Two nights ago, I finished the single-player mode of Splinter Cell: Conviction. The game can be breezed through in ten to twelve hours.
I quite enjoyed the game as an action game. I’ve long accepted that Ubisoft decided the franchise needed to go into a new direction for this generation of gaming, and Conviction doesn’t so much take a leap forward, not even a step forward, but sticks its foot in the water to feel the temperature. The game feels experimental, which means Ubisoft should take what people liked and didn’t like about the story of Sam Fisher and how he went about his mission and make it something better for the next time.
The outstanding aspects of Conviction lie in the enemy AI, though I’m writing this based only on having played through the game in Realistic mode. The bad guys are still jumpy, but under the new circumstances, they have every reason to be. They won’t notice a light being shut off, but the sound of lightbulbs shattering will prompt a reaction and in more extreme cases, a sweep of the area. If you give them any reason to be suspicious, they will never just happily go back to their patrol route. They know something is up, and know to “stay frosty.”
I was also impressed by the pacing of the story, although there was one sequence that flashes back to the Gulf War that I was not too fond of, and judging from numerous forum posts everywhere, I’m alone in that feeling. In that sequence, there is no reason to employ stealth, and that part of Conviction tiptoes between Splinter Cell and something along the lines of Gears of War. As a storytelling decision, it’s fine, but because there is almost no way of getting through it without killing dozens of Iraqi soldiers along the way. The game flows very well, and cements Conviction, the single-player anyway, as a good action game.
Why isn’t it great? Well, because the story doesn’t even try to emulate Tom Clancy’s style, for one thing. I understand the man exists by name only nowadays, but I always enjoyed that while the storytelling reached some improbable, unlikely levels, Conviction takes a tired scenario seen in any American political thriller film with a dash of daytime soap for extra flavor and unabashedly runs with it. The game takes one of my favorite characters and makes them unlikable, nearly. At least fans can rest easy knowing Sam Fisher is still Sam Fisher.
One other hiccup the game suffers from is how ambitious the first half of the game is, but seems desperate to get to the conclusion of the story, so areas of exploration and alternate routes become corridors with “chemical lights” that just so happen will not be affected with the portable EMP gadget or putting a bullet in the bulb. The game pushes you to fight by the second half, when it seems fair to assume people are playing this to avoid the fights. We all knew this was where the series was going, but based on the first half of Conviction, it’s entirely possible to put out a stealth game that is not sluggish and where using a gun is Plan B.
This is a game where both sides warring over the direction of this game have good points. I would have liked to play a current-generation version of Chaos Theory. I would have loved to see Ubisoft Montreal take a fantastic game from the last generation and improve on it so that it would play strongly on an Xbox 360. There’s also the idea that the formula is dated, which is the viewpoint of the game “journalists,” something the fanatics scratch their heads at. It would seem like people wanted another Chaos Theory, but I don’t think that’s the case. The purists wanted Chaos Theory 2, exactly as I explained it, a fresher, tweaked take on that game, which, in my opinion, is a pretty reasonable thing to do. However, given the success of Ubisoft’s other intellectual property Assassin’s Creed, why not borrow from that cash cow and essentially make Splinter’s Creed?
The game itself plays fine. There is indeed stealth to be found here, but it’s not Splinter Cell stealth, which, whether you like it or not, is appropriate this time around. It’s not even Metal Gear stealth, but more of a complex take on Batman: Arkham Asylum’s stealth areas. You aren’t penalized, you just anger or scare the bad guys with more bodies lying around. My only issue is how simplified a lot of actions are. I missed the hacking and lockpick minigames, and here tasks like that are done with one push of the A button. I had to let the Mark & Execution feature grow on me. Finding a poor sap to smack in a hand-to-hand takedown to fill the meter is probably the only challenging thing about Conviction. The black-and-white filter that everyone either hated or didn’t mind stops being noticeable after the first mission. In fact, I would sneak around hoping and waiting for the screen to go grayscale, so I can plan my next move in peace.
I’ve yet to play the other modes, which seem to be a better reason for owning the game than the next chapter in Sam Fisher’s life. In the three or four years and all the nonsense the development had gone through, I was honestly hoping for something more substantial.
Grade: B- (Applies to the single-player mode only.)