfect bedfellows, as demonstrated by last year’s terrific Batman: Arkham Asylum. Conviction is easily as confident and polished as that title (BAFTA’s Game Of The Year, no less) but in addition it boasts something that Batman did not – an outstanding multiplayer component.

When news leaked a few months ago that the main campaign wouldn’t accommodate co-op play, some fans were less than pleased. In hindsight this was a fruitless demand, especially given how fixated Ubisoft have been on the Fisher-centric plot this time around. The upside here is the inclusion of completely separate co-op missions, which not only represent a substantial (and substantially enjoyable) part of the package, but also have an engrossing plot of their own, working as a prologue to the campaign’s story.

In both modes, the concept of stealth is toyed with but never intruded upon. Each encounter functions as a constantly shifting puzzle, but you are never restricted in your options, and the only thing you’ll want to avoid is being spotted. Although there are occasional moments when the game allows you to be overtly gung-ho, because of the satisfaction you’ll get from using the stealth-based ‘Mark And Execute’ feature for one, you’ll very seldom want to. There is also a points system that rewards shrewd covert play, and those points enable you to upgrade your weapons and gadgets, which comes in extremely handy later on.

Alongside some deeply effective stylistic visual twists – like the use of ice-cold black and white to denote your invisibility, and story pointers subtly projected onto backgrounds on occasion – there are numerous story-based flourishes that reek of freshness and experimentation. A quiet and rather tender reminiscence featuring Fisher and his young daughter is used to disguise an early tutorial, and a Gulf War flashback knocks the core gameplay on its head for the benefit of an intriguing story flesh-out, that mixes things up in an extremely surprising fashion. Moments like these may have seemed self-conscious if they weren’t so brilliantly single-minded in their pursuit of involving you deeper in the story.

Splinter Cell: Conviction has been a long time coming, and it’s difficult to fathom anyone not being overwhelmingly pleased with the direction that the series has now taken. After the well-paced but action-light opening sequence, you’re thrown into an environment packed with enemies, and that intoxicating tactical buzz (a series staple) returns in full force. And all of the gameplay changes, all of the little gambles that Ubisoft have taken here, have indisputably changed Splinter Cell for the better. And that sums it all up perfectly. Splinter Cell: Conviction is Splinter Cell… Only better.

Want to win a copy of Splinter Cell: Conviction Xbox 360?

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Michael Ironside has played Sam Fisher since the very first Splinter Cell game way back in 2002. But Ironside is now 60 years old, so who would be the ideal actor to play Fisher in a Splinter Cell movie?

Watch the Splinter Cell: Conviction trailer here…

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