Splinter Cell: ConvictionESRB:
Platform: Xbox 360
Category: 3rd Person: Action
Developer – Ubisoft Montreal
Publisher – Ubisoft
2 Player - Cooperative and Versus
HDTV - 720p native resolution
I feel compelled upfront to state that I am a huge Splinter Cell fan; I have played all of Sam Fisher’s previous outings on multiple platforms many times and loved every minute of it. I pre-ordered Splinter Cell: Conviction back in 2007 after it was originally announced, so if my take on Ubisoft Montreal’s exclusive release to the Xbox 360 seems a bit biased you may just understand why.
I've waited a long time for this game to be released and leading up to the big day it was my fear that Splinter Cell: Conviction would let me down. I did not play the demo of the game on Xbox LIVE as I wanted my Conviction experience to be “fresh”. Well I have finally had time to play the retail version and even with my high expectations I am not disappointed.
It is my personal opinion that a 720p native resolution is a bit of a let down from the traditional 1080p that I would expect from an Xbox 360 exclusive game. That being said, I don’t know if 1080p would make much of a difference though because being a stealth/action game much of the action is played in the shadows. Ubisoft Shaghai’s Splinter Cell: Double Agent (released in 2006) set the bar for graphic presentation on an Xbox 360 and Conviction definitely meets that standard, but I don't think that it exceeds it by that much. Using Epic's Unreal engine, the scenes are drawn with the expected crispness and detail you'd expect in a game on the Xbox 360, but there is really nothing new here. **Spoiler Alert** The first time we see anything closely resembling a panoramic vista is in the Iraq level of the single player campaign. With such recent shooter releases as Modern Warfare 2 and Battlefield: Bad Company 2, the depiction of a war torn Middle East environment is good and it serves the purpose for which it was intended, but it is nothing more, nothing less.
The environments you'll find yourself in are rich and drawn with the purpose of detail that suit a stealth/action shooter. If you are playing a 'stealthy' style then most of what is presented is in black and white and the graphics service that side of the game. Should you play more of an 'action' style game, the colors are solid and the environments look good in their 'natural' state. In terms of the game's characters, they are depicted in a fashion we would expect, Sam looks like Sam and terrorists look like terrorists. To say that the graphics of Conviction are serviceable for gameplay is, in my view, a fair statement and that is all I expect. They work and do not distract from what a Splinter Cell game is meant to be.
The sound of Splinter Cell: Conviction meets the standard of the series. Michael Ironside’s voicing of Sam Fisher is what fans have come to expect. That being said, this time around he offers an emotional side that we have not heard in Sam before. Sam is a betrayed, vengeful, and distraught individual who Michael Ironside voices with a subtly that only an actor who has come to know the character inside and out could portray. He manages to convey the pain that Sam is enduring in a way that is credible and supports the story of Fisher’s need to seek revenge on those who have deceived him over the years.
The sound effects support the stealthy gameplay, and they are crafted in such a way that a simple misplaced foot step could alert the enemy to your location. Due to the stealth nature of the Splinter Cell series listening to what is happening in an environment is as, if not more, important as what we you see in your environment. We are compelled to see with our ears, and Conviction manages that aspect of our auditory function with an ease that appears almost simplistic. I think that because Ubisoft has travelled down this road before, with sound supporting the stealth, on four previous occasions they know how to make it work and do so exceptionally well this time around. As for the weapons, as with other Ubisoft games, they still manage to take a sound stage of their own with the accuracy and oomph you'd expect. Of course you'll find some great explosions and other sounds just as impressive. Finally, the orchestral sound track enhances both the action side and the stealth side of gameplay. The timbre of the notes enhance the whole experience like no other Splinter Cell title has before.
Splinter Cell: Conviction is Ubisoft Montreal's latest offering for the series and the second Splinter Cell game to be developed by the highly regarded studio. The story this time around revolves around Sam's effort to seek revenge on Third Echelon for their betrayal while also trying to track down devices/weapons that can play havoc on Washington, D.C. I could go deeper into the story, but there would be some huge spoilers for those that haven't played it, so I think I will leave it at that. Ubisoft offers up four game modes this time around. There is a single player story, a single player deniable ops mode, a two player co-operative story mode and a two player versus mode that can be played via system link, split screen or online.
