Originally published in The Daily Toreador.
The “Splinter Cell” series always has been known for two primary elements: stealth and night-vision goggles. But “Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Conviction” contains less of the former and none of the latter.
With “Conviction,” it’s as if the folks at Ubisoft watched a lot of the “Bourne” movies and said, “We need more of this.”
Series protagonist and secret government agent Sam Fisher used to be defined by his high-tech equipment and tendency to move through areas very, very slowly without making a sound. The player, as Sam, would do whatever it took to avoid detection by the enemy, because if they knew you were there, it was usually game over. So the previous “Splinter Cell” games were an exercise in taking your time, shooting out lights and staying in the dark.
“Conviction” doesn’t do away with all of this &- you’ll still want to stay in the dark most of the time, and shooting out lights can still be key &- but enough changed to make this feel almost like an entirely different game. Sam now moves quickly and doesn’t mind shooting anybody who gets in his way. Instead of picking locks, he bashes doors down.
Torn up by the death of his daughter, Sam has left the government group Third Echelon and now is working on his own to find his daughter’s killer. Before long, however, his quest for truth leads him inevitably back to the people who first trained him, and what follows is a tangle of twists and conspiracies that rightly bears the Tom Clancy name (even though the famous author had nothing to do with this plot, despite his name being on the box).
But being separate from his former employers means Sam has to improvise a lot more, and his gear, for the most part, is not nearly as high-tech as before. Early on, Sam even relies on broken glass in order to peak under doors, rather than his handy snake-cam. You still acquire a variety of weapons and devices &- including EMP grenades and sticky cameras &- but Sam definitely packed lighter this time around.
There is one high-tech exception, however. Gone are the series staple night-vision goggles. They’re replaced by higher-tech sonar goggles, allowing Sam to make his way through dark areas and even see enemies through walls.
To take out these enemies, you now have a lot more methods in your disposal. Since stealth is rarely as necessary as before, you can now take on areas with full guns blazing, if you so choose. But you might prefer to be a lot smarter than that, and the game can accommodate your wish.
You could also take a group out quickly with Sam’s new Mark and Execute ability. When scoping out an area, you can mark a number of enemies (between two and five, depending on your equipped weapon), and when the time is right, quickly and accurately eliminate all of them at the push of a button. This is not only really useful, but also looks really cool &- like something Jason Bourne or Jack Bauer from “24” might do.
The single-player story doesn’t last extremely long, easily beatable in under 10 hours, but the story is engaging and fun to play through.
The game also boasts a bevy of multiplayer modes for two players, either online or off. This includes a full-fledged co-op prequel to Sam Fisher’s single-player story, featuring two entirely different characters. This mode plays out more like the “Splinter Cell’s” of yore, where stealth is king. The co-op story is even shorter than the single-player campaign, but it’s an extremely fun experience to go through with a friend.
Other modes include Hunter, in which you try to eliminate a group of enemies, and Face Off, a sort of spy vs. spy mode for two players. Some of the modes can be played by solo, such as Infiltration, where being spotted means you instantly fail, but all of them are definitely more fun with a friend.
“Splinter Cell: Conviction” is pretty different from its predecessors, but I would say the changes are for the better. It still feels like a stealth game, with some parts requiring you to go slow and think about your next move, but also feels like a more fast-paced action game. It’s a great experience both alone and with a friend, and should be picked up by fans and newcomers alike.