In the wake of certain recent super-secret special-ops/CIA missions that have taken place this week, it seemed fitting to take a few minutes and talk about one of the best special-ops kind of franchises in gaming.
With Splinter Cell Conviction, Ubisoft took a bit of a gamble. They took a beloved franchise and changed it up. Notoriously gamers respond bad to this kind of change, even when a franchise has started to wear a bit thin, they will still lampoon the most recent sequel if they feel it betrayed the original games by not being almost identical to them in style or play. Sometimes this is warranted, Perfect Dark Zero strikes me as an example of this in action, but often these new changes, when embraced, can make for not only a great title but can revive a franchise for a whole new generation. Which camp does Conviction fall in to? Lets just say it manages to creep out from under the former games’ shadows.
The first thing anyone will notice if they have played a Splinter Cell game before is how much more forgiving Conviction is. I mean that in the sense that accidentally putting a foot into the light for a half a second will not set off all the alarms in Russia. It also has better direction than some of the previous games did; while there are still multiple ways to sneak around, I never really felt like I had no idea what I was supposed to do. Probably the most notable of all though is the healthy supply of amo available to you. This more forgiving nature also allows for the ability to genuinely recover from mistakes in a way previous games couldn’t, but it is the result of Conviction being far more “action based” rather than stealth based in game style. This was of course the chant of die-hard fans who viewed Conviction with contempt. The stealth factors of the game have been greatly diminished, and in some levels it is nearly impossible to stay in the shadows, sometimes with wide-open areas with lots of light. While sneaking around in the dark is still the easiest way to beat the game, and for the most part gamers are given the ability, gamers can also now hold their own in a balls out firefight.
To me this was a step in the right direction, the walk around in the shadows, grab a guy, haul the body to another room, repeat again game style had worn a bit thin for me. That being said I wouldn’t want a COD or Halo style shoot from the hip game from Splinter Cell either, and the fact that this game allows you to do whichever you prefer with a very obvious difficulty curve leaning towards being covert hit the perfect middle ground. I like that sometimes I can take on a room full of bad guys, and I like systematically taking them out one at a time in the shadows as well. By simply making it optional to avoid detection in the vast majority of the levels, it helped to make playing that way fun again (and lets not forget there is a mode available that requires it). Why did I just devote an entire paragraph talking about this one element of the game? Because like I said before, the lack of required detection avoidance angered many fans of the series, prompting statements that this wasn’t a real Splinter Cell and so on, and was by far the biggest complaint levied at the game. My point is to highlight the fact that this may be overstated, and also to let many gamers who didn’t necessarily go for the covert stuff; this Splinter Cell may be more up their alley.
Moving on, the game has some other pros and cons. The single player is short and the story… convoluted is the best word that comes to mind, but the voice acting is top notch and the visuals and solid. Combat feels largely natural, and the gadgets are still fun to use on moron security guards. The game also gets sloppy in some ways, such as a cover system that can be at times “messy,” having you not go quite where you want. Much like previous games, once detected it seems every enemy knows where you are instantly, and that detection can feel wildly varied at times (from having an enemy not notice you till you are snapping his neck to the tip of you shoe being in the beam of a flashlight resulting in death from a barrage of bullets. On that note, the game’s difficulty does ratchet up as the campaign continues, but there were certainly short burst of difficulty that made the overall effect rather inconsistent; I actually had more trouble with an earlier level than the last level when playing on Realistic. (And this is a minor point but one that drove me nuts in the game; the fact that some enemies towards the end can actually take two direct headshots to kill!) The biggest draw back many are bound to note is the relatively short campaign, which took me less than 10 hours on the hardest difficulty; but it is a very solid experience not too marred by the length. Despite beating it, and quickly, I still own and play the game often for a very good reason.
The game’s finest moments come from the co-op. I’ll be the first to admit that I am foremost a single-player experience gamer. I like to move at my own pace, explore the levels in full detail and take in everything; something that more often than not is difficult to do in any form of multiplayer. I decided to originally give the co-op a shot simply for the sake of achievements, and what I found was honestly the best part of the entire Splinter Cell Experience. The co-op campaign serves as a prequel to the main campaign, and some might say that the story, and hunter modes for the co-op feel most like the old school Splinter Cell. While the Face Off mode was a bit of a dud, the other modes were intense, fun and required a genuine ability to work well with another person. (Why some people in matchmaking would not even wear a mic was beyond me) Sneaking through the levels is always the easiest way, but like the main campaign you can choose to wage a full out war. The ability to revive your partner and the need to defend your teammate while they are reviving you, speaks to the overall style of the co-op experience. In fact, it is basically impossible to pass the last story level on Realistic without strong communication and great timing; a fact I learned when I first played it with a player who spoke no English. This does certainly create a best when played with a friend scenario, but it may also lead to you making a new Xbox Live friend or two as well. Co-op alone is the reason why I still own my copy of Splinter Cell, and the main reason I would recommend the game to others.
In closing, Splinter Cell Conviction took a chance on retooling a beloved franchise and did so remarkably well. The game does have some issues, but more often than not you will be way too busy enjoying yourself to notice them. The single player campaign is short, but of a notable quality that won’t leave you feeling short-handed, and the co-op is best described as fantastic, and possibly one of my favorite experiences on Xbox Live so far. Then to take into consideration the fact the game is widely available for less than $15, yeah, just go buy it.
Final Rating: 9/10
CBR Break Down:
Console Played On: Xbox 360
Approximate Time to Completion: ~15 Hours
Gamer Score Earned: 880/1250
Price Bought at: $7.50
Current Price: $18.79 (Amazon)
Recommend Purchase Price: $19.99 or under is more than fair for this title.