Imagine being a former black-ops member who's had his world turned upside down. He doesn't know what to believe or who to trust, and to top it all off, he's had his daughter murdered. Well, that's the life that Splinter Cell protagonist Sam Fisher now leads and it's a slippery slope, but it's a slope that players must navigate as they embark on Sam's latest stealth-action adventure, Spliter Cell: Conviction.
Upon learning some new intel about his daughter's killer, Sam heads to Malta to learn more. However, it appears as though Third Echelon, his former employer, aren't going to make his life easy. While Sam is hunting his target, he's also being trailed by Third Echelon, who eventually make contract via Grim. From here, Sam unwillingly gets involved in a much bigger plot that goes all the way to the top of the American chain of command, all while trying to find out more about his daughter's murder.
The premise isn't actually too bad, and while there is a certain element of predictability, like Sam, players are never really sure who they should be trusting, and who they shouldn't. This is partially due to how the story is told, as it's actually a recantation of past events by Sam's old Navy SEAL buddy Victor Coste, and there are also various other glimpses at a less than rosy future for Sam. This is all complimented by an interactive story-telling which takes place during missions. Objectives appear on parts of the scenery, and players are also greated with visual stimulus in the form of mini-cutscenes as he approaches key objectives. It helps to give the story a bit more... conviction and it's welcome. Needless to say, Sam certainly gets his hands dirty throughout the game and the story is pretty solid, even if it is a bit patchy sometimes.
The gameplay is anything but patchy though, and it's actually quite different from previous Splinter Cell titles. While the light/dark element is still present within the core gameplay mechanics, timing, speed and precision are also much more crucial in Conviction. This is thanks to two new innovations, the 'Spot And Mark' system, and the "Last Known Position" system. Upon performing a melee takedown, Sam will gain access to Spot And Mark, which will enable him to execute numerous enemies at the same time. This can be set-up beforehand for maximum casualties, or it can be done on the fly. Either way, the result is an instant fatality to the unfortunate recipient. It makes players much more conscious about how they want to take down enemies - players will look for weaknesses in the enemy patrols so they can gain the ability to execute larger crowds of enemies.
Should the be spotted though, guards will methodically hunt Sam's last known position. The instant Sam is spotted, a shadow will be placed at that location. Players then have an idea about the area the enemies are focusing on, so it's possible to spring surprise attacks if they remain hidden from then on. It means that being spotted isn't necessarily game over anymore and it's definitely refreshing. It actually feels quite weird to see enemies firing at a location where players aren't, as for years players have had to put up with AI magically knowing where they are.
Overall, when taking the new additions and core gameplay into consideration, it actually makes for a thoroughly enjoyable experience. It's probably easier and definitely more accessible than previous Splinter Cell games, but players will still have to use their stealthy minds to navigate through levels. There are a few niggling points though - like the inability to drag bodies. While not a major issue throughout most of the game, it is particularly annoying in one specific part where there are security cameras. If they see a dead body it's game over, and without the ability to drag bodies players must be mindful of where they actually kill enemies.
Everything looks and sounds as players would expect and the way light/dark have been implemented in the game works really well. If players are exposed to light, the screen colour is fully saturated. If they're in the dark, then the screen, aside from enemies, becomes unsaturated. There is a decent amount of destructible scenery in the game, although most of it comes in the form of lights, and there are plenty of places for Sam to hide on both a horizontal and vertical plane. It's clear that presentation was important for the game, and it certainly shows - even the menu system is impressive.
What players might be slightly disappointed with though is the length of the single player campaign. It's possible to complete it in around 5-6 hours on the default difficulty and it just leaves a bit of an empty feeling. It's clear why this has been done though, as there is a co-operative story which lasts another couple of hours. If multiplayer isn't that important though, that probably isn't much consolation. If that's the case, Deniable Ops are present, which involve Hunting down enemies, through the same levels as the co-operation campaign, or defending an objective in Last Man Standing. Both of these modes can also be player co-operatively and there is a competitive mode called 'Face Off' which sees players battling against one other spy, while also trying to avoid enemies at the same time.
The co-operative campaign is actually pretty decent, not because of its story, but because it introduces some new scenarios to the mix. There are certain parts where players aren't allowed to use lethal force and it adds a whole new depth to the gameplay. It's puzzling why sections like this weren't present in the main campaign as they would have helped to keep things fresh a bit more. It's also quite a hit or miss experience. Playing with friends is sure to be a blast, but getting matched up with someone on Xbox Live randomly can probably never compare and can sometimes probably make for a frustrating time due to the reliance on each other.
Splinter Cell: Conviction makes a successful return to the stealth-action genre with some extremely well implemented gameplay mechanics. However, the length of the single player campaign is a real sore point, and while there is a co-operative story it's not enough of a substitute. Having said that, being able to perform stealth missions with a friend or someone random on Xbox Live is certainly a welcome addition to the franchise and with all things considered, Splinter Cell: Conviction is definitely worth checking out.