Ubisoft’s stalwart sneaky spy Sam Fisher returns in Splinter Cell: Conviction, the much-anticipated recent instalment in the series that is redefining a genre. The game begins with Sam having left Third Echelon after the death of his daughter in a hit and run incident. Sat in a Mediterranean café, Sam gets a phone call from an old colleague from his shadowy ex-workplace warning him of an imminent threat to his life. This kick-starts the story and Sam’s journey to find his daughter’s killer, which will drag the world’s greatest (non-British) spy back into the world of international espionage and pit him against his former employers.
Although still a 3rd person stealth action thriller, the tone of the game has shifted from the constant shadow dwelling of its predecessors to a more open, upfront approach to the gameplay. It’s noticeable in Sam’s appearance too; rather than the skin-tight black-ops body suit he once sported his attire is more urban chic, in the Jason Bourne style. The action and story also seem to take influence from the Bourne series, with a gritty atmosphere and flashback storytelling projected onto walls as you progress the quieter sections of the single player mission. The cut-scene animation is breathtaking with very realistic rendering of characters; Sam himself has wrinkles, realistic eyes, individual strands of hair and a split-lip that doesn’t miraculously repair itself. Even his stubble grows as the game progresses giving it almost a “24” feel, and this is backed up by the clever, jerky camera movement during some of the more tense and sinister cut-scenes.
Sneaking is still a large part of the gameplay, but so is timely dashing from one place to another, tactically avoiding enemies or luring them into traps, separating them and taking them down one or two at a time. There are times when all out assault is required and the game utilises a mechanic whereby Sam can disappear into the shadows, leaving enemies shooting at his last known position whilst he flanks them. The “execute” function is also very useful, allowing players to mark and execute two enemies quickly after successfully taking down another by a hand-to-hand quiet kill. During interrogation scenes Sam can use the environment to punish those who won’t talk and convince them, with the use of things like sinks and pianos, to let him know what he wants to know. The weapon outfit is the standard expected; a mix of pistols (silenced or not), sub-machine guns, assault rifles shot guns and an array of devices including grenades, mines, EMP charges and sticky, exploding cameras to assist Sam’s progression.
For all of it’s impressive features, graphics and gameplay there are a few flaws. The camera angles, as with most 3rd person games, often become obtrusive and cause difficulty for the player to see an area that would be clearly viewed through the character’s eyes. The sound track is largely in keeping with the game but sometimes descends into irritating techno-punk at inappropriate times, usually during intense action, probably intended to add to the atmosphere, but it seems only to annoy and detract. Strangely, Sam appears to have forgotten how to drag a body away from where it falls and to a convenient hiding place, rather remiss of a veteran black-ops agent. This means that players need to be extra careful when felling a foe in case their lifeless body should serve to alert other enemies to Sam’s presence.
However, despite the downsides, the game is overwhelmingly impressive, addictive and fun. The change of pace is refreshing and the lean toward a more beaten, gritty and weatherworn Sam Fisher is a welcome change from the previous formula. It’s cinematic, engaging and entertaining. Fans of the series will love it and new comers will find it easily accessible without the need to have played the previous games. A multiplayer option extends the life of the game beyond the completion of the single player campaign, the content of which will be covered in a future post.