After years of waiting, numerous changes and restarts, Sam Fisher is finally back. It's been almost five years since the first hints of a new Splinter Cell game were announced and in that time Ubisoft has reinvented the series and perfected a new type of stealth-action game. Fans of previous iterations needn't worry though as Sam is back and is as deadly as ever.
Unlike previous Splinter Cell games, Conviction cuts down on the stealth elements and adds a higher paced, more action driven experience. Whereas before the success or failure of your mission relied on hiding bodies and avoiding security cameras, Conviction is far more action oriented. No longer will you fail a mission if a body of one of your victims is discovered. In fact, you do not even possess the ability to pick up and drag knocked out or killed enemies. Conviction sets its own path within the Splinter Cell series and it seems the older Sam Fisher gets, the more trigger happy he becomes.
Conviction follows the events of the previous game in the series, Splinter Cell: Double Agent. If you're new to Splinter Cell or unfamiliar with the story of Double Agent, the beginning of Conviction will fill you in on the important facts. After the death of his daughter Sarah, Sam Fisher has gone rogue and no longer works for the government agency Third Echelon. This is where Conviction begins, with Sam tracking down any information that could lead him to the person responsible for the death of his daughter. In an attempt to find his daughter's killer, Sam discovers the beginnings of a plot to take over the government of the United States. Being the patriot that Sam is, he works with a mole within the would be terrorist organization in an attempt to thwart their evil doings. The irony is that the organization he is now trying to take down is his previous employer, Third Echelon, the same people he took orders from and risked his life for on a daily basis. The story within Conviction is rather cliche and won't have you gasping for air, but the manner in which it is told more than makes up for its lack or originality.
As you progress through the game as Sam, the story is told by a friend who used to fight with Sam in the military. It's clear from the onset that he has been captured and the game unfolds as he retells the events that have already transpired. Not only does this present a strong method of unfolding the events of the story, it also serves as your set up for the upcoming mission. Conviction no longer uses a load out screen to inform you of your objectives, rather along side this story telling, Ubisoft has put together a rather unique method to display specific goals. Within each mission your specific objective is displayed to you in game, real time. If your goal is to find and question a man holed up inside some building, projected across the wall in huge letters will be, "infiltrate and interrogate the target". Not only is this method aesthetically pleasing, it allows the game to progress from one mission to the other seamlessly.
Not to be out down by the reinvented and high quality presentation, the gameplay and core elements of Conviction have also been retooled. As previously mentioned Conviction focuses more on the use of action and your firearm then previously seen in any other Splinter Cell game. To enhance this new emphasis on action and combat Conviction equips Fisher with some new and exciting abilities. Sam Fisher has always been a deadly killing machine, but in Conviction with the new 'Mark and Execute' ability you can drop into a room of enemies and take them out in a matter of seconds. As it sounds, Mark and Execute allows you to tag up to three enemies and then simply press a button and perform a deadly headshot on each tagged enemy. Not only does this make you feel like a pure badass, it can clear a room of enemies before they have a chance to even curse your name. To balance this deadly ability you must perform a hand to hand take down in order to use the Mark and Execute ability each time. Along side this ability is also a 'Last Known Position' that helps you distract enemies and get the upper hand. If you're discovered by someone, a silhouette of yourself will appear where you were spotted and remain there until someone else locates you elsewhere. While everyone is focused on your last known position you can sneak around and take the hired muscle out from behind. These two new abilities help to introduce you to and harness the new emphasis on action. Also new to the series is a cover system which allows you to attach to and move from cover to cover with ease. Not only does this new cover system allow you to quickly take safety from firing enemies, it helps make sneaking around in the shadows all the more graceful. Ubisoft has also thrown in a new method of interrogating your victims for good measure. Once you've captured your target, you can use the environment around you to your advantage, be it smashing the victims face into a urinal or throwing them down a floor out of their office window. These interrogations are fun to watch but they are little more than moving your character somewhat and pressing a button and leave much to be desired.
Along side all this action there still remains a great deal of sneaking around and lurking in the shadows but don't be fooled, Conviction doesn't stay entirely true to its stealthy roots. Very few levels require you to avoid detection in order to succeed and if you so choose, you can run and gun through almost every level and likely complete all your objectives. The options does still remains to wait patiently in the dark and meticulously plot out your every move, but more often than not, confrontation is unavoidable. Of course you've been given new abilities to deal with this greater amount of action, but fans of past games may feel as though Sam Fisher has strayed a little too far from his rather stealthy past. No longer does Sam have to be a ghost, unseen and undetected, rather you use your stealth abilities to disappear once discovered and get the upper hand on your enemies.
Depending on your abilities and difficulty on which you play Conviction, the game should take you anywhere from five to seven hours to complete. Of course, once you've finished with the single player campaign you can put your new skills to work and participate in some co-op with a friend or try out one of several other multiplayer modes. In co-op you play as either an American or Russian operative, both with the same skill sets as seen on Fisher in the campaign. The only difference being you have a separate story line and the obvious ability to work in tandem with a teammate. This creates new strategies of setting traps and working together to achieve your goals and although familiar, makes for a different and enjoyable experience.
Apart from the co-op, Conviction also offers four different multiplayer modes. Hunter is a game mode where you and a partner must progress through a level taking out a given amount of enemies. Being spotted or setting off alarms calls in reinforcements and strengthens the number of enemies you must take out. Faceoff separates you from your partner and pits you against each other to take out an influx of enemies, and Last Stand tasks you with protecting an EMP generator from damage all the while taking out numerous waves of enemies. Rounding out the current multiplayer modes available is Infiltration. This game mode is almost like a standard playthrough of a co-op level, but a single detection by an enemy and you automatically fail your mission. Infiltration is also unique because in order to unlock it you must sign up for Ubisoft's uPlay service and use points you've earned from completing the single player campaign. It's an interesting way of Ubisoft getting you to sign up for their service, which in time will surely offer DLC as well as other purchasable items.
As Conviction was started so long ago, it obviously means that the technology behind it isn't quite up to par with more recent games. Although overall the visuals are more than acceptable, the game lacks the realistic look and fidelity of current triple 'A' titles. The Unreal 2.5 engine, which is over 5 years old really shows its age during one mission that sees you visit a war torn middle eastern country. The visuals look jagged and unappealing, and like ultra realistic visuals can help draw you into a game, this level does nothing but remind you that you are, in fact, playing just a game. Although the visuals can be somewhat lacking, Conviction's sounds and music help lure you into the world of Sam Fisher. When the atmosphere is tense or you've been spotted, the music rises accordingly. When you have disposed of your enemies and have moved to safety, the pace and level of the music lowers. These types of audio cues from the game help intensify your experience and gives you a sense of ease or unrest.
Splinter Cell: Conviction aims to reinvigorate the series and takes the user down a new path not seen before in a Splinter Cell game. These changes, although straying from the franchise's strong stealthy roots, are enjoyable and serve to enhance and appeal to a larger audience of gamers. Great story telling, novel and exciting new abilities, and a well presented package make Conviction a worthy entry into the Splinter Cell series. Conviction offers you the chance to play as one of the most revered assassins in gaming, includes an enjoyable cooperative experience, and lives up to lofty expectations. All this makes Splinter Cell: Conviction a title that you shouldn't miss out on if you are a fan of stealth or action games.