Game review: Splinter Cell – Conviction (Xbox 360)

Splinter Cell is a series that I have long been a fan of. The development behind the 5th entry in the series, “Splinter Cell: Conviction” has gone through multiple changes. Originally scheduled to come out in 2007, the game has been rewritten from the ground up from that initial idea to become the game that was finally released this past Tuesday here in the US.

Needless to say, it was a day one purchase for me.

I have decided to break this review into sections, as I feel that its not entirely fair to judge it on whole. There are things that I like and things that I don’t like about it. With that, let’s begin…

Single player:  Single player has long been the “go-to” mode in a Splinter Cell game. This time around, Sam Fisher is out of the spy life. He is trying to live his life alone after losing his daughter and his best friend in the previous game. Sam is reluctantly pulled back in at the beginning of the game.

I found this part of the game to be one of the best gameplay experiences this generation. It’s that damn good. Unlike previous SC games which relied heavily on stealth, this game is far more open and allows the player to choose how he/she wants to most of the time (there are a few “forced” stealth sections). Sam is best described this time around as a “Jason Bourne” clone. In fact, I would go so far as to say that this is what it would be like if they ever made a good Bourne game. Sam is ruthless and has tons of toys at his disposal.

Sam Fisher is back and he's not taking any shit!

The new highly-touted gameplay mechanic, called “mark and execute” is a very simple innovation, that at first I felt was going to take away from the game, but instead added to it immensely. Simply put, take down an enemy hand-to-hand and you get to mark other enemies that you can kill with one button press based on the weapon you are carrying IE if you are using a pistol that has 4 marks, you can take out 4 guys with one button. It’s very satisfying and the animations are very cool. The developers made it a challenge by usually (Id say 90% of the time) including more enemies in an area than your marks, so its always a strategy trying to figure out who to mark and how. I say how, because there are environmental interactions where you can shoot out a chandelier to take out two guys rather than marking them and capping them between the eyes. It’s a lot of fun marking and executing.

Storywise, I found the plot (as usual) a bit convoluted and confusing in places. This is nothing new in video games, but I felt that they could’ve streamlined the story a bit to make it more cohesive. The last level is pretty satisfying though and I am not at all disappointed in it, I just would’ve handled it differently.

The major downside to SCC’s single player mode is the same downside that so many games this generation have. It’s incredibly short. While I played on normal difficulty (Im going to replay this again on realistic), it took no more than 5-6 hours to complete. When I finished my first playthrough, I was left wanting more, so I can definitely say that the developers did it right, but still could have and should have made it longer.

There are other single player modes included that I have not gone into deeply, including Hunter (which can also be played co-op), which has you inserted into a map with the single goal of taking out all of the “tangos” without being detected. If detected, more enemies join the game. There is also “Infliltration” mode which is basically the same thing as Hunter, except detection ends the game.

Multiplayer/CO-OP: I have not delved into the many different modes that the game has for multiplayer, but I have given the CO-OP story a run, but have not completed it yet. The CO-OP story is a prequel to the single player game and its a whole different game that you are required to play through with a partner. While I enjoyed the single player game immensely (right now its my GOTY), I found co-op to be a lot tougher. If you and your partner play different styles, it can be incredibly frustrating and communication is paramount to success.

The only head-to-head mode is called Face Off and its a 1 vs 1 battle, but with the added obstacle of AI enemies as well. I have tried to play this, but could not find a match.

Overall:  My first foray into this game was via the CO-OP story and I found that incredibly frustrating at times. However, once I got into the single player game, my opinion did a complete 180. This is exactly the type of action game I love to play. I like that it has a quasi-realistic storyline and Michael Ironside still does a vicious job voicing Sam, as he has done from the beginning. I recommend this to any fan of action gaming. Be warned, if you are a gamer who doesnt spend a lot of time on a title, give this one a rent. The single player campaign is excruciatingly short and unless you play on multiple playthroughs, I cannot recommend a buy. Personally, I tend to get bored with games very quickly, but this one had my attention the moment I started the single player story and I am immediately going to play through it again on the harder difficulty setting.

Graphics:  Sadly, this is one area of the game where it falls short a bit. I did not notice any major problems, but it just doesnt have the sheen that some more recent titles did. 7

Sound: The sound is great. Music is fantastic. There is a scene in the game where DJ Shadow‘s “Building Steam from a Grain of Salt” is played and I’ve never found that track used more fittingly. Voice work is absolutely solid and any game using Michael Ironside gets my vote of approval. 9

Replay value: This is always the most important aspect of gaming to me. How often will I come back to it once its completed? Sadly, I can’t see myself putting hours and hours into this as I would say Modern Warfare, but the additional modes do seem intriguing and were fun when I gave them a quick go. The lack of head to head multiplayer will hurt this game in the long run, but that is neither here nor there for me as there are very few games that suck me in that deep. 6

Overall: *** out 5

I really wanted to give this game *****. While I LOVED the single player story and that alone is worth its price of admission, its short length is saddening to me. This game is at least 3-4 levels/stages too short. The extra modes definitely add to the package, but this game is about Sam and not the two jabronis who are in the extra modes.

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