While the streamlined objectives and simplified character design (is it just us, or is Sam getting younger?) help balance out the messy plotting to a degree, it’s the actual gameplay where Conviction’s virtues are best displayed. Conviction returns Splinter Cell to full glory, acting as much needed redemption following the sloppy Double Agent and justifying the troubled history.
As a third-person stealth shooter, you’d expect that most of the improvements would have been expansions to Fisher’s arsenal of moves, but in truth Conviction has culled as many options as it’s added – and the result is a much tighter and more focused experience. Sam’s trademark wall-split move is one of the more notable casualties, but Conviction still lets you clamber above your enemies and drop on them from above, so it’s no big loss.
The main new feature is the ‘Execution’ option, which lets Sam tag a number of enemies for one-hit kills, enabling him to clear a room with ease. You need to complete a melee kill before you can use it – an obvious intrusion of game design into the story, but a forgivable one that stops things from ever getting too easy. In fact, the difficulty curve for Splinter Cell is almost right on the nose since you can save the Execution power up for those times when you really need it.
BAM! Nipple shot!
Other new features aren’t as generally useful though – especially the Last Known Position mechanic. Ostensibly it shows you where the endlessly verbose guards last saw you and still believe you to be, allowing you a chance to get out of there and flank them. In practice though, it’s generally not worth the effort unless you leave a remote mine behind when you go – it’s just as easy to pop out of cover and attack enemies head on. They, like you, go down in just a few shots from even the weakest weapons, so, while frontal assaults are risky, they are far from hopeless. A lot of the time the AI will just refuse to move in on you anyway.
With a few exceptions much of Sam’s gadgets are similarly only of limited use. Snake-cams are always handy for checking the next room and the portable EMP is handy in a pinch for dimming the lights if a plan goes awry, but other bits of gear are best left to gather dust because the enemy placement and level design means a stealth approach is always possible and preferable.
Still, you can’t fault the game for providing too much choice – even if the control system does take a bit of getting used to. Besides, many of the items that don’t get used much in the singleplayer campaign turn out to be very handy in the other game modes. The separate two-player co-op campaign is a good example, where remote cameras are excellent for deciding on tactics and a frag grenade can bail your partner out of trouble. Or grief him, whatever.
This is going to require some careful nipple-based aiming
The more overtly aggressive gizmos turn out to be very handy for some of Conviction’s Deniable Ops challenges too, where you can go up against the clock or AI for a change of pace. It has to be said though that the Ubisoft’s PEC challenge system doesn’t sit all that well with us though, especially in the console versions of the game where there are already plenty of achievements built in. True, you can unlock extra gear by completing them and they’re therefore something worth occupying yourself with, but the constant pop-ups quickly become a pain. Achievement complete! PEC Challenge Progress 1 of 5! Repetitive interrogation sequence finished!
Annoying as the incessant achievements are though, there’s no denying that the game underneath is of an incredibly high pedigree. The transitions between stealth and action are so fluid that they’re practically dripping and it’s all handled so stylishly that we wouldn’t be surprised to learn the box was made by Gucci. The storyline might be a bit crazed and the writers were obviously a bit too enthusiastic in their attempt to turn Sam Fisher into Jack Bauer, but even that can’t ruin a game this good which, like Sam’s victims, is stunningly executed.