Hey all! Last week’s game was based on a classic anime, and it was a game that was presented better than it played.

This week brings us to a somewhat divisive entry in a long running stealth series.

This box art is the opposite of stealth. Is Sam surfing on this enemy, DMC 3-style?

Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Conviction was the fifth entry in the Splinter Cell series that started in 2002. As in all the games, you play as Sam Fisher, an NSA spy who discovers terrorists have blah blah blah...

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Look, it’s a similar plot to every Splinter Cell title; much of it is in the same ballpark as a season of 24 or any other military/spy movie or series. Which is not to say it’s not entertaining; it is if you’re into this stuff. But mostly, you played Splinter Cell for its stealth gameplay, and it always delivered. Story-wise, I’m partial to Double Agent’s open-ended plot.

But this article is about Conviction, which changed up that signature gameplay to make a faster, more streamlined game. And, sadly, a shorter one.

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Conviction is still mostly stealth-based, only it’s faster and snappier than previous Cell games’ more methodical approach. It’s a more simplified system; gone is the classic “light meter” that showed how dark it was around you. Instead, the game switches to monochrome whenever you’re hidden in shadows, so it’s pretty cut-and-dry; either you’re in a shadow or you aren’t. This means you spend a great deal of time watching the game in black-and-white, which some people don’t really like. I thought it was pretty cool, but I could see why others get annoyed by it.

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It’s also easier to “go loud” in Conviction, thanks to a more traditional cover and shooting system that, frankly, the series sorely needed. Sam controls more like a person and less like the clunky object he was in the earlier games; Chaos Theory and Double Agent did a better job, but shooting still kind of sucked. (Yes, I know you’re not supposed to shoot everybody.)

You can also Mark and Execute enemies; tag a bunch of bad guys with a limited amount of markers, then push a button and Sam quickly shoots them all, provided they’re all in line-of-sight. The developers insisted it’s not really a win button...but it is. Still, it looks cool, and it’s fun to pull off, and it makes you feel like the unstoppable man on a mission Sam Fisher is supposed to be.

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Oh, and you can torture certain characters for information, but it’s awkward and makes you feel like a jerk, so.

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Probably not even a bad guy.

It’s not really accurate to say I like Conviction over the past Splinter Cell titles. It’s really too different to compare; this is Splinter Cell turned on its head. You’re usually entering firefights on purpose, which was always the absolute last resort in these games. There was a certain satisfaction in getting in and out undetected, and Conviction doesn’t let you do that. Conviction is all about action—there’s stealth, but it’s a kind of loud stealth.

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But I love Conviction despite the changes to the classic Cell formula. Like last week’s game, it’s elevated by its presentation; the black-and-white, the objectives appearing as projections in the world...it’s all very cool and unique, and it’s not as stiff as previous Cell games tend to be. It controls like a dream, particularly the cover system, which makes one simple change: you hold the Left Trigger to go into cover, and release it to move out. This is a perfect cover system, because you’re never sucked into a wall and magnetized there, like Gears of War does. Also, Sam does not remove his entire body from cover to shoot, like so many other game characters. It’s flawless.

The level design is fantastic, as it generally is with Splinter Cell. There’s a decent variety of environments to sneak around, with multiple paths through some of them (there’s an ill-advised flashback shooty mission, though). But it’s all over too quick; a playthorugh can be maybe 5-6 hours the first time. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the outstanding co-op campaign, which serves as a prequel to the main single-player story. Force a buddy to play it if you can.

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Splinter Cell: Conviction represents, to me, a desire to be more open-minded about games—particularly changes in direction for long-running series like this. I didn’t agree with the direction when I saw the game revealed for the first time, but I gave it a shot after playing the demo. I won’t say I like it better than previous Cell games, because it’s a completely different product. But it’s a personal favorite of mine.

Thanks for reading my stuff! Leave comments and suggest games to cover! Tweet at me! And find more of my stuff (and the stuff of people more talented than me) at Current Digital (like my very late review of Undertale)

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Next week, we’ll revisit a mash-up of shooters, horror, slow-mo, and stupid acronyms.