Over the next few months, you’re going to be hearing a lot about video games. In June, Eggplante heads to E3, the Electronic Entertainment Expo, in Los Angeles. Leading up to that, we’ve got some pretty massive game reviews for you to read about, not the least of which is Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Conviction. The game launches on April 13th, so our review is a few weeks away, but my brother John and I had the opportunity to participate in a contest called the “Inside Splinter Cell Conviction Challenge”, hosted by Microsoft and GameStop (EB Games).
A few weeks ago, I entered a contest after picking up a little advertisement flyer at my local EB Games. Forgetting about it almost immediately after submitting, I went about my life. About two weeks later, I received a call: “My name is Mark and I’m calling from Microsoft to tell you that you’ve been selected as a winner of the Splinter Cell Conviction Challenge.”
Fast forward to Saturday, and I’ve chosen my brother John to be my partner along this adventure. ID in hand, we are given custom Splinter Cell sling packs, jackets emblazoned with the Splinter Cell and Xbox 360 logos, and a whole mess of Splinter Cell-style items: fake ID, convex mirrors, passports, and NutriGrain bars. Hey, even Fisher’s gotta eat! We are given instructions that we are to complete three of the four challenges set up for us around the city of Toronto. They range from the north-east end of the city to the south-west near the starting point.
Our strategy was to start far and work our way back. The three missions we chose were “In Soviet Russia”, “Isabella”, and “Burroughs”, opting out of “Mark and Execute”, although word has it that it was the most uniquely-designed mission, although they were all pretty stellar. We decided to forego the transportation the organizers provided (a TTC pass) and use taxis for the entire route of the trip, with the exception of the end. We were first to get our jackets and materials, out of pure luck, and a bit of ingenuity (read: going under the queue marker). And so it begins.
“In Soviet Russia” led us to 44 Wellington Street, to a bar called “Pravda”. We were to meet a man named Ivan and get information from him. We entered the bar and headed upstairs to see a 50s-era red curtained area with two rather large bodyguards in front of it. We asked to speak to Ivan. Of course, he doesn’t speak to people he doesn’t know. We are given a package and told to find Vladimir, who supposedly works the streets within a hundred metres of the building. We find him, deliver the package, and head back to Ivan with another. We are let behind the curtain this time, and are told to find some details from a bottle of vodka somewhere around the bar with only a small photo fragment of the label. John looks around, adventurously jumps behind the bar, and finds the information. He hops back over, we get it to Ivan, and he tells us: 7:50, 7/6, Poland, Oksana. What the hell?
Our next stop is “Isabella”. Luckily, seeing the general area on the map, I instantly realize the mission is named after Hotel Isabella. We hop in a taxi and hightail it north to almost Bloor where our next mission takes place. I remove the fake ID (Apparently, I’m an Asian USAF pilot named John Butler) from my wallet and tell the receptionist that I’d like to check in. She tells us to go to our room and wait for a call. We get up to our room and there is a TV with the Splinter Cell Conviction demo running. I yell at John, “play this game! You might need to know stuff about it!” We get a call with a mysterious message: “Go down to the lobby. Take the employee-only staircase to the subbasement. Find the present and get what he knows. Don’t touch him. Don’t untie him. Don’t move him.” Click.
We head downstairs to find a crippled old man tied up, battered, bruised, and worn. He tells us he hasn’t eaten in three days and that he will only give us what he knows if we give him water. Finding a water bottle in our pack, we put it on the table next to him. He gives me a look of disgust because I don’t put it in his hand. He begins yelling: “Go to Room 304! Get the package for room 304! Don’t come back!” He pulls a gun and we run off, scared as if it was real. Hell, for all we knew, in that moment, it was. We head to the lobby and ask for the package for Room 304. We’re questioned, “what happened to the guy that was supposed to pick it up?” My brother and I look at each other and ask “What guy?” She gives us a plane ticket and we leave. Upon examining the ticket, we notice the following highlighted: 1:30, 3/28/2010, Ukraine, M. Azarov. On to the Burroughs.
