Splinter Cell: Conviction – Review

Splinter Cell: Conviction, Xbox 360 – £27.95 delivered

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Review by Lewie Procter

I’m not sure exactly how to approach distilling my opinion on the new Tom Clancy’s™ Splinter Cell™ game down into text. Unlike the game itself there is more than one way I could accomplish that goal. Tom Clancy’s™ Splinter Cell™ has had a complete overhaul. Remember how in the old Tom Clancy’s™ Splinter Cell™ games you had to think? Not any more. In the place of intelligent stealth action is flashy whiz bang punchy shooty nonsense, where the most complex challenge you’ll ever have to solve is “how do I press the button that the game tells me to”.

Part of me wishes I could forget that it exists, or at least it didn’t have “Tom Clancy’s™ Splinter Cell™” in the name. But undeniably it is the next chapter in the continuing adventures of Mr Cell, so I’ll start by comparing it to it’s predecessors.

Chaos Theory was bloody brilliant. If you’ve not played it, it’s cheap on Steam and the oxbox version is 360 compatible. I didn’t particularly like either of the first games, but Chaos Theory was just incredible.

It got all the big details right. The levels were intelligently designed to give the player lots of smaller objectives which could often be tackled in different orders. There was always more than one way to solve any given scenario. Guns blazing worked, but you’d be better off sneaking in the shadows, taking out the baddies when no one looked.

New to Chaos Theory was that you never got game over for being spotted. There was a system in the first Tom Clancy’s™ Splinter Cell™ where if you got seen 3 times it was game over, and they got rid of that. This was a good thing. See, in Chaos Theory, if you were ever seen, you could manage get away from the baddies and hide. After taking someone out, be it lethally or non-lethally, you could hide their body out of line of sight from other guards patrolling the area. You could mess with the guards by whistling to get their attention. The ammo was very limited so it forced you to think about every single shot fired.

It also got all the small details right too. The phenomenal soundtrack by Amon Tobin was brilliantly used, always triggering crescendos at appropriate times. The interrogation system made some guards have useful nuggets of non-essential information. So if you could get up to a guard alone, you might find out exactly how many cameras a building has, or a keycode to a door which lets you avoid confrontation later.

Conviction is a very different game.

Is it actually even a game? It’s definitely a cinematic experience, but all of the best bits about it are either non-interactive or pseudo-interactive.

Mark and execute is the big new mechanic. It lets you tag guys at your leisure for “automatic kill at the press of a button”. To be able to pull off an execution, you need to have recently melee killed a baddie, and then you can kill several baddies automatically at once. It’s a bit of a broken mechanic. For starters, when they’ve removed most of the elements of the game that aren’t shooting, it’s kind of patronising game design to let the game seize control of the shooting too. But also, once you have marked an enemy, you get a HUD icon showing you exactly where they are, and if you have line of sight with them. This means that you could see an enemy in a doorway, tag them, and then they could walk away from you, out of your line of sight, and the player would still know exactly where the enemy was. This is information that Sam Fisher wouldn’t have any way of possibly knowing. When executing a, uh, execution, you do get a bad ass slow mo camera effect that looks a bit cool. Closeups of baddies receiving bullets to the face are flashy and brutal, but I’d happily trade them for just a slither of substance.

The interrogation system is now a violence porn cut-scene punctuating the missions, where you press a button to make Sam do lots of hurting at the people he is interrogating. Then you wait a bit. Then you press the button again. It’s not too far removed from a DVD menu, except you get to move the camera and walk around too. You don’t ever have to worry if anyone else is around because the game locks you in a small area as soon as the interrogation starts, even if you were in a big wide open space only moment ago. Laughably, when there is a crowd of guards and the game has decided that you need to interrogate one of them, it becomes impossible to kill the last one. I thought this was a glitch at first, but after killing six out of seven of a group of guards, my crosshair turned into a big “X” when I tried to target the last one. Instead of letting me kill the last one and miss out on the information like I might have done in previous games, Conviction grabs the player by the arm, and says “no, you have to do this the way that I have planned for you to do it, stop trying to have any control over your actions.”

The same refusal to let the player decide what they want to do applies to the mission structure. The mission are all linear. They are A to B to C to D. There’s no room for the player to decide which objective to complete first, and only occasional superficial decisions about which path to take. This door or that door, which both lead to the same room. By default there is an arrow that always appears on the HUD telling you which direction to go. Because there is only ever one direction to go. Previous Splinter Cells directly encouraged and rewarded experimentation. They were about pushing the player to think of new ways to use your equipment and environment to achieve a range of goals, with freedom to bring your own personality into how you played it. Conviction is about doing what the game tells you to do, when it tells you to do it.

