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Splinter Cell: Conviction

Posted by Apocalypse, 03 May 2010 · 107 views

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Today I shall be reviewing Splinter Cell: Conviction. I'll post the trailer, and I recommend you give it a watch if you missed it in the video games thread. Seriously, it starts off rather unassuming but it gets pretty heavy, particularly if you've been following the series so far; worry not, I'll give a summary afterwards. Actually, let's do that before the trailer just so we can keep this review linear. Really the only games we need concern ourselves with are the fourth and fifth in the series (the fifth being Conviction). Before the fourth game, Double Agent, Sam Fisher was the dutiful black ops agent, operating in the shadows for Third Echelon, a secret branch of the government dedicated to intelligence and, of course, saving the world. Every now and then, he would receive an order which he didn't like, and he'd give his superiors a piece of his mind, but he'd get the job done. Then along comes Double Agent. Sam goes undercover in a terrorist organization, walking the thin tightrope between appearing loyal and working for Third Echelon. In the final moments of the game, Sam is forced to shoot his best friend and superior, Irving Lambert, to avoid blowing his cover (so he could save the world).

Between that game and Convictions, Sam left Third Echelon, sick of that life and what it cost him. He was "out of the game." (Like being out of the game ever works for action heroes.) Soon, though, he's contacted by a former colleague, who dangles the only thing Sam wants in front of his nose in exchange for a little cooperation: information about his daughter, who was killed a few years previous in an "accidental" hit and run.


Well, good work. Gone is the obedient Sam Fisher. He's pissed, and you can see it in his actions, and hear it in his voice. What follows is a thrilling eight hour or so tale of Sam Fisher the rogue agent, searching for the truth about his daughter and, as is always the case, unraveling the twisted knots of intrigue, corruption, and terrorism.

But, since I have nothing insightful to say on the plot, let's skip spoilers and move on to gameplay. More specifically, let's talk about Sam. He's changed, and I love it. The sleek black suit and night-vision goggles are gone. He's low-tech but he still kicks ass. The stealthy warrior who hides in the pitch darkness and picks men off one by one is no longer present; Fisher's gone full Batman stealth. He's quick, he's deadly, he's cunning. There's much less creeping around in shadows; rather, stealth relies on the plans you concoct and the skill and speed in which you execute them.

Take for example, two guards standing in the middle of a room. They are set up in a way that they can see all entrances and exits between the two of them, and are engaged in conversation. In a hilariously Batman twist (sorry, but Batman is a great adjective) they are currently talking about Sam Fisher. "Is he gonna come this way?" "Fisher's overrated." That sort of thing. I decide rather than wasting some other device (such as explosives, which come in handy during firefights, or the more powerful tools such as your portable EMP generator) I'll try a different approach. Sam leans ever so slightly out of the door frame and shoots the nearest man in the head. His partner recoils in shock, and a flashbang grenade rolls to the ground in front of him, bursting. Sam rounds the corner with lightning speed, disarms the second man, and brings the heel of his palm into his face, knocking him unconscious and throwing the submachine gun to the side in disdain. That, my friends, is what Convictions stealth is.

As you play, you get used to the system and how things work, what tactics are effective, and when to use your devices and weapons. Around the time Third Echelon starts throwing other Splinter Cells at you (with red night-vision goggles) you have become an incredible badass… at taking down normal henchmen. Now that your enemy can see you, and can engage in ambushes and have their own unique devices, you learn the benefits of quick thinking, of stealth by using cover, and by making your enemy think you are in one location when in actuality, you are immediately behind them, about to shatter their sternum in two places. It hones you, and I have a feeling that on my next play-through, I'm going to be even deadlier than I was on the first.

Speaking of new gameplay additions, I must talk about three: the objectives system, the mark and execute feature, and last known position. We talked about the objectives in the video game thread. Your goals are given to you by projecting letters on certain portions of walls, or whatever flat surface is present. So, you'll see "Infiltrate the mansion" on the side of the mansion you need to infiltrate, or "activate the EMP" near the EMP controls. It does not break immersion… it's like seeing inside Sam's head (and actually they do some really neat "inner thought" stuff with the mechanic, avoiding spoilers, of course). He's thinking where he needs to go and what he needs to do there. Plot, objectives, and character development have always been seamless in the dialogue, so much so that when you find the conversations coming to a close, you've forgotten exactly what it is you needed to do. The objective system keeps gameplay running smoothly and you always know where you're going, what you're doing there, and why it is that you're doing all of this.

