In a similar style to Resident Evil, Splinter Cell has found a need to reinvigorate a stale franchise, one that has grown too samey over the last couple of iterations. Ubisoft Montreal came up with a totally new style for the game, one that saw a grizzled Sam Fisher in amongst the crowds, almost an Assassin’s Creed with a modern twist - which is possibly why that idea was scrapped in favour of something a little more similar to the Splinter Cell of old, so as not to completely lose its identity.
Conviction sees Sam going ‘off the grid’ after his daughter is killed in a hit and run incident, in search of a killer he’s heard whispers of. This new Sam Fisher seems oddly younger than before, but no less sharp in his stealth abilities despite the loss of his favourite toys - even the night vision, a staple of the series, is not available here.
The gameplay itself is a compromise of both old and new, with similar stealth elements from previous outings meeting with a more streamlined approach that borrows from the likes of the Bourne series, Batman: Arkham Asylum and even Gears of War. But this is where things start to go wrong as it becomes confused with what kind of game it really is.
It starts well, training the player to move almost without thought, using a mixture of stealth and brute force to take down some fairly intelligent enemies, introducing the nifty new ‘mark and execute’ feature - taking down an enemy with a melee strike unlocks an ability not unlike that of Rainbow Six Vegas 2 in which you can target a small number of enemies which can then be picked off instantly at the touch of a button, encouraging the player to use stealth more with the execute feature as the incentive.
Unfortunately, unlike Rocksteady’s excellent Arkham Asylum, the repetitive nature of Sam Fisher’s encounters becomes a chore. A chorus of ridiculous goons announcing that they are looking for you starts to grate after five minutes, let alone an entire game full of it. There is no variety on offer here, Ubisoft Montreal seems to think that changing the environments will be enough but when the player is forced to do the same thing again and again within these environments it gets old very quickly.
These different environments could have been more interesting if they were impressive visually but the game looks no better than Vegas 2, a two year old game that did not exactly push the boundaries when it was new. The shadows are fairly impressive at times but the textures on display are fairly standard fare, the animation is rigid and the lip-syncing is almost non-existent. It really feels like the time spent restarting the project was not spent on the visuals at all.
That time certainly was not spent on the sound either, with an unconvincing cast of monotonous robots playing the majority of the characters and even Michael Ironside’s portrayal of Fisher is by-the-numbers as he displays no passion throughout the entire game - especially baffling considering the content.
The story is also a disappointment, jumping back and forth in time as it tries desperately to cling to the hope that it will intrigue the player, instead of leaving them confused and uninterested as the plot gets more contrived with each poorly-made cut-scene.
There are the occasional bouts of fun to be had in the game, with some set-pieces being fairly tense affairs, such as a chase through a busy political fair or a particularly odd jump to Iraq in another flashback. The co-op has potential too with players being able to do co-op executions as one player targets the enemies and the other sneaks around to execute the attack, but this too suffers from the same problems as the main campaign.
There are silly bugs that should never have been present in the full release, such as the execute feature allowing Fisher to shoot through walls (literally putting his gun through the wall to shoot his target) and issues that arise when the game tells you to take a guard hostage, only for his buddies to line him with lead the moment they see you anyway.
One of the biggest problems arises when the game tries to go back to its roots, despite training the player throughout the game to avoid this kind of problem. A level that requires you to never be seen, not use your EMP to take out electrical equipment and lights, not even to kill - despite the level’s opening giving the sense that it would embrace this new Sam Fisher.
It all goes to show how confused Ubisoft Montreal was when charged with bringing Splinter Cell into the new generation, not sure if it should embrace a new direction or cling to its foundations and instead finding itself floating somewhere between. Neither new nor old, this new Splinter Cell shows none of the conviction its title promises.4