The Sam Fisher you knew is dead. America killed him, asked him to make one sacrifice too many, cross one line too far. An unknown drunk driver killed him, murdering his daughter, taking away the one thing that humanized him just as he was realizing how important that was.
For years, Sam Fisher has been off the grid and on his own, chasing his daughter’s murderer. But the trail leads to the last place Sam wants to see again: Washington D.C. Now Sam must work for old friends he can no longer trust, forced to save a country that used him and threw him away. For unless he can stand against both a vast, faceless enemy and a corrupt Third Echelon, he’ll never know what happened to his daughter – or himself.
Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Conviction brings the long-standing series in a different direction that’s great fun while it lasts, but a short single-player campaign and some weak gameplay elements mean that not everyone will enjoy this tale of redemption and revenge.
The United States of America is guarded against threats by an elite army of secret operatives known as the Third Echelon. Sam Fisher was once its best agent, but the murder of his daughter and the death of his best friend have left him disillusioned with the organization’s mission.
Grieving the loss of the two people closest to him, Sam Fisher chose to retire from Third Echelon. However, he eventually finds himself sucked back into a world he had hoped to never see again.
The story is dark and depressing. There’s hardly a friendly face around everywhere Sam goes, despite traveling to such locales as a palatial mansion, a fun fair and the Lincoln Memorial. Flashback scenes are played back like grimy film projected onto walls by hidden projectors, reminding Sam of the gloomy path that he walks.
However, the single-player campaign is over far too quickly: on the regular difficulty setting, despite failing and retrying several missions in one go, one solid day’s worth of gaming is more than sufficient to see you to the ending credits of the game. Fortunately, the game is worth replaying if only to try alternative routes to complete each mission, though some sections of the game will tempt you to skip them due to their poor execution and/or boring nature.
Stealth involves lots of sneaking around in the shadows, and doing so reverts Sam and the game environment to a gray-scale color scheme. This lets you know that you are completely hidden from your enemies. However, important objects and enemies remain colored to enable you to quickly spot them from a distance and plot your approach.
Moving into lighted areas will cause color to bleed back into the scene in a way that heightens the tension. Shooting these lights out or simply switching them off will create more shadows in which you can move, but enemies will take note and investigate with torchlights if they are close by.
Ledges, pipes, and various objects also offer numerous opportunities to play hide-and-seek. Though nowhere near as agile as Ezio of Assassin’s Creed II, Sam can move fluidly from cover to cover behind objects to stay hidden from his enemies’ sights. Although he moves about more quickly this way, be warned that the sticky cover element is slightly problematic: sometimes you may end up sticking to the wrong side of whatever cover you’re in, thereby exposing yourself to unwanted detection (and potentially, death).
When it comes to combat, Sam can dispatch enemies quickly and silently with deadly Krav Maga close combat techniques. Not only can he finish them with a variety of brutal kill moves, he can also drop on them from higher up, or pull them over ledges. Optionally, he can grab them as human shields: these poor saps are then discarded when they are killed by the gunfire of their friends or by Sam after he doesn’t need the additional protection.
When getting up close and personal is not an option, Sam can use a variety of guns instead, such as machine pistols, submachine guns, rifles and a shotgun. Each gun has its own power, accuracy and range statistics, so doing a quick compare of the guns you have available is necessary to ensure you use the right one for each mission, especially considering not all weapons come with silencers.
Rounding off Sam’s arsenal is a variety of gadgets. Besides his trademark sonar goggles that lets him see through walls and obstacles, Sam carries a snake camera to see under doors, grenades, mines, flashbangs, sticky cameras and even a personal EMP device.
Sticky cameras are particularly useful in that they can be stuck to any surface, allowing Sam to see through the camera lens from relative safety. It is even able to distract nearby enemies by way of a patriotic jingle (which sounds hilariously out of place in a tense combat environment), and can then be detonated to take them out.
A list of challenges are provided in Splinter Cell: Conviction that you can complete for points. These challenges are divided into three categories: Prepare and Execute, which usually involves taking out a certain number of enemies in specific ways; Vanish, whereby you have to evade enemies using specific methods; and Splinter Cell, which are the overall most difficult challenges that will push your skills – and patience – to the limit.