Before I get into the meat of the game modes I thought I would mention that Conviction offers a few new gameplay features, "Mark and Execute" is the most prevalent. This allows you to mark a target and shoot them when you are in cover or when you bust through a door or window. Here you can choose to prioritize these targets so that, for example, you could distract one guard by shooting out a light in his vicinity and then take out another guard. The other notable new feature is called "Last Known Position". This happens when an enemy has been alerted to your position and you 'slip away' so to speak. You will leave a silhouette of where the enemy thinks you are based on your last position. This allows for some great tactics such as flanking your enemy or just getting out of harm's way. These features are available in all gameplay modes.
In terms of the single player story, Conviction is a sequel to Splinter Cell: Double Agent (the fourth game in the Splinter Cell Series) and I have often wondered where the story was going to go. There were two distinctly different endings to two distinct versions of Splinter Cell: Double Agent. The Xbox 360/PS3 version offered a very different game than the Game Cube/PS2 version. The stories arced in a very different way and were very diverse in the manner in which Sam Fisher was betrayed by Third Echelon, prompting his “going rogue” in this latest instalment of the series. As it happens, Ubisoft has chosen to write this latest story without overt references to the previous trials and tribulations of our hero. To my surprise the minimal scattered references to Sam’s back story work for me. The reasons for Fisher's “rouge” actions in his revenge against Third Echelon are presented in a very credible way; I buy it.
As a fan of the series the one area that I feel Ubisoft has let me down somewhat is the omission of the voice characterization of Sam’s friend and handler Lambert, as voiced by Denis Haysbert. Though the omission of Lambert reinforces the Lone Wolf Mission of the story in this latest chapter of the series, it would have been nice if the moral choices made in Double Agent carried over to Conviction, similar to how Bioware did with Shepard's character in Mass Effect 2. If I chose to spare Lambert in Double Agent I should have had him as an ally in Conviction.
Conviction's story is well written and finely crafted. The main thing I found in the story was the days of Sam sneaking around being super stealthy are gone. Conviction is a far more accessible game than previous editions. Those players who were frustrated by the stealthy trial and error nature of past games will find they can run and gun in this latest rendition. Stealth is now a choice rather than an essential part of gameplay. I like the stealth side of the game and I found myself replaying the first mission repeatedly to find the most stealthy route to the objective, but it was my choice to do so. That being said, there are some moments in the both the single player and cooperative story where the you will have to be stealthy to complete the mission.
The single player experience will last anywhere from five to eight hours depending on how you approach the game, and what skill level you play it on. I played the game on the realistic setting, and given I was more akin to taking a stealthy approach to each mission I ended up doing sections over again in an effort not to be discovered. I know that fellow writer Kirby Y took a more balanced approach in the normal setting. He tried to be stealthy now and then, but he also took to the action roots he prefers as he went toe to toe, and gun to gun, with the AI. Both our experiences were different in terms of gameplay length due to the different approaches we took.
In terms of the multiplayer, two new characters have been introduced into the Splinter Cell series: Archer and Kestrel. On a side note you can choose either of these characters in the Deniable Ops Mode. Conviction's multi-player involves split screen, system link and online cooperative mode, plus a Deniable Ops mode. Deniable Ops mode involves four multiplayer modes that pit the players against the computer AI in game modes such as Hunter, Infiltration, Last Stand, and Face-Off. These can be played as single player or co-op matches.
The cooperative story is a prequel to Sam Fisher's story where you and your fellow teammate seek out the objectives to complete. During cooperative gameplay you have the ability to revive each other. The non-story modes are just as fun as the cooperative story. Last stand is a akin to Gears of War's hoard mode where you can individually or cooperatively fight off up to twenty waves of bad guys while protecting an EMP device. While you have a host of weapons and gadgets in your arsenal to stave off wave after wave of baddies, this is a very intense gameplay mode that will prove to challenge many players. Hunter and Infiltration modes are based on the more stealthy side of the series. Hunter’s objective is to eliminate all the bad guys as quietly as you can. The incentive for remaining silent is there will be less of a chance that the AI will call for help which would then require you to fight off a higher number of baddies. Infiltration mode on the other hand is a one alarm, game over mode. It is the one aspect to Conviction that is truly a stealth mode. This side of the game will appeal to Splinter Cell purists and can be quite addicting. Overall there is more than just the story to play here and you should be coming back for more.
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