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Splinter Cell: Conviction

9:0706/05/2010Posted by Chris Morell3 Comments

Sam Fisher has changed. Far from the company man of a few years back, his heart and mind are filled with an all-consuming rage. In Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell Conviction, Sam no longer knows who to trust – he’s lost his friends, his place in the world and most tragically of all, his daughter Sarah. It’s enough to drive anyone to madness, but where most men would lose themselves in a pit of grief, Fisher plans to deal with these issues head-on; tough guys will scream, blood will spill and one way or another, he’ll get the answers he’s looking for. What’s most impressive is the way the gameplay itself reflects this change – with a quicker pace and some brutal kills – while evolving the stealth formula for the modern era without committing to a complete overhaul.

Fans will know that things didn’t always appear so promising, with Sam’s unkempt hobo look part of a larger redesign prompted by the success of the beautiful Assassin’s Creed. Thankfully, developer Ubisoft saw the error of its ways and scrapped this idea shortly after the first press reveal. What we have received instead is a unique beast all of its own – classic Splinter Cell with a helping of Jason Bourne and a dash of Jack Bauer thrown in for good measure.

In fact, the whole game plays out in a similar manner to recent late-night action-thrillers, due in no small part to the sweeping yet intricate narrative, which takes a more central role this time around. Phrases like Third Echelon and Black Arrow are tossed about with reckless abandon, so newcomers to the franchise will likely have a hard time keeping up with all the references and fan-service. The A plot is balanced well with the B plot however, so just when the story begins to get convoluted you’re drawn back with some shocking revelations and dramatic events. Flashbacks are presented via grainy film projections against buildings and walls and while they’re not enough to stop you in your tracks to take stock, they do a good job of filling in the blanks when needed.

Missions often consist of a handful of open areas, linked together with short pathways or tight corridors. As Fisher, you can survey the surroundings with the help of a number of gadgets – such as a mirror, the Snake Cam and Sonar goggles – then deal with the threat as you see fit. The game is challenging yet accessible, never handholding but always offering subtle amounts of guidance. Creativity and improvisation are encouraged, with frequent patches of darkness, destructible lamps and occasional environmental hazards at your disposal. These are particularly useful in later stages when Sam must adapt to recurrent, panic-inducing situations.

Hanging about in the shadows, dropping from a pipe then breaking a thug’s neck upon landing – aptly entitled ‘death from above’ – is a thrill, as are the other manoeuvres that can help clear a room full of enemies. Of particular note is the new Mark and Execute mechanic, which becomes available once a hand-to-hand kill is performed; a hit of the left bumper allowing for two to four enemies (depending on which weapon is equipped) to be marked at once, with a tap of the Y button leading to a satisfying trick shot where Sam despatches each of them with devastating proficiency. These shouldn’t be wasted however, so it’s imperative you learn to save them for the most opportune moments.

Pulling off a stealth kill, grabbing a human shield then executing three foes is exhilarating – it’s all about the thrill of empowerment. It’s not that Sam can take a ridiculous amount of shots and survive, because he can’t; instead it’s about hanging back in the shadows, killing the lights to hear your enemies panic, then taking them down in whichever way pleases you most. To facilitate this, the developers have included the Last Known Position mechanic, presenting a ghostly form where you were last spotted. Of course, this offers its own rewards, where flanking will allow you to get the drop on thugs – quite literally if you wish – by making full use of the element of surprise. EMP grenades, flash bangs and remote mines add extra variety and can be used in conjunction with other death-dealing moves to make for a fluid battle where Sam need never take a hit.

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