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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Demo review: blur (Xbox 360)

blur

Normally, I wouldn’t take the time to review a demo, but this one is different and I felt deserved the attention.

blur is a racing game seemingly set in the present day. What sets it apart from the Forza’s and Gran Turismo type of racers is that it has powerups scattered all over the track to do crazy stuff to your opponent. Such as shooting a homing missile that looks like a red orb, speed bursts, shields, and that sort of ilk.

Recently, Activision put out a multiplayer beta demo that highlights a lot of the features in this game. Yes, that is what I’m talking about here.

The game plays very much like the classic PSX and current PS3 version of Wipeout. If you never played Wipeout, it is a bonafide classic. The difference being you are in spaceship-like craft and its set in a futuristic setting. blur changes that formula by putting the cars (all real cars by real manufacturers) on standard racing game tracks, throws in the powerups, and lets up to 20 people go hog wild on each other.

The demo/beta is limited to multiplayer only, but I can’t see any reason why anyone would want to play the single player game. When theres 20 players on a track, the game is viciously fun. However, I’ve looked up a lot of information on the game and it seems that the power-ups are limited to whats on the beta. While the power-ups are very generously scattered, it does get old after a while. There is a the new standard of “leveling-up” via gaining “fans” by doing things throughout the race. Even if you are a punching bag, you will get fans and eventually level up, gaining you access to different cars and modes, just as you would expect. The leveling is limited to 15 and the retail version goes up to level 50 with 10 “legend” ranks, whatever the hell that means. The modes are also standard racing fare, with one called Motormash, which is basically a demolition derby, with specific tracks meant for the mode where the only goal is to destroy your opponents.

The demo/beta is quite generous with whats available. There are a total of 5 modes included in the demo, 2 of which are open from the onset, and 3 more which you unlock as you progress. I’ve put a total of about 2 hours into the demo and I’m currently at rank 13. I’ve won one race, came in 2nd a  few times, but most of the time I run about the middle of the pack in a game of 20 people.

While I think that the beta is quite fun, I can’t help but feel that the retail version will fall flat and I cannot see myself purchasing it when its released. I like the concept as Wipeout is a game that I still play to this day, albeit the HD version thats on PS3/PSN, but in reading about the full version, I just can’t seem to get excited about this game even if I am finding this demo quite fun. Its definitely cool playing in a full lobby and everyone going batty once the race begins.

All in all, I think this is an interesting game, but I can’t see myself shelling out $60 for the full version when there is so many games coming out this spring and a similar game to blur (Split/Second) that is coming out shortly after it that looks tons better.

If you’re a fan of Burnout (which I am), Wipeout (which I am), you owe it to yourself to give this a go, but don’t expect anything groundbreaking. It seems to me to be a good timekiller game, but not one that you’re going to devote enough time to. It just seems to be missing something.

I realize this is just a demo, but in reading reactions to the full version, it seems to be a pretty good representation of what you’re going to get when it ships. Therefore, I feel it is okay to rate it as it is now. I will probably rent the full version or pick it up on the cheap, so I’ll review that once I can.

Overall rating: ** out of 5

Fun factor: **** out of 5

Hypeworthy: * out of 5

blur ships on May 25th for both Xbox 360 and PS3. However, the multiplayer beta is a 360 exclusive.

Quickie reviews – Cheap games picked up this week.

CHEAP SHIT RULES

As previously mentioned, I picked up some games on the cheap at Blockbuster as they have their somewhat regular “Buy One Get One Free” pertaining to their $14.99 and under selection going on. There were quite a few that I hadn’t had the chance to play that I picked up, so here are some quickie reviews. My quickie reviews are as short as a word or as long as a couple of sentences, but they’re not meant to be in-depth.

Fear 2: Project Origin (Xbox 360) – This was the most surprising. Not bad for cheap. Bit hokey. I don’t see how it fits in with the original that I first played on the PC though.

Velvet Assassin (Xbox 360) – Complete and utter horseshit. One of the worst games I’ve ever played.

Red Faction: Guerrilla (Xbox 360) – Not bad, but not a fan of stories that take place on Mars.

Ratchet & Clank: Tools of Destruction (PS3) – Pretty decent. Good graphics. Not my cup of tea though.

I have a couple more to play that I’ll be giving a whirl today or this week.

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