Review – Splinter Cell: Conviction
Play it yet again, Sam.
I have to admit, the ongoing story arc of the Splinter Cell series has rather passed me by. I loved the first game, enjoyed the very similar second, was bored after a level of Chaos Theory and absolutely hated the two levels of Double Agent that I endured (although we had some decent PEOWW larks with the online component). So it’s all a bit of a shocker to come into Conviction, the fifth game in the series, to see Sam’s life all turned upside-down.
Now he’s no longer part of Third Echelon, Lambert is dead (by Sam’s own hands) and so is his daughter. To make matters worse, he’s voiced by Michael Ironside who sounds like a veteran reminiscing about World War 2 these days. Apparently, he is going to live forever.
The game starts off with Sam being contacted by Grim, his former controller, now turned bitchy ‘at any cost’ covert jobsworth. From here the fun continues through a dozen or so levels of sub-24, black-ops Clancyism. The usual mix of rogue agents, terrorist threats and nifty gadgetry pave Conviction‘s well-trodden road. Indeed, Splinter Cell veterans will feel completely at home with the game’s mechanics and its return to more stealth-friendly level design after the wide open sections that appeared in the last two games.
Still, all of Clancy’s plots are effectively bollocks. Didn’t stop the Vegas and GRAW games from being superb though and Conviction isn’t necessarily hurt by Clancy’s regurgitated Modern Warfare 2 storyline. The game itself is completely what you’d expect of modern day Ubisoft. Polished to an inch of its life but lacking a certain substance once you get past the shiny exterior.
The opening tutorial level has your instructions and objectives projected onto nearby scenery (something that continues throughout) and it looks ace. Add to that some very hi-res character models and scenery, with any faults hidden under a veil of darkness, and you’ve got a lovely looking game, and even if they are sleepwalking through the script, the voice actors do a reasonable job of keeping you immersed.
A Splinter Cell game invariably involves a lot of skulking in the dark, sneaking up to, and choking out, guards and unleashing headshots with your silenced pistol and Conviction certainly delivers that. However, Ubisoft have tried to mix things up a little by including a new ‘Mark and Execute’ option. Enabled by achieving silent melee kills, this option allows you to tag multiple opponents (up to four depending on which weapon you have equipped) and the set off automatic shots to wipe them out. It can feel a little cheap, but then this game does love to drop you into ambushes a little too often and so a little automatic cheapness is usually your ticket out. Also, get used to seeing the same intro sequences before every major setpiece over and fucking over.
It’s an average cover shooter that absolutely hates the player. Whether it’s checkpoint placement that forces you to replay all of the boring non-interactive sections, or the mission design that provides a linear path with no opportunities for you to experiment, or long winded gratuitous violence of the interrogation scenes. This isn’t even Splinter Cell Light, this is Splinter Cell Nothing. There’s barely a moment where you will have to think of anything beyond ‘how do I put a bullet in that guy’s head’, and the answer is most often ‘I will let the game do it for me’. Carefully following guards and planning out moves in advance has no place in Conviction.
Add into the mix multiple missions where if you get spotted it is game over, a design crutch that should have been left behind long ago, and some truly horribly written and loudly shouted dialogue, and I wanted to finish this and never play it ever again. Thankfully the single player campaign ran out of ways to pad out the same idea over and over again five hours in. The story is the same old Tom Clancy bollocks too.
It is flashy and it is cinematic. It’s clear that with such little substance to it there had to be plenty of style, and it doesn’t disappoint in that respect. But in the quest for making Splinter Cell accessible, so that they could leverage the franchise to the widest consumer base possible, Ubisoft have abandoned the subtlety and intelligent game design like what we used to play. It’s five years old, but Chaos Theory is far more forward thinking than Conviction, and no amount of slo-mo headshots and explosions is going to change that.
Secondary Score: 4/10
(more Lewie @ SavyGamer)
The single player campaign does only clock in at a meagre six or so hours (on Normal – you can add a few hours if you try Realistic which really isn’t that tough) and so you’ll be looking for more content pretty quickly. Luckily, Ubisoft have included a separate co-op campaign as well as a series of ‘Denied Ops’ missions which strip out all of the dull plot and see you either executing a set number of enemy operatives or surviving waves of approaching enemies as is now mandatory for all action games.
Splinter Cell fans may well lap this up, it doesn’t deviate from the template and is a perfectly capable game but, for me, this is a series that peaked at its inception and has been slowly grinding away at whatever magic it once had until we are left with a set of games so predictable and hackneyed that suddenly the announcement of a new FIFA game seems more interesting and that’s swearing. We’ve certainly all seen it before and where Sam was a viable challenger to Messrs Rikimaru and Solid Snake, he’s now just as has-been who needs retiring once and for all.
Part of the problem is that Conviction is trying too hard to be edgey and adult. Whereas before, everything was just about business or military superiority, now everything seems personal with Sam being more than a little fucked off about how his life has turned out and all of the guards in the game seem to spend more time calling you a ‘fucking prick’ than actually searching for you. Indeed, listening to the guards chewing your ear off every time you take out a lightbulb makes for some very tedious hiding.
Played as an action game, Conviction hangs together reasonably well, but it lacks the tension and class of the early Splinter Cell games and often resorting to the Mark and Execute option is easier than ninjaing your way out of trouble. Worse still, I found that simply falling back to ‘Operation Save-ass’ and running like a bastard, was a more effective trick than using any of Sam’s gadgets or special moves and that, Sir, simply isn’t Splinter Cell or cricket.