by Christopher Park
previewed on PC
Goodbye, Hobo Sam
If you didn’t like Splinter Cell: Conviction’s first reveal way back in 2007, then you might like the completely redesigned game that was shown off in E3 ‘09. It is a radically different, and the changes seem to be for the better. Sam has lost his ragged hair and regained his classic crew cut. Plus, he’s gone rogue. He’s essentially become a geriatric Jason Bourne, on the run from the government, and searching for some personal answers.
After Sam’s daughter took a really fast car right to the face, he is started looking for the people responsible. Story has never been the strongest aspect of the Splinter Cell games, and while the game’s third iteration, Chaos Theory, did a fantastic job of building a real sense of chemistry between Sam and his support team back at Third Echelon, there was not too much to really chew on and get interested.
A New Approach
Conviction plans to fix that. One of the ways the team at Ubisoft Montreal will go about solving this dilemma is by changing the way the narrative is presented. Key plot points will be projected, literally. Words and images of the past, the present and what objectives need to completed will be projected right onto the game’s environments. Need to know which building you need to infiltrate? The game will put a hologram on the wall, projecting objectives right onto where you need to go to. It is clever, and completely awesome.
The story presentation is just one element of Conviction’s complete restructuring. The gameplay has gone through some significant alterations to the familiar hide-in-the-shadows experience, the first of which is the game’s mark and execute feature. If you have played Rainbow Six: Vegas the concept should be immediately familiar.
Tag and Bag
After getting a number of kills the regular way, you can tag a limited number of targets and after you commit to your selections, Sam will automatically point and fire at whatever you have tagged. If nothing is obstructing his bullet from reaching its target, it will be a sure hit, no matter what. There is no manual aim involved; this is all through an automatic lock-on.
While a bit on-rails, it reflects the capabilities of Sam Fisher very well. You’d expect a trained agent to be able to pull off head shots with ease, and the “get some regular kills first” requirement prevents abuse of the system. Another new feature is the last known position. If Sam ever gets spotted, he can always sneak off again and after he disappears, a silhouette of Sam will be shown in the game’s world, as a marker for where the AI last saw him. Again, it reflects Sam’s skills and adds a layer of tactics. It should be a great way of manipulating the AI to break patrols and leave areas unguarded, making it easier to either take them out or sneak away.
The Right Decision?
Most of the new gameplay features and tweaks show a more action heavy installment of Splinter Cell. Being stealthy is still important, because it’s how you will set up most of your mark and execute kills, but Sam’s run speed has been significantly increased. Whipping out your gun while running no longer means a flailing reticule, so expect faster pacing.
Granted, Ubisoft had to show something exciting at E3, but the way the trailers and the gameplay demos are presented implies that there is more of an even split between action and stealth. Splinter Cell purists can call foul (I was on the verge of doing so, especially after the excellence of Chaos Theory), but this is a great way of avoiding stagnation and avoiding sequelitis.
A Man Stands by His Convictions
Splinter Cell: Conviction is a rethought game. A new Splinter Cell installment every year did not work. Trading off development to separate developers for an yearly release suffocates ingenuity and the time needed to try something radically different. It seems like Ubisoft realized this, which is why they delayed the game for two years.
The fruit of Ubisoft Montreal’s efforts takes the series in a bold direction. Conviction looks great, and while the lack of Sam’s trademark goggles is a bit distressing, this makeover looks promising.