So, here’s the deal; we got this game from Louise, who was recruited by a secretive, French corporation for the purpose of spreading company information. The game was then given to our specialist, who experiences them using a variety of gadgets which have been especially designed for the task, before finally giving a detailed report to his bosses that assesses the validity of Louise’s info. That report is then spread as anti-propaganda.
And if that sounds more complex than it really needs to be, then brace yourself because it’s going to get a whole lot worse. Splinter Cell: Conviction is a lot of things – it’s slick, stealthy and incredibly stylish…but succinct and easy to follow it is not.
Part of the problem is that Conviction is carrying on directly from previous Splinter Cell games, forcing us to dig years back into our memories (suffering the terrible Double Agent in the process) to recall where exactly we last left super-spy Sam Fisher. Honestly, this far down the line it’s getting hard to keep tabs on where we were and Conviction’s rambling and retrofits don’t exactly help.
Hold still, you've got a fly on you...
To keep it brief though, Conviction starts with a fatigued Sam Fisher enjoying a post-retirement coffee in Malta. He’s no longer with US spy-club Third Echelon, having thrown in the towel after his daughter was run down and he had to kill his best friend. He’s only pulled back into the spy-game when a bunch of thugs decide they’re going to kill him because their boss is the one who ran over his daughter. Hmm.
And that’s just the start of it. Soon it turns out that Third Echelon might no longer be the good guys, that there’s a secret spy group monitoring them and that your daughter might not be dead…maybe. There are terrorists in the mix too, along with an evil mega-baddy in the background and a mercenary group that’s hot on your tail. It’s impossible to tell or care which characters in the bloated cast are on your side and it’s all complicated by the fact that the story is told through cutscenes that jump forwards and backwards along the timeline at will. And that’s the brief version!
Yet, what it comes down to is; there’s a terrorist plot involving EMP bombs hidden throughout Washington and only you can stop it. It’s probably a massive over-simplification, but the further we delved into Splinter Cell: Conviction the more we found ourselves shrugging off the barrage of names, allegiances and obvious plot twists and clinging to it. Adrift in an ocean of hyperbole and gruffly-delivered melodrama, this was our life raft.
Promise you'll catch me?!
Still, for all of Splinter Cell’s meandering, the plot still draws you through purely because of the strength of the performances. Well, that and the fact that everything moves so fast that it’s hard not to get swept up in the flow of it all – but the voice acting and animation is still great. Michael Ironside uses his gravelly ambivalence to bring Sam Fisher to life once more and ensures that you sympathise with Sam’s position even when you don’t fully understand it. The sub-plot built around Sam’s daughter may be riddled with more holes than the corpses in your wake, but it also proves vital to making keeping players involved in the game. It’s easy to disregard yet another story of spies and spy-hunters, but not so easy to tut at the simpler tale of a man who just wants to find his daughter.
Building on this is the new look for the game, which eschews the fancy body armour and cool gadgets Sam usually has, building his arsenal up slowly and as dictated by the story. For the first few levels you’re making do with a broken wing mirror and a shoddy pistol, only getting the trademark goggles and silenced assault rifles much later on. You even lose in-depth mission briefings in favour of Sam’s inner monologue, which projects his goals onto the environment without breaking the flow of the game. Very swanky.