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Review: Splinter Cell: Conviction
by Lauren Wainwright
Times have changed. Sam has changed. Think back to everything Splinter Cell was and throw that out of the window. No longer are you spending hours working out how to sneak past guards, but instead you are tactically analysing how to burst in and take out as many heads as possible. More guns, more explosions, more action; Conviction is a total rebrand of Splinter Cell, and a rebrand that has done the series some real justice.

But did it need to really change? This is probably a weird question to pose in a climate where reviewers are constantly dismissing sequels for their lack of innovation. You see, Splinter Cell was notoriously hardcore, along with its audience. It was rewarding to those who put the effort in, and it was one of the few stealth games that did the job well. It’s now time for change; no longer can big publishers afford to sell to niche markets. Conviction’s team have been pushing the changes to every Jack Bauer wannabe out there, and that really sums up what the game is: a mix of 24 and Bourne.

Splinter Cell: Conviction isn’t really heavy on the plot, but has enough backstory explained to keep new players right at home in the universe. It’s hard hitting, told through a variety of interrogations, flashbacks, narratives and projector displays. The team has innovated real time story telling in the most simplest of ways by cutting out the need for constant cut-scenes and keeping the pacing strong. Objectives and story advances are projected onto walls. They even offer in-game hints when you are struggling to progress. These are never obtrusive to what is going on around you and are stylish to boot.

The menus, HUD and the armoury screens are all sleek and polished. The game looks amazing, from booting up the title screen to the in-game action. While the lip-sync could do with some fine tuning, Conviction does look fantastic and is a great visual competitor with other 360 titles on the market. Each level is beautifully designed and the animations are sleek, with an atmosphere that sometimes ends up with you holding your breath, so as to not alert any guards on screen.

Busting faces open against sinks, walls, bars and even a piano, Sam is more bad-ass than ever before, his character taking a lot more control over the events that unfold. While his last starring role saw him switching teams, Conviction has him joining forces with Grim again. Long-time fans might roll their eyes as they hear the mention of Sarah, Sam’s daughter, is once again central for the developing plot, but it isn’t too long until things are mixed up to make not only Sam, but also the player, very confused about what is really going on.

Like 24 and Bourne, Conviction is a story of trust, which is what makes it intriguing. You find yourself wanting to find out what the hell is going on with Sarah once and for all, wanting to know who killed who, and who Sam can really trust after all. The single player lasts a slightly underwhelming 5-7 hours but then never felt overly repetitive. Each mission feels fresh and interesting, keeping you on your toes at each turn, something a lot more action shooters could learn from.

Conviction is a third-person shooter that plays around with the idea of being a stealth game. I think we can all openly admit that the game has radically changed the core gameplay to something that is more audience friendly, but don’t dismiss it quite yet. The shooting is smooth, confortable and if you are clever you can still play through the whole game without killing a single soul. Not that it would be any fun. There is a huge armoury of weapons and gadgets to play with too, but once you delve deeper into the game you will find the first pistol upgrades is the only real weapon you need if you line up your shots right. It isn’t until large scale, open shootouts where you’ll resort to the assault rifle.

The stealth is still there though, switching the screen from colour to black and white when you hide in the shadows. Sneaking up to guards and taking them out silently is a real thrill and there is plenty of variety to play around with your prey: pull them out of windows, drop down on them from above, call them over to car alarms or gadgets. You can even grab a guard and hold him as a human shield while you get some shots on other guards around.

The real fun to be had is with the inclusion of the mark and execute (M&E) mechanic. Take a guard out with melee and you earn yourself the chance to stylishly execute 2-4 guards of your choice with a single press of a button. While it seems cheap, M&E is a real life-saver for the more crowded areas and makes infiltrating a room a real treat as the camera slows down to watch your last shot blow a guard's head up and blood trickle out.

The M&E is even more interesting when used in the games co-op campaign, letting each player mark guards together and then, when both are in position, perfect a synchronised execution which looks amazing. The campaign, which lasts a good 6 hours, can be played split-screen or on Xbox Live. You play as Archer or Kestrel, both agents working for Third Echelon and the Russian Government, who are put together on a mission. Offering a bit more back story to Conviction’s main plot line, Deniable Ops is a great alternative to the more action focused experience with Sam.

There are also a few modes where you can take out AI as well as your friend online, like deathmatch. There's a hunter mode, which is essentially 'horde', but you need to protect the EMP in the centre, and a ton of unlockable goodies to gain from doing a variety of P.E.C challenges in the game. There is so much in Splinter Cell: Conviction to return to alone or with a friend.

So yes, it was worth the changes. It was worth going against everything fans originally were worried about. Conviction is in no way like the original Splinter Cells, but Conviction is the innovation and revival the series needed.



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- Lauren Wainwright

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