Splinter Cell Conviction

Good story, good gameplay, good God it’s finished already.

Now, I haven’t played a Splinter Cell game since Pandora Tomorrow; Chaos Theory annoyed me with its overly Xboxy controls & interface and Double Agent didn’t get great reviews, but I really loved the first two so in spite of a lingering bad taste from past experiences and bearing in mind the obscene Ubisoft DRM, I decided to give Conviction a shot…

Before you ask, yes, it has been cracked and yes, I did make use of said crack – my internet connection has been decidedly dodgy the past month or so and I’ll be buggered if I’m going to have my gameplay interrupted every 5 minutes because I don’t have a 100% reliable connection.

Irrespective, the game certainly evoked memories of my past Splinter Cell exploits. You reprise your role as Sam Fisher, sweater-wearing one-man army and former Third Echelon agent, as you attempt to track down the people responsible for your daughter’s death. Suffice it to say, the story gets a lot more complicated as the game progresses and even by the time you reach the end it isn’t entirely clear who was behind everything or what exactly they were trying to achieve.

Although your rogue status means you no longer have to worry about things like minimising casualties, the core of the game is still all about stealth and Conviction approaches it with something of a double-edged sword. When you’re hidden, the game takes on a black & white hue, with “interactive” objects such as enemy soldiers and traps (split broadly into the types that explode and the types that fall on people) remaining in colour. While this certainly makes it easier to manoeuvre in the dark, it does mean that you spend most of the game in monochrome, which is a shame as it looks lovely in colour.

The other significant impact of going solo is that you can no longer rely on your goggles to help you out in the dark and while you do get hold a pair later in the game, to be honest with the B&W mechanic highlighting your foes for you they aren’t needed nearly as much any more.

In addition to magic eyes, Conviction also introduces Mark & Execute, which allows you to “tag” a number of enemies (depending on the equipped weapon) and then take them out in a matter of seconds. If performed with a silenced weapon from a good vantage point, you can usually remain completely undetected. This ability needs to be “recharged” using the somewhat arbitrary method of performing a hand-to-hand kill, but it becomes essential on a number of occasions where it means the difference between silently taking down a room of mooks and being riddled with bullets. You can get quite creative with Mark & Execute, for example, at one point I was hanging above a group of 5 enemies – I could have tried to take them all out with my weapon before they spotted me, or dropped a grenade, or tried to lure them away one at a time, but all those methods had a pretty small margin for error. So instead I Marked 4 of them and then dropped onto the 5th, hitting Execute as I did, knocking him to the floor and putting 4 rounds into 4 foreheads in rapid succession – Job done, 5 dead, none of their friends any the wiser. It’s these one-man silent army moments that really make Splinter Cell games so much fun to play, whether you’re pulling people out windows or using them as human battering rams to bust open doors.

It’s a lot more shooty then the previous games, with a very small number of sections requiring absolute stealth and/or non-lethal take-downs and it’s very much Of The Console Moment with lots of “this button does 12 things depending on context” and “complete these achievementy sort of things to unlock weapons and upgrades” but they’re bearable when held up against the quality of the game as a whole. The only thing that really irked me was that I frequently found myself bolting from cover only to find myself in walk mode rather than run, shortly followed by death and often having to replay absurdly long sections since the last checkpoint.

However, I’m going to parrot Yahtzee and remind developers that including Multi Player content, good or otherwise, is not to be seen as an alternative to including Single Player content – and Single Player “skirmish” modes don’t really count either. Conviction is, at best, 6-8 hours long (for me, on Normal difficulty anyway) and while many other recent games have had similar length Single Player campaigns (I’m looking at you, CoD), I felt a bit cheated by them too. It’s not that it really detracts from the overall experience, it’s just that when you’re paying £40 for a game (RRP, £50 on the consoles) it would be nice to get a bit more value for money. DLC is all very well and good where it’s provided, but even when it’s substantial content and not just a different coloured sweater, it rarely extends the main story and instead just tacks on some side content that isn’t much use once you finished the game anyway. It’s not even like there’s massive replay value in Conviction; I’ve clocked up over 100 hours on Mass Effect 2, for example, and I dread to think how many hours on Football Manager, but I can’t see myself playing Conviction through more than twice – while it’s still better value than say, going to the cinema, on a £/hour basis, it could be better.

Overall, it’s probably a 7.5/10, could have been an 8 if the controls were a bit more suitable for ham-fisted individuals such as myself and would probably have been substantially lower had I not been able to bypass the DRM and thus avoid all the problems that people acting legitimately have had to suffer through. If you’re going to buy it, either do so from somewhere like play.com where you can get it for £27 or wait a few months for the price to come down.

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