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Splinter Cell: Conviction Review

October 14, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

By Kob Monney

Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell was one of the first gaming franchises I was avidly into along with Halo and Soul Calibur when the Xbox was released in the early 00’s. I can still remember the TV adverts and the way they ended with Michael Ironside’s gruff voice proclaiming that he was Sam Fisher and that he was a splinter cell. I never completed the first game, came perilously close to completing Pandora Tomorrow but finally broke my duck with the third entry, the thoroughly enjoyable Chaos Theory. With an excellent soundtrack by Amon Tobin (one of my favourite gaming soundtracks), it felt like the culmination of the series greatest strengths; it was tough but doable and immensely enjoyable for being so.  The fourth in the series, Double Agent, was good but patchy, failing to truly capitalise on either Pandora Tomorrow or Chaos Theory. While it introduced some new elements it did not take the series to new heights as each instalment had been doing. I was never particularly brilliant at the series and had to restart many times but I never stopped because they were too hard, I knew the games just required me to think differently in order to succeed. What united these games was their take on stealth, if you were seen it was game over, instantaneous death as it were. It was a challenge to remain in the dark and yet take your enemies out with precision and not be seen.

With this year’s entry in the guise of the long delayed Splinter Cell: Conviction, the franchise’s outlook appeared to have changed. No longer does it appear to concern itself with patience and finding the right time to strike; or hiding bodies and committing stealth kills. More so exiting cover as quickly as you entered it, employing an action orientated approach to set pieces and using the darkness only as a momentary respite before orchestrating your next assault. The philosophies between the earlier game and this recent iteration could not be more different despite the Splinter Cell name adorning the front cover. Many have labelled this game as being “dumbed down”, an attempt to make the franchise more accessible and appeal to more gamers.  It is hard not to disagree.

However accessibility is not necessarily a bad thing. While it suffers from a weak story (and some emotional contrivances) the gameplay is perhaps as engaging as it ever has been. It is not what die-hard aficionados would expect, after completing it on normal and hard the game is much easier than its predecessors, less masochistic in punishing you for honest mistakes. What it lacks though, is a challenge, something that will keep players returning to the game and not to other similarly themed ones. Although I assumed the level of the AI was ramped up on the hardest difficulty and the number of enemies present also increased, it was hard to discern a noticeable difference between Normal and Hard. The only real difference being that it is preferable to use your assortment of devices and guns on higher difficulties. It is a slight flaw, a noticeable one that does not impede the enjoyment the player has from using the new function of Mark and Execute (tagging your enemies before strategically taking them out) which has to be earned through a hand to hand kill (which opens up many of the fluid Krav Maga animations that Ubisoft Montreal have created).

The Mark and execute feature can be clumsily employed with the player shooting through walls and pillars that would make the shot appear impossible. The interrogation techniques are unnecessarily brutal, taking a page out of the now defunct 24. NPC’s seem intent on having their heads rammed through a TV set in order to get the message that you’re not here for a frivolous little chat. Despite the narrative’s attempt to ground this story in some kind of realistic milieu and make him a relatable character, his actions often seem to make him out as some sort of superman. The idea is to make him a “badass” capable of dishing a wealth of punishment but the challenge, the sense of accomplishment, of pulling something off that you felt was extremely difficult is not quite there. The game is willing to do quite a large portion of the work leaving skilled players bereft of any real sense of accomplishment. This is what separates the hardcore from the casual, the need to be tested, to come up a cropper and try again. Other than the co-op maps (of which there is a separate mode that acts as a side story) which when played with another player can be thrilling, adding a sense of danger and achievement to a game filled to the brim with panache and intriguing gameplay; what stands out is the presentation. Slick and seamless it is immensely likable with in-game objectives reflected on a nearby surface or in-game cut scenes splashed on a wall rarely breaking the sense of continuity.  It doesn’t retreat into telling redundant and stale cut scenes too often and when it does they suffer some very noticeable lip syncing problems and when any dialogue is brought to the fore throughout the game it can be quite dire and often unintentionally hilarious to listen to.

Splinter Cell: Conviction is a noble attempt at bringing a franchise which leaned more on the hardcore audience in line with a more casual focus and while it succeeds on some points (the in-game presentation is truly excellent), the enjoyment derived from the Mark and Execute feature and the empowerment of being what is effectively a super-agent, it is let down however by the lack of a challenge. It is too easy to breeze through the campaign with nary a restart to be had (like too many games I’ve played recently it seems easier and faster to play the game on a higher difficulty than normal). While tactically there is depth in how you achieve your objective it is all too easy to simply take your pistol and blast through each level without switching your guns or using your accessories. A better experience is to be had using everything at your disposal but even then that may make the game far too easy to do. A great game is played; Conviction is at times merely content to let you watch.

Copyright Kob Monney 2010

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