For this mission, we head south-west to an abandoned rock club that closed down a few weeks ago. We are told to look for an unlocked door to get in. We go around back to an alley way and see a man carrying a bunch of newspapers. He motions for us to follow him and asks us to get him some information from the roof. He lets us in the building and we realize it is quite heavily guarded. We make our way to the third floor and John stealthily sneaks past a sleeping guard to pick up two roof access passes. We traverse the stairs another four floors to the roof, getting stopped by security along the way (thank goodness for our passes), and meet informants on the roof. They provide us with binoculars and we are to look for some information around a furniture factory, no other information given. Not even thirty seconds into the search, John spots a cloth hanging from a building that provides us with our next pieces of information: 18:22, 19/8, Japan, Takawara. We head back downstairs, but are forced through a pitch-black room where a guard walks his post with a flashlight in hand. We make our way to the elevator on the far side of the room, narrowly avoiding detection, and call for our trip to the bottom floor. As the door closes, I yell “YO!” and hear “Hold it right there!” The door is already closed by the time the guard gets to us. Safety.
Our last stop takes us to our “check-in” point at GameStop and Bathurst and Bloor. We arrive and are greeted with a “wow, you’re early!” from one of the challenge facilitators. We are given a UPC code and told to find the game on the shelf that it corresponds to. Five minutes of searching and we find it (Avatar: The Game, no less) and present our finding to receive our last bits of information: 14:55, 25/12, Turkey, Soyadi. Huh?
We get intel that we need to meet back at Downsview Station, all the way North on the subway line. We get there to find more event coordinators who are shocked at how fast we get there. We nearly beat them to the station. The next team doesn’t arrive for forty-five minutes. Once all six arrive, we’re taken away to a jail. Literally.
Our bus travels for about five minutes to a jail setup (okay, so it was a movie set, but still!), and we’re ushered into our petite cells and left to wither away for an hour. We are given instructions as to how the last challenge is to play out, and there are dozens of spectators watching above us. A prison break is at hand, and the six teams race across to the cells opposite to get information from a code written on the wall. We jot down a bunch of seemingly random numbers and rush back to our cells. When we arrive, there are puzzle cards that have been thrown into our cell. A bit of math and literally no more than eight seconds later, we’ve figured it out. “FINAL ANSWER! FINAL ANSWER!” my brother and I yell. They look it over.
“Congratulations, you just won the grand prize to the Splinter Cell Challenge.”
Once again: Holy shit.
In a true Hollywood-style, they break us out of the side of the cell opposite to the bars, and run us around to the front hall. The warden and guard have since been locked in a cell and there is smoke and gunfire all around. The words “Get to the Chopper” are lit up on the side of the prison, just like the projected text in the actual game, and we run through the smoke to the other side where there is a hangar. We meet our pilot who has just informed us we are literally going to be taken up in a helicopter for our mighty escape.
The crowd gathers around the helipad and cheers us on as we take off for our monumentous achievement.
This was an absolutely incredible day and we participated in something phenomenal. The game was truly brought to life and the tiny details made it all happen. The questionable stairwell in Isabella, the guard on a path as if he were AI-controlled, and the projected text all added to the immersive experience and really made us feel badass.
We flew away to Montreal the next day to claim our prize: a tour of Montreal’s Ubisoft studio and some face time with the game, playing alongside the developers. You’ll hear about that in an article in the coming days. I will say that we saw some things that we weren’t supposed to see and I’ll be reporting back in full with all the details shortly!
Make sure you follow Eggplante on Twitter for the latest updates and our Facebook page will have updates too! You can follow all the Splinter Cell Conviction details by using the hashtag #SCCxbox on Twitter and by following UBI_EMPLOYEE1 on Twitter as well! There will be an official video of the festivities up shortly, but there are already plenty you can check out around the web on the various pages!!