Splinter Cell: Conviction

Platform(s): PC, Xbox 360, Xbox One
Genre: Action
Publisher: Ubisoft
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Release Date: April 13, 2010 (US), April 16, 2010 (EU)

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X360/PC Preview - 'Splinter Cell: Conviction'

by Rainier on Jan. 1, 2006 @ 1:30 a.m. PST

Sam Fisher teams up with Third Echelon to help Anna Grimsdottir, Sam's former intelligence gathering operative, who is in trouble. When Sam Fischer is being fed bogus intel and supplied with wrong equipment, he turns on his former employer, realizing the threat comes from within Third Echelon.

Genre: Action/Stealth
Publisher: Ubisoft
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Release Date: October 2009

A little while ago, Splinter Cell: Conviction vanished off the radar. It was originally supposed to come out in 2007, and there were even screenshots and videos of the game, which starred a long-haired, hobo-esque Sam Fisher who seemed to be very similar to Jason Bourne. However, sometime before the release, the game was quietly put on hold, and all info about it seemed to vanish. Earlier this year, Ubisoft revealed that the game was alive and well but had been completely reimagined. At E3 this year, we got to see the new and revamped Splinter Cell: Conviction, and what we saw looks very good indeed.

Conviction opens up at what seems to be the rock-bottom moment of Sam Fisher's life. He's on the run from the law after the events of the last Splinter Cell game, which is bad enough. What really pushes him over the edge is that someone murdered his daughter, making the death look like a simple hit-and-run by a drunk driver. Naturally, Sam isn't going to let this stand, and with nothing left to lose but his life, he sets off on a one-man rampage to kill everyone involved in his daughter's murder. His trip will take him from Malta to Washington, where he'll have to unravel a global conspiracy that's somehow connected to the death of his daughter.

Conviction has a very different tone from the other games in the series, even Double Agent. For one thing, Sam is cut off from his former government contacts, so he doesn't have access to most of the shiny gadgets that made him such a force to be reckoned with in the previous games. This shows in every element of the gameplay. Instead of a snake cam hooked into his visor, for example, he now has a broken piece of an SUV mirror. Instead of top-of-the-line guns, he has to take what he can find off enemy corpses. Since Sam doesn't have anyone actually instructing him, the way mission goals are given to the player is very different. Instead of a checklist or computer menu, everything he needs to know is given to him during gameplay. Mission objectives and information are projected onto the background. When Sam comes across a mansion that he has to break into, the words "Sneak into the mansion" will be projected in giant, glowing letters across the front. The demo opened up with Sam brutally interrogating a thug in an interactive sequence, where he could choose to slam the thug into walls, mirrors or other objects. Every time the thug released some info, the player got a wall-projected video of the important details. While Sam is quietly sneaking through a room, visions of his daughter's death were projected on the wall, a sort of pseudo-flashback that tells players exactly what had happened without once breaking the immersion of the gameplay.

Splinter Cell has always been about the stealth, and even if Sam is on a mission for revenge, that doesn't mean he has forgotten the basics of his training. However, in the previous Splinter Cell games, Sam was stealthy because he was vulnerable, and revealing his position would have yielded a face full of bullets. In Conviction, Sam is more of a predator. His stealthy movement allows him to get the drop on enemies and dispatch foes in quick and brutal ways. This really stands out with the new "mark and execute" feature. Before entering a room, Sam can scout it out in various ways, such as looking in through a window or using a broken shard of glass to peer under a door. When doing this, Sam can "mark" opponents or objects in the environment. A mark is a kill, so if you've marked something, it's as good as dead. Sam can "execute" them by bursting into the room and instantly and quickly dispatching every marked object with ruthless efficiency. You don't have unlimited marks, though. In order to earn a new mark, you have to kill an enemy with a regular stealth kill. The mark is to be saved for a time when you don't have the luxury of sneaking up on enemies and taking them out in silence. We also got to see Sam bust out an EMP grenade that could disable all lights and electronics in a nearby radius, a surprisingly fancy gadget compared to the rest of his inventory.

Conviction's stealth mechanics have all been revamped for speed and brutality. Prior to this, Splinter Cell games have generally been about moving slowly from position to position. Conviction reimagines that as blindingly fast movements. Each level is a sort of "mini-sandbox" where you can achieve goals however you like, and Sam's movement abilities reflect that. The thing that stands out is that Sam is much quicker now. He moves from area to area with a swift and terrible purpose, and rooms that would have taken the original Sam quite a while to get through now can be wrapped up in mere moments. It seems that instead of having to try to be stealthy, Fisher is stealthy as a matter of fact, and your movements all automatically assume that you're trying to avoid being noticed. There are also a few new gameplay features designed to play into the "predator" aspect of Sam's stealth abilities. For example, once you avoid an enemy's line of sight, a transparent silhouette of Sam appears where the enemy last saw him. This marks where the enemy thinks Sam is and where they're likely to investigate. As we saw in the demo, players can use this to lure enemies into a trap by using unusual paths to sneak up and dispatch them with a brutal, close-range stealth kill. The game also seemed to give an indication of when you were successfully stealthy, with the colors muting slightly to make it easy to tell when you're hidden from sight.

While Splinter Cell has usually been more about stealth than combat, that was when Sam was on a government mission and had to be cautious and careful. He couldn't be reckless because the fate of the free world depended on him. The new, darker Sam Fisher has gone from being a respectable secret agent to a violent killer, and this shows in how he handles situations. Near the end of our demo, we saw what happens when he has to go into a room and kill someone, and it was amazingly violent. Sam burst into the room and started killing people, bullets flying as he unloaded shot after shot into enemies. What was amazing about this was how quickly it occurred. One moment, Sam was looking at the room, and the next moment, things were dying. As the firefight got really heavy, Sam dove out a nearby window, grabbed onto a ledge, shimmied across and came back in behind the enemies, all within a matter of seconds. It doesn't look like gun combat will be the solution to every problem, but it certainly is more viable than in previous Splinter Cell titles.

Splinter Cell: Conviction is an interesting reimagining of the Splinter Cell franchise. All of the popular mechanics from the previous games have returned, but they've all been modified. The entire game has been revamped for speed and brutality, and Sam has become fearsome individual. Despite everything, Conviction still looks like a Splinter Cell title, albeit one where everything had been turned up to 11. You can use the same basic tactics and the same basic mechanics, but everything is just far more violent and gritty. Splinter Cell: Conviction should hold a lot of appeal for fans of the franchise, and curiously enough, a lot for newcomers as well. The faster and more combat-friendly gameplay makes the title a lot more accessible, while the "mark and execute" system and the stealth improvements mean that sneaking is still an option. Conviction is shaping up to be a fine successor in the Splinter Cell franchise.

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