Splinter Cell: Conviction

Sam Fisher has finally had enough. The death of his daughter, an act proven to be more than simple manslaughter, drives the member of the titular elite spec-ops group to go rogue. Between him and the answer is a conspiracy involving multiple secret societies and branching out across the globe. Is this new adventure worth sneaking back into the shadows, or is it time for this old dog of espionage to retire?

Without the shackles of federal law, Sam Fisher is a meaner, more brutal protagonist, and it suits the story just fine that way. Michael Ironside’s gruff-as-nails delivery instantly gives a sense of smoldering rage, and the story never loses its central badass-ness because of it. The plot as a whole falls somewhere between Bourne and Bond, thick with betrayal and twists. Major gaps in logic may hinder the experience for some but the pace is so brisk and the action so intense, it’s hard to fault the ride it takes you on. Aiding the storyline is a pitch-perfect soundtrack that plays to your actions: soft and menacing when stalking in the shadows, sharper and more dynamic when you are revealed. The rest of the voice cast plays off Ironside and manages, for the most part, to match his level of gruffness without stepping too far into camp territory.

The biggest blemish to “Conviction” is its character modeling and texturing. The game has been in the can for years and it shows, some enemy models unforgivably ugly up close. Even the named cast, save Fisher, has a noticeable blandness to their facial animation and features, to the point of drawing the player out of the experience. The graphical faults don’t exceed to the point of many glitches, but the gritty world it sets up occasionally takes a hit for it. An important caveat is the blending of black/white and color, the former signifying you are hidden in darkness, with the latter slowly bleeding in when you are exposed. A burst of color definitely has the “oh crap!” realization of exposure that Ubisoft intended.

But graphics hardly matter when you are cloaked in the periphery. Conviction sports a lot of new mechanics that makes sneaking about much more engaging, although at the expense of complexity. The massive gadget and weapon arsenal previously at your disposal has been noticeably curtailed, the limited supply of tech-goodies, while expertly designed, leaves a slight sense of cheapness to the proceedings. But the game often makes up for it in the sheer variety of uses each gadget has, and the amount of times the game allows you to experiment with them. Luring a marked enemy over with a keen placement of a sticky cam only to detonate it as he approaches is a predatory feeling that most games, even in the stealth genre, lack.

Aside from more flexible toys, Sam Fisher has some nifty new abilities to work with. The “Last Known Position” leaves an outline of Fisher at the last time he was seen by NPCs, allowing you to keep an eye on where they will attack in order to set up flank maneuvers. It looks and works more perfectly than it sounds. The “mark and execute” feature lets Sam target foes by placing a reticule over them, then pressing a face button for a smooth and simple instant kill. You have to earn these moments however, by taking out enemies in specified conditions. Even with the extra effort, it’s a simple cheat to use in a pinch, an almost mood-killing boost of god-mode that makes the last few enemies in a level feel worthless.

Another thorn in Conviction’s side is the stubby length of its single-player campaign. Anyone that has played a stealth game will complete it in around five to six hours, and if that’s all the series holds for you, disappointment will be your main takeaway. However, the game sports an intricate co-operative multiplayer campaign with its own missions that is amazingly fun and adds a new layer of depth. The surprise ending will hold twice the power as anything the main campaign offers. These “Deniable Ops” missions can be tackled in local split-screen or online matches, and quickly become the most enjoyable parts of the game. The game also sports a less dramatic, but still entertaining, 4-type multiplayer suite, spanning the usual online shooter routines. It’s a difficult sell to the solo players, but if you got friends ready to kill from the shadows, it’s a hard value to beat.

Short but sweet, streamlined but compensated, Splinter Cell Conviction is a game that manages an intense storied experience and an unexpectedly good co-op attachment. If you can put up with the ugliness and the leashed gadgetry, it’s a mission that’s well worth taking.