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Somewhat ironically for a game titled Conviction, rendering a verdict on superspy Sam Fisher’s latest skulking, sneaking, neck-snapping adventure is actually pretty difficult. Here’s the problem: There are two ways to judge Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Conviction—as a longtime series fan, or as someone who thinks a Splinter Cell is something that needs to be examined by a doctor before it becomes infected. The good/bad news, depending on which camp you fall into: Conviction is fast-paced, action-packed, and prone to bouts of random, violent explosion. Sorry, longtime fans.
That’s not to say that longtime fans can’t enjoy the game, mind you. They’ll just have to adjust their expectations a bit. If you enjoyed previous Splinter Cell games for their tense, strategic “blow it and start the mission over” games of cat-and-mouse, prepare for a rude awakening. On the flipside, if that’s the exact reason you chose to steer clear of the series, you’ll be happy to hear that Conviction won’t ask you to memorize any guard patrols or hide any corpses.
This time around, Sam’s modus operandi fits his motive: He’s pissed. Turns out, his daughter’s alive after all, and he wants answers. Now. This, however, works as a bit of a double-edged sword. On one hand, Sam’s reckless abandon makes for a faster pace and a number of well-balanced “stealth here, shootout there” levels. On the other hand, too many missions—especially later in the game—devolve into cover-centric versions of peek-a-boo with guns. At that point, lethal force is the only option, and any pretenses of stealth are thrown out the window.
Also changed for the better/worse is the game’s emphasis on gadgets. In Conviction, Sam’s no longer on Third Echelon’s leash, so even his precious night-vision goggles don’t step into the spotlight until a ways into the game. However, he makes up for it by adding a couple of new techniques to his already lethal bag of tricks.
First up, there’s Mark and Execute, which is earned by successfully performing a melee kill instead of making a suppressed weapon kill. More useful is Last Known Position. Basically, any time Sam is spotted, he leaves behind a ghost image of himself. When enemies investigate the ghost image, you step out and snap their necks. This means that it’s not very difficult to feel like a total badass while playing. Purists may argue, however, that Splinter Cell’s former appeal was in earning that neck snap. And while Conviction is no cakewalk, it’s nowhere near as tough as Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory, either.
Where Conviction’s single-player slips up, its multiplayer breaks its fall. Foremost, there’s an entire completely separate co-op campaign that’s just as enjoyable as anything the single-player campaign throws at you. Fans of previous Splinter Cells’ contemplative, planning-oriented style will want to check out Deniable Ops, a set of modes that places more emphasis on cunning and forethought. Also wickedly fun is Face-Off, wherein you and an opponent have to outwit and outfight each other while contending with hordes of enemies.
On the whole, Splinter Cell: Conviction is an impressive reinvention of a classic series. Mixing stealth and guns-a-blazing action is a tricky balancing act, and much of the time, Conviction pulls it off. The question, then, is whether or not you actually wanted Splinter Cell to change in the first place.
Engaging, well-designed levels; new techniques that reinvent combat.
Perhaps a bit action-heavy; later portions of the game are glorified shoot-outs.