In a startling display of backward thinking, there are multiple missions where if you get spotted just once, it is game over. Restart mission. Watch cutscene again. Retry. This is a game design convention that is so dated that the very same series even parodied it back in 2005, yet here it is back in full force.

Even when you don’t fail a mission, the check point save system isn’t particularly well designed. There are a whole load of times when it feels like the checkpoints make you repeat way more than you need to, and even more occasions where they place you before a cut scene or conversation.

I do have to begrudgingly give props to certain aspects of Conviction. There is a fair amount of variety in where the missions take place, and they are universally good looking. It is definitely a good looking game, the animation, lighting, and particularly the mission information HUD are all visually pleasing.

It does at one point use a brilliant song by DJ Shadow.

It manages to integrate the mechanics of the game into the story at a few points too (notably one whilst that song is playing). Where something happens in the story, and then there is a minor change to how the game plays to reflect that, although the choice at the very end of the game is a pretty feeble cop out.

So what’s left at the end of all that? An acceptable cover shooter with some superficial trappings of a stealth game. To what end? Accessibility? Well congratulations Ubisoft, you’re at the top of the charts. I hope you’re proud of yourselves.

Splinter Cell: Conviction, Xbox 360 – £27.95 delivered

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11 Comments Leave yours

  1. Matthew #

    Are you ever going to get bored of panning everything even vaguely related to Ubisoft, just because of a disagreement over the ‘FragDolls’? Because, you know, if that’s the case, I might just stop reading this here blog right about now.

    • Lewie Procter #

      You know, it’s largely coincidental. I bought this because I love the Splinter Cell series, and I was really hoping for it to be fantastic, it just wasn’t.

      I definitely gave it a fair chance, and had it impressed me I would have been just as vocal.

      • Yeah, I love old SC too, but a series has to evolve otherwise folk will moan

        I thought the games was very good
        – short, but im loving the deniable ops stuff

        And yeah, fraggdolls may be satans whores but who cares?
        They didnt make the game

        ubi have made mistakes but im not gonna tar them forever

    • commentor #

      What about the DRM stuff? This just looks like a review of a bad game.

      • Auspax #

        It’s a review of the 360 version so DRM isn’t really the issue.

    • Red Scharlach #

      Not his fault UbiSoft are horrible designers and rapists of franchises.

      If you want one big happy incestuous family of industry circle-masturbation, you can always check out IGN or GameSpot. That’s what they’re there for.

  2. AtomicB #

    Completely disagree I’m afraid. I’m also a massive fan of the rest of the series, and I enjoyed what this offered as well. Yes, it has been made much more accessible, and yes those insta-fail moments are kind of annoying. However, there’s still great mechanics for you to mess with and master, and this is still very much a mechanics game.

    Mark + execute is great. It’s a simple mechanic that’s been applied from the ground up. On the base level, yeah sure just queue up a few guys in front of you and hit the fire button. But there’s so much more you can do with it, i don’t have time to go into it now but there’s lot of hilarious things you can do with it. You can setup great moments, pulling off completely impossible shots, and these moments are your reward for finding the perfect place to position yourself. As for marking people through walls, legit strategy, SC has never worried about being ‘realistic’ it’s just confident enough to wear some of it’s gameplay on it’s sleeve.

    M+E, last known position, the indication of when you are hidden, and the suspicion meter gui are all fantastic, way ahead of all it’s rivals. And all of this stuff works just as well if not better in co-op (which you failed to mention at all).

    You can still stealth, you can still avoid people (apart from near the end, which is why it’s weaker) and you can still have a great time messing with the ai.

    I understand it’s not what you wanted, hey, I loved CT and the other guys too. But this does it’s own thing and it does it well. I think to suggest they’ve made a dumb cash in is a little harsh; just because a lot of things in it a simpler on the surface doesn’t mean they aren’t well crafted.

    Amon Tobin did some work for this game too btw, it’s just not as in your face as it was in CT.

  3. y2rich #

    This is easily the best in yhe series. At least you now have the option to stand and fight rather than it being all out stealth (which is still viable 95% of the time and a necessity on the harder difficulties. This is just a biased review by someone who hates Ubisoft

  4. Spyre #

    You can get the game a lot cheaper here in the UK (£20.99)

    • Auspax #

      That’s the pc version. PC games are almost always cheaper than console ones.

  5. CubaLibre #

    Change the game names and this could almost be a review of Rainbow Six: Vegas.

    Maxime Beland, serial franchise murderer.

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