The mark and execute feature has more of an influence on the core of gameplay. You have the ability to mark enemies, and then press a single button to shoot them in rapid succession, as long as they are within range and you can see them. This leads to some badass, room-clearing moments. There was this one point when a man had taken a scientist hostage, and he was yelling things like "Show yourself, Fisher, or I shoot the woman!" and he began a countdown. "5, 4, 3…" I marked his four companions (using up all my marks… certain guns have more than others, and you can upgrade as well). "2…" I lined up a shot. "1…" Bam! My gun fires a split second before his, and he goes down. The scientist screams and the henchmen look up to the second level of the room, where the gunfire emanated. They see Sam Fisher hanging from the rail, and with a tap of a button, he executes all of them before they can fire a single shot. I literally don't know how I ever played a Splinter Cell game without this amazing mechanic. Recharging the ability to execute is simply done by incapacitating an opponent with your melee abilities, which are incredibly varied and all look awesome.

And finally, when Fisher disappears from an enemy's sight, he leaves a white silhouette of where the enemy believes him to be. The thing about Sam Fisher, though, is that he is never where you think he is. It's another very useful feature, as I'm sure you can gather, and allows for some great cat and mouse moments.

Visually, the game looks great. It's smoothly animated without exception, and I don't think I noted even one visual glitch. The frame rate dipped slightly in certain scenes, however. I'm not saying it plays like a bad port, but it definitely could have been tweaked a bit more. Comparatively, Mass Effect 2 played like a dream and looked just as visually stunning (perhaps even more so).

The third game, Chaos Theory, really perfected the shadow system, although they have since abandoned the ideals that made it great. In that game, you could tell where shadows were, because they were contrasted with the light. While the newer games are more realistic in terms of visuals, it really is a lot harder to tell where shadows begin and end. You only really know when you are in shadow, because the landscape fades to grayscale (with the exception of enemies and environmental traps). The cover system really picks up the slack, though, because it really is more effective for stealth than hiding in shadow. And the cover system is great. I've heard reviewers say that it's the best cover system they've ever played, and I'm not saying it's revolutionary, but it is very versatile and allows for quick movement, and versatility and speed are perhaps two of the most important weapons in Sam's arsenal.

As far as sounds go, the score was serviceable but not memorable. I didn't notice any flaw with the sound effects, so I can only assume that they were quite good. As far as voice acting goes, some of the secondary characters were not up to par, but Michael Ironside was amazing in his reprisal of Fisher. He, along with Keith David, just has one of those voices that I can't help but love. Really my only complaint with the sound is the enemy chatter. Henchmen just don't shut up. Their lines run the gamut from nervous and fearful to insulting, and they have a few lines of dialogue that are genuinely hurtful. They made me pause and go "Wow, that is just a dick thing to say." I heard a soldier mention, in the same breath, Sam's dead daughter and the fact that he shot his best friend. I bet Sam Fisher is crying inside. Outside, though, he is dragging the offender into the shadows and snapping his neck.

The Ubisoft DRM has caught a lot of flak. It requires a constant internet connection to play, and while I, along with pretty much everyone else, think it's an extraordinarily stupid thing to do to protect against piracy (since I hear tell that such protection measures have already been cracked) it's not as bad as people think it is. It won't effect you that often. It didn't effect me at all, and from the reviews I read, it bothered the reviewers perhaps once or twice, after which they promptly began playing from the nearest checkpoint. It has the same effect as death, and honestly, if you're like me, you're probably going to die a few times. Hell, I walked willingly into a room full of automatic weapon-toting henchmen to kill myself simply because I somehow screwed up and wanted a redo without having to press escape and click "Start from checkpoint." It's an inconvienence, that's all (and an inconvienence that won't even bother you if you have a decent connection), and I can guarantee everyone has dealt with worse game issues. Honestly, I've been booted from Valve games more often than I got booted from Conviction.

For fans, this game is an absolute must play. It may differ slightly from the previous games, but, let's face it, Double Agent sucked a lot, so this is the best entry into the franchise in years. The differing gameplay perfectly parallels the new directions of the character, and the developers really know what they're doing with some of these new mechanics. It's a great addition to the franchise. Even if you didn't care for the previous games, this game is mostly a different beast and may be more up your alley. If you enjoyed the predatory stealth of Batman: Arkham Asylum, this is something in the same vein but also different in a lot of ways.

It comes with my recommendation, and not just because I'm a fan. I think I'm going to give this one an 8.5 out of 10.

Also, I have yet to play the coop prequel to the Fisher story or the multiplayer. I've only played the main story mode. If either are super amazing, I'll post a short part two to cover it.

Wanting to play coop with you without paying...
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If anyone is still following this review, co-op was a no go. I couldn't even find a partner, which tells me that either no one is playing co-op story mode, or something is fishy with my game. I can't help but think that the multiplayer would work if I had bought the game on Steam... I tried to mess with the "add game to Steam" feature to no effect.
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