Roughly ten or fifteen years ago the stealth genre was set in stone by the likes of Metal Gear Solid, Splinter Cell and Syphon Filter and to date they haven’t changed all that much. Splinter Cell: Conviction however, promptly ditches the slow paced methodical trek from one dimly lit corner to the other in favor of a much faster action-stealth oriented formula. While you’re still sneaking around and sliding from corner to corner, you’re going to have a lot more fun doing it. Lace that together with a quality co-op mode and you have one of the most enjoyable Splinter Cell titles in the entirety of the series, though it isn’t without its drawbacks.
The bad comes first. Conviction is entirely too short, just like every other game in the genre. If you’re a veteran of these kinds of games then expect the single player to be over in about five or six hours, which hardly seems worth the asking price if you’re not going to engage in the multiplayer. Also, some of the depth in the stealth mechanics have been gutted in order to streamline the action, which probably won’t sit well of fans of the franchise and their expectations. There’s also the fact that the game tends to look a little poor compared to its contemporaries and while not ugly, it could have looked a lot better.
With that crap out of the way we can focus on all of the good that this game is teeming with. The thing you’ll notice first is the presentation. In a move that instantly reminds of Dead Space, your current objective is displayed in-game rather than in a HUD. Need to avoid detection or capture someone? It’s displayed on a wall in bright text for you. Cutting down on the amount of things you have to navigate through in a HUD is always a good idea as it makes the game more immersive. Part of streamlining the stealth mechanics is the coloration that tells you whether or not you’re presently hidden. If you’re lurking in the shadows then everything will cut down to black and white whereas if you’re in the middle of fire fight color is breathed vividly into your surroundings. For some it’ll take some getting used to but it’s a nice tough.
New to game play is the mark and execute system, which allows you pre-target enemies then wipe them out with ease. At first glance it may come off as cheap but you have to earn those auto-kills by first getting melee kills. Stealth isn’t totally invalidated as you’ll have to sneak around and get close. There is definitely less emphasis on navigating in the dark perfectly, but sneaking is still a core element. Moving from cover to cover is incredibly simple and merely involves a point and click style system. In fact, it’s so easy it’s hard to fathom why games can have such clunky systems. There’s also the fact that you get to interrogate people, which in truth plays out more like glorified cut scenes. Slamming someone’s head through a dirty urinal is pretty convincing, though.
Co-op is largely becoming a mandatory portion of games nowadays and thankfully it may just be Conviction’s biggest piece of staying power. While it wasn’t quite as pulse-pounding as blowing down a door and plowing through a shower room in Modern Warfare 2, lining up a series of executions and clearing out a room with your boy is pretty satisfying.
The Splinter Cell series is clearly going in another direction and that first step has definitely been a good one. A few tweaks on the game play and the next game can easily be one of the best of the current generation. If you haven’t picked up Conviction and been on the fence about it, hop on over and start lining up some executions.