Sam Fisher’s back. And is he ever back with a vengeance. Conviction is the fifth entry in Tom Clancy’s acclaimed Splinter Cell series, returning after a near four-year absence since the much lauded Double Agent. Following a different formula and making for a vastly different experience than the previous Splinter Cell games, Ubisoft certainly ran the risk of alienating the franchise's existing fanbase.
Conviction picks up almost a full two years after the dramatic conclusion of Double Agent. When we last saw Fisher he was running for his life. Third Echelon, the organisation Sam previously worked for, was hunting him down for the murder of his colleague Colonel Irving Lambert. At the same time, Fisher was struggling to come to terms with what he believed to be the accidental death of his only child, Sarah. But when the accident is revealed to be a cold and calculated personal attack against Fisher, we have the revenge setting that drives Conviction’s plot.
Blinded by rage, the Fisher we see in the opening phases of Conviction distinctly contrasts with the cool, calm and collected demeanour Fisher was renowned for in previous instalments. Fisher is out for revenge. Some old accomplices put him on the trail, one that quickly veers from a straightforward path as he finds himself engulfed in an international conspiracy. Forced back into action,Fisher is dispatched to investigate the threat of electromagnetic pulse bombs armed in Washington D.C. in exchange for promises regarding the true story behind what happened to his daughter.
From that brief synopsis, the story may seem rather simplistic and clichéd, but the reality is far from it. The story is easily one of the strongest components of the game. Told through a series of flashbacks, the story is excellently paced and beautifully narrated. As has become the norm with Splinter Cell games, both the action and settings are varied throughout.
Fitting with the story, the technological arsenal at Sam’s disposal is minimal without the backing of Third Echelon. This means no tight black suit, no night-vision goggles and a different approach to missions as opposed to the traditional stealth tactics that Splinter Cell is famous for. To account for the difference in style, Ubisoft has introduced a number of new gameplay features.
One of the integral additions over the course of the game is the new interrogation techniques. Fisher uses these throughout to uncover critical new clues and evidence regarding the fate of his daughter. These interrogation sequences pop up intermittently and place Fisher one-on-one with a suspect. From here, he can walk around and interact with certain objects in the setting, which can subsequently be used to brutally force information out of suspects. One of my favourite and bloodiest scenes sees Fisher incapacitating a suspect by stabbing him through the hand into the side of a car.
Another of the new, crucial features in Conviction is called ‘mark and execute’. It lets Fisher tag and order objects and enemies alike for a rapid and automatic dispatch. It may seem like it takes away much of the challenge for clearing a room, but Fisher must first initiate a successful hand-to-hand takedown before he's awarded the right to ‘mark and execute‘. Even then, perfectly planning and executing a successful clear is much harder than it sounds. Improperly surveying a room or prioritising targets can quickly result in failure.
The levels are very well designed, allowing for multiple approaches to completion. Players can opt to employ a solely sneak-and-cover stealth approach, or instead treat it exclusively as a third-person shooter and come out all guns blazing. Typically, the easiest route is a combination of the two.
Despite all of the new features and different settings, the campaign only lasts about six-and-a-half to seven hours. And it’s a quick seven hours at that. Thankfully though, there’s a multiplayer component to add to the value. The co-op campaign is a completely separate story, following a Third Echelon agent and a Russian agent working together. The story serves as a prequel to the main campaign and involves the two agents tracking down weapons of mass destruction. Teamwork is an integral part, and co-ordination works out brilliantly when properly executed. This section is a real highlight and provides solid additional content as opposed to being simply a tacked-on feature.It's easily the most entertaining of the multiplayer modes, but in addition there are also hunter and face-off modes. Hunter emphasises co-operative stealth and teamwork, as together you work through set sections of maps. Face-off is the only competitive multiplayer mode, pitting you against each other with the addition of AI-controlled guards. It’s an interesting concept, but provides a fairly limited and restricted competitive experience.
The presentation of Conviction is stellar, with Ubisoft delivering an extremely polished final product. The graphics are fairly average in comparison with other recent shooters, though the lighting and shadows are superbly done. The frame rate dips at times, although it’s generally consistent throughout. The soundtrack is very well done, as is the voice acting across the range of characters.
Conviction is a very different entry in the Splinter Cell series. The development team at Ubisoft took distinct risks, most of which paid off. Combining elements previously seen in Splinter Cell games with more traditional third- person shooter features, Conviction should appeal to new and old fans of the series alike.