Completing these challenges successfully during your game allows you to gain points to spend on upgrading your weapons, gadgets and even purchase new uniform outfits for your multiplayer character. Weapons can be upgraded in a variety of ways. Some of the upgrades help boost damage, accuracy or range, while others add additional capacity, a silencer or add to the number of targets you can use in a maneuver called Mark-and-Execute.
Mark-and-Execute is one of the newer gameplay elements introduced in Splinter Cell: Conviction. After pulling off a successful close combat kill, Sam gains the ability to mark several targets – the number of which depends on the weapon in your hand – and execute them all in slow-motion with just a button tap. With the right gun and timing, Sam can quickly clear out an entire room of enemies this way before they can even react to his presence.
The ability to Mark-and-Execute reflects just how much of a badass Sam really is, and it is definitely one of the most satisfying aspects of Splinter Cell: Conviction. Imagine breaking down a door. You run to the nearest enemy soldier inside and snap his neck as he stands there, disoriented. Before his comrades can react, you’ve already marked them one by one – and in a flurry of headshots, dispatched them all in one ruthless move.
The use of this ability is crucial in many areas where you are overwhelmed by superior numbers and firepower, and believe me, those areas are many. Not only can you mark enemies, you can also mark lights and destructible objects, further adding to the chaos and confusion in which your enemies must attempt to hunt you down.
Occasionally, Sam Fisher has to perform interrogations on certain targets to gain the information he needs to progress. These brutal sessions involve using the environment to inflict as much hurt as you can on your target to get him to cough up what you need, whether it’s a plasma TV, a piano or even a bathroom sink.
Unfortunately, once you have your target in a chokehold, your movement is limited to the immediate area around him, which makes some interrogations seem particularly contrived and restricted. It would also have been nice to be able to perform more interrogations; the ones you get to perform in-game are too few and far in between.
Multiplayer consists of a separate cooperative campaign as well as several game types. The co-op campaign leads up to where Sam Fisher’s story begins, and involves two operatives codenamed Archer and Kestrel. Playing cooperatively adds a whole new dynamic to the game: you or your partner can either be taken hostage by the enemy or incapacitated in a gunfight. As a result, one must then rescue the other. Additionally, you can also mark targets for your partner to execute. These moments add a lot of tension and unpredictability to each mission.
You can also play alone or with a partner in a multiplayer mode known as ‘Hunter’, where you try to clear enemies out of a large area divided into several smaller zones. ‘Last Stand’ sees you defending a generator against ever-increasing waves of enemies. The last mode, ‘Face-Off’ has you hunting an enemy player while dodging computer-controlled guards.
Speaking of multiplayer, the same problem that plagues Assassin’s Creed II is here as well, this being a Ubisoft game. No matter what, the game requires you to be permanently connected to the Internet in order to play it, even the single-player campaign. Unstable connections, lag and frequent disruptions are commonplace and will definitely upset the gaming experience of anyone who picks up an original copy of the game.
The AI of your enemies is a rather hit-and-miss affair. Some soldiers manage to scream as Sam dispatches them, but none of their comrades will come to investigate or even notice unless it happened in front of their eyes. That said, enemies are able to quickly identify your position when you miss a couple of shots, then attempt to outflank you and even hurl grenades to flush you out of hiding. They know when to press their advantage and when not to, which creates some unpredictability in planning to deal with a room full of enemies!
Graphics-wise, look no further than the pictures you see here. Lighting is spot-on and everything that casts a shadow does so flawlessly. Sam’s movements are animated brilliantly, subtle audio cues alert you to nearby enemies, and the environments are richly detailed. The game music feels dramatic and suits every scene in the game, adding substantial emotional weight to each encounter.
Sam Fisher is voiced by series veteran Michael Ironside, whose gravelly tones definitely convey the weary attitude of a warrior that has lived through and lost too much. His excellent performance is matched by his supporting cast, all of whom manage to voice their own characters with conviction, however minor their involvement. It definitely goes a long way to immerse you in the plot as it develops further.
In conclusion, Splinter Cell: Conviction boasts an intriguing tale of treachery and redemption that suffers from some drawbacks that may hamper your gameplay experience. Granted, it might not be the Splinter Cell game that series veterans are used to; then again, it’s not the same Sam Fisher, either.
Pros: Mostly strong gameplay elements, excellent presentation, satisfyingly brutal execution moves, riveting storyline, challenges add replayability.
Cons: Short single-player campaign, cover mechanism sometimes doesn’t work properly, some weak/boring missions, too little interrogations, constant Internet connection required.