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Splinter Cell Conviction brings your favourite stealthy killing machine back after four long years. And with it comes more than a few changes - Conviction blows the dust off the aged stealth-action genre and will change the way you'll view 3rd-person action games for good.
Whereas stealth in previous Splinter Cell and Metal Gear Solid titles (by comparison much cheaper 360 games) was all about avoiding enemies, Conviction turns the tables in an impressive way. Instead of being frustrated when your position is revealed, Conviction turns you into an unstoppable hunter, giving you a sense of power that turns these moments into opportunities. The enemies in Conviction may be much smarter than before but more often than not it's them who are freaking out as you silently take them out.
This change of tone is also what makes Conviction a far more meaningful and emotional experience than before. Sam Fisher is angry and in every aspect of the game this rage seeps into each move, shot and neck-snap that you perform. This anger is justified as you'll be hunting down the killers of your daughter that just so happen to be planning a major terrorist attack on Washington D.C.
Instead of being frustrated when your position is revealed, Conviction turns you into an unstoppable hunter, giving you a sense of power that turns these moments into opportunities.
This leads to some interesting conflict between Sam and his previous employer, the Third Echelon, as he's pulled out of semi-retirement to take revenge. Something that is reflected in the game's fundamentally changed stealth system.
Veterans of the Splinter Cell series may be less than happy about this change in the basic gameplay - perhaps they should rent the game first to check it out before buying. There's no trial and error sneaking of the previous games and it's fair to say that the quicker pace and cover system ticks the action-adventure box rather than the stealth one.
That's not to say you can't do all the things Sam used to do back when he was legit. Splinter Cell Conviction just takes a very different approach and this new stealth system uses some intuitive visual cues and high speed to make stealth fast and deadly. When you're invisible to the enemy in the shadows the screen will slowly turn to black and white - coming out into the light brings full colour right back. It's a great way of knowing what your status is without having to look for a specific icon or indicator. As such it enables you to use Sam's other weapon - his speed. Sliding in and out of cover, shimmying across ledges and using the Last Seen Position feature means you can use discovery as a weapon too.
When you're spotted and go back into cover a white silhouette will pop up and show you where the guards believe your position to be. By using their assumptions you can quickly get the jump on them from behind with great satisfaction. This is a far cry from the previous Splinter Cell games that insisted on memorising guard patterns and slow trial and error gameplay. The fluid nature of movement and combat of this system is a wonderful improvement, setting the standard for any other games attempting to occupy the same space.
The game pushes you forward with such irresistible speed that you'll probably end up finishing the single-player campaign in one sitting.
One of the more incredible technical achievements that separates Conviction from cheaper 360 games is the lack of any loading screen - unless you die. There's a smooth transition from each scenario that effectively removes the concept of levels entirely. The result is one of exemplary pacing and the game pushes you forward with such irresistible speed that you'll probably end up finishing the single-player campaign in one sitting.
Though the campaign is barely six hours long there's a lot more value in Conviction that you might expect. Chief among the surprises is an entirely separate co-op campaign that has you and a friend over Xbox Live assume the roles of Agents Archer and Kestrel in a prequel to the main game. This campaign is where many of the awesome parts of Conviction's gameplay system come to the fore. The Mark and Execute system that allows you to instantly take down a single enemy in one shot takes on a new dimension in co-op. If you and your partner can time it right you can both enter the mode at the same time performing kills on multiple enemies or popping a single guy with two head shots.
This Mark and Execute system isn't the 'Win' button you might think as you have to perform a successful stealth kill for each 'execute' you want to perform. It's really a way of rewarding effective stealth play and allows you to admire Sam's badass moves without having to worry about executing them for a few seconds.
The criticisms I have centre around the interrogation scenes that were hyped at last year's E3 conference. These turn out to be less interactive or deep than I had hoped and considering the brutal tone of the entire game it would have been nice if these could have been more fully fleshed out.
In fact I'd be so bold as to say the co-op mode is much more intense and interesting than the main campaign
The other modes can also be played with a friend or just on your own - if you each own or rent a copy of the game. It's here that Splinter Cell's hardcore audience is going to find what they're after as Infiltration has you progressing level by level, taking out a set number of enemies but failing the mission if you're seen by any of them. Last Stand is a typical Gears of War Horde mode or Halo 3: ODST Firefight option where you protect an EMP device from increasingly difficult waves of enemies.
These modes are enjoyable enough but simply don't compare to the single-player and co-op campaign. In fact I'd be so bold as to say the co-op mode is much more intense and interesting than the main campaign, due simply down to your reliance on your team-mate. When one of you dies then it's game over, leading to a pulsating experience of dependency and comradeship throughout the game.
These highly produced and short campaigns mean that Conviction is one of easiest games to recommend to rent. If you intend to sink a lot of hours into the multiplayer then it's almost certainly a purchase, but for those of us wanting to keep up with Sam Fisher's latest escapades then renting Splinter Cell: Conviction is a must.
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