So many cliches I could start out with. The Sam Fisher you know is dead. This is bigger than you and me. Life is like a box of chocolates. Take your pick. (Please don’t pick that last one.)
I’ve been waiting for Splinter Cell to come back into the gaming arena since Chaos Theory. Double Agent sorely disappointed me to the point that I just wanted it to be over so that I could say I’d played every Splinter Cell game to date, and when it was done, I never touched it again. The first three entries in the series, I’ve played two, if not three times over. I’m already on my second run of Conviction.
So you know about the backstory, and you know about mark and execute and last known positions, and if you don’t, check out IGN or GameSpot’s reviews. I’m here to talk about the good stuff that they seem to leave out.
So let’s break it down with the first level. I was looking forward to this from the beginning. It starts in Malta, just like the E3 demo we saw, gives you a quick tutorial of movement, and that’s it: just like Sam Fisher in this game, you’re on your own. The storyline is incredible, gripping you from the very beginning. I wish I could talk about it more without giving away any spoilers, but it picks up virtually right after the first ten minutes, and there is no letting up through the whole thing.
Missions are fast-paced and exciting, and don’t feel like the old Splinter Cell games. This is a good and bad thing, though. I liked Splinter Cell because it was a unique game. No other shooter really had the original Splinter Cell feel. Conviction has changed this and, while I like the fact that I feel totally badass when I don the controller, I’m not sure I feel perfectly Sam Fisher as I remember him. With that said, this is a Fisher I could get behind.
Conviction is a more human story than previous games. At every level, it has more heart and pulls at every bit of emotion you have inside of you. But there is a disconnect from the more human Sam Fisher who is all about discovering what happened to his daughter to the man who ruthlessly kills anyone and anything in his path to get there. The Sam Fisher who used to hide bodies (without actually killing people) is gone. Even telling Sam to incapacitate his enemies means he will sometimes lodge a five-seven between their temples. You know, just for the hell of it.
Fans of previous series might not like the fact that there is very little stealth mechanic in the traditional Splinter Cell way. That is, there are no lock-picking, keypad-hacking sequences, nor are there collecting data sticks or moving bodies around. Moving bodies may not be necessary, although it may have introduced an interesting mechanic for staying hidden. Lock-picking and keypad-hacking may have slowed things down in the overall game, but it is such a classic Splinter Cell element and completely fits with the story. If Sam wanted to run and gun, he could bash doors, or play it safe and pick locks as he was trained so well to do.
Something I’ve always thought was excellent in the Splinter Cell series was the music. The way it fluidly faded in and out when enemies approached and when pivotal moments were about to occur was excellent. But Conviction took it from fluid and excellent to blow-your-mind-perfect. The audio direction on Conviction is phenomenal and on par, if not higher quality than what Marty O’Donnell does at Bungie with the Halo series. It catches you at moments and freaks you out, calms you down, and saddens you.
The music in the game flows, but not more than the game itself. There was virtually no loading throughout the entire game. You could probably have played an entire other game waiting for Chaos Theory to load, but in Conviction, scenes move from one to the next, playable becomes non-playable, and vice-versa so quickly that you don’t even realize it. That is intelligent game design. That is the way games need to be. That is the ingenuity behind Splinter Cell. And everything else that made this game unique: projected text, mark and execute, incredible co-op campaign, and sooooo much more.
And then there is the co-op mode. Oh my, there is so much content on this disc. I haven’t played through much more than the first mission, but the jist of it is a prologue in which you control US and Russian forces working together. There’s a huge twist in it, which some are saying is bigger than the single-player storyline, so if you’re playing Conviction, get on Xbox Live and play through with a friend.
I don’t usually assign actual ratings to reviews, but this one deserves something special: eleven. Out of ten. Yes, despite my writing about some shortcomings, at the end of the day, the lineage of Splinter Cell holds strong enough that the game has held up to what I expect. Ubisoft Montreal has managed to even elevate it, even if it isn’t the Splinter Cell I remember. But it can become the one I know from now on. I’m not sure how they are going to continue the series given the way the story ended (no, you’re not getting any spoilers here), but I’m sure they’ll come up with something. Will we see it at E3 this year? Not a chance in hell. Oh well, if I have to wait another five years, so be it. Any game that gives me the power to say the following is worth the wait.