Before I begin this review in earnest, you should know that Conviction is the first Splinter Cell game that I have ever played. With that out of the way, I have never had so much fun being so terrible at something. I’m not certain what happened to Sam Fisher now that he is out of the spy game (but not really), but it doesn’t really matter. It’s just as fun to hang from a pipe on a secret air base and kill a guard who has no idea what is happening as it is to hide behind a soda machine at a fair near the Washington Monument in an attempt to catch people tailing your contact.
The single player campaign takes you all over the world, but all of the levels save one play out pretty much the same way. Move toward the objective waypoint and sneakily take out guys along the way. This means shooting out lights to create shadows or taking your chances moving from cover to cover with the lights on. Shoot out the lights and you’ve got more places to hide when things go south. Leave the lights on and nobody has a reason to think you’re there until you mess up. There is a balance at play, and either style will work. That’s one of the beauties of Conviction – you can go in guns blazing and succeed. You can minimize casualties and succeed. Or you can use a mixture of the two and only kill when sneaking backfires. It’s all up to you, and either way it feels like a Hollywood spy narrative.
Either way you play the new mark and execute system gives every encounter the possibility to feel like a scene from a movie. Take down an enemy using hand-to-hand combat (which is rewarding enough to use without mark and execute) and you’re rewarded with marks. The number varies with gun, but it is always between two and four. This allows you to clear a room of five enemies quickly and without being detected if you can pull off the first hand-to-hand takedown without being spotted. And when you have a set of marks pre-loaded the pull-off looks amazing. Pull a guard out through the window you’re hanging from, and then hit Y to see Sam quickly take aim and headshot his four friends.
Dovetailing into mark and execute is the upgrade system. Three or four times per level Sam will come across a weapons stash. At these toolboxes of death you can replenish your supply of sticky cams, remote mines (a personal favorite), and EMP grenades in addition to selecting a pistol and secondary weapon and spending upgrade points that have been acquired by completing in-game challenges (things like taking out five enemies in a row without being detected, executing a death from above maneuver, or reviving a teammate in coop. The gun upgrades make your weapons more accurate, more powerful, add silencers, or add available marks. Gadget upgrades increase the effective radius, and uniform upgrades improve armor ratings and holding capacities. You’ll be driven to complete the challenges anyway because they are fun, but it is great that Ubisoft has included an in-game reason to complete them.
In addition to the single player experience, Conviction also has cooperative multiplayer. The multiplayer campaign is exactly what I wanted it to be – the exact same mechanics present in the single player campaign with the possibility of me pulling a guy over a ledge while my buddy takes out his friend with a well-placed headshot. The only thing wrong with coop is that some doors require both players to open, and it always seems to happen that on character gets stuck and can’t get into position. Aborting the whole thing and starting again seems to fix it, but it is annoying every time that it happens.
After you’ve finished the co-op story there are four other multiplayer modes that make up conviction’s Deniable Ops. First is Hunter where two agents are tasked with eliminating 10 enemies from each of multiple zones. Get detected and enemies will call in back-up so sneakiness is essential here. Infiltration is multiplayer sneak. Get spotted by a camera or an enemy or trip a wire and you’ll be forced to reload the last checkpoint. Last Stand is a lot like Hunter except you and a partner are defending a warhead from endless waves of enemies. It is Splinter Cell does Horde Mode from Gears of War 2, and it’s fun, but Hunter feels better since you can actually win. Face Off is the last multiplayer mode, and it is the only competitive one. It’s spy versus spy with enemy AI thrown in for good measure. Deathmatch is gone, but Face Off feels good for one on one spy antics.
I don’t know how Splinter Cell: Conviction stacks up against previous entries in the series, but it melds action and stealth together like no other game I’ve played, and there are enough play modes that Sam Fisher’s latest adventure ought to last you a good long time. If you like stealth, action, or good cooperative play, then Splinter Cell: Conviction definitely deserves a place in your library.
Pros: Great mechanics, on and offline cooperative play, great in-game challenges and upgrade system
Cons: Dual open doors are problematic in cooperative play
Plays Like: Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, Metal Gear Solid 4