Part of the excitement of the Splinter Cell franchise has always been the slow methodical kill. Metal Gear Solid almost came close in that regard, but since the game was mostly about not being seen in the first place, it boiled down to Splinter Cell to give me that modern-day ninja feel. As a result it's been a rough road watching how Ubisoft has transformed a very defined franchise into something more 'cinematic and exciting'. Will sneaking be the same? How intelligent will enemy AI be? There's a lot that goes into making a game more dynamic feeling, and more often then not FPS titles fall short. Playing through the demo of Splinter Cell: Conviction though reveals that there's still work that could be done.
One thing that can be said from the start is the new take on the franchise is effective in its storytelling. The player is rushed into interrogating someone who is no doubt important to the plot, and finds out a bit of information as to why Sam Fisher is such an angry old man. The idea of an interactive cutscene plays out in a manner very similar to Heavy Rain, where players can do whatever they want while the information is being presented to them until it's time to torture the enemy a little more. The idea of limited choices that all lead up to the same thing is interesting and fun, and most definitely adds a bit of personality to the game. It feels like while the storyline has an overall direction, the player gets to guide it along in a manner more to their tastes.
But while it is fun to sit and choose if smashing the man's head into a toilet, the wall, or some glass is the best way to get information, this demo is all about more action-based gameplay. Perhaps Ubisoft choose a poor level to showcase, or perhaps it takes a lot of time to warm up to the controls. Either way I'm not sure how I went from being completely involved in the drama, from feeling so far removed from it. The demo is about learning the various ways to kill enemies, most of which boil down to being able to control Sam in a way that gives him the best odds to win. A very slow crouching move speed combines with a not completely intuitive cover system to make for some, at times, difficult gameplay. While the melee/execute combination works extremely well, messing up and alerting the enemy to your position is a goofy scenario at best.
Enemies will attempt to track you down depending on your last known location, which is highlighted to players by a shadow of where they were last spotted. From there the idea is to move quickly away from the shadow and find a way to either attack from behind or think of a new tactic. Unfortunately once an enemy spots your general direction, they typically just sit there and wait for movement. Very rarely did an opponent ever move up to try and check where I was last seen, and if I happened to be above/under them I could count on them to just stare where I last was every single time. The illusion of me being anywhere near an impressive killer was tossed right out the window, and things degrade into a bad case of duck hunt.
Now demos can be tricky things at times, and who's to say that the overall AI or gameplay won't be vastly improved by having a full copy of the game and some more time to learn how things should be done. If anything, Splinter Cell: Conviction looks like it still has a lot to prove, but if the final product features some intuitive level design and a little more emphasis on the stealth aspect this game will most definitely be a title worth picking up.