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Sam is back! After several years of delays and re-drawing the hobo look Fisher had going when the game was first announced, Splinter Cell Conviction brings the Third Echelon back into the gamer conscious. Does Sam bring the heat, or is he simply getting to old for this #&*!?
Initially, Ubisoft revolutionized the stealth genre mostly dominated by Japanese developers by introducing full camera control and matched that with fun gameplay; unlike the Metal Gear Solid series' "not doing it right" notoriety. SCC goes for innovation but doesn't completely execute on its mark.
Gone is the need to cautiously stash away dead bodies or even some of the freedom to take on missions as you see fit. Splinter Cell Conviction would like to give you the illusion of complete liberty to take on missions as you wish, but its new action-oriented focus usually funnels you into two basic approaches.
One, stealthily melee enemies to — easily — "mark and execute" in quick John Woo-style succession or, two, merely go in guns ablazing. You'll be fine when you come out the other end. It's a clear attempt to rein in gamers who don't want to wade through trial-and-error gameplay, but it makes SCC wholly inconsistent.
Every mission will usually have a correct approach and if you choose incorrectly: "You're doing it wrong." There were plenty of times during the campaign where I was having flashes to playing the much more difficult MGS games. Not fun.
At least, that's how it played out for me the majority of the time. In the few moments that I wrapped my head around the controls and a particular scenario, it was incredibly engrossing.
Innovations like the next cover indicator remedies the "stickiness" that the Gears of War games have been fighting with since their inception. The indicator gives you a visible guideline to where you're heading next to avoid shuffling right into an enemy's line of sight.
And the story — while nothing to hold up as medium-advancing — does a good job of presenting unique flashback situations, chase scenes, and humanizes Sam Fisher for the player as he sets off on his suicidal, revenge mission.
Still, it is more style than substance when it comes to SCC. And even that can wear on you. Sam interrogates everyone pretty much the same way (i.e. torture subject three times, then get what you want) and every time you do it, it diminishes its cool factor making you wish for a "skip scene" button. And the writing on the wall? Nice touch, but they never give you any particular insight on what usually are straightforward objectives.
Splinter Cell Conviction's shining offering for me was its online multiplayer. Err, more specifically the four — surprisingly lengthy — co-op missions. They do a good job of translating single-player to a two-player stealth environment with an added layer of tension and situational awareness if you have a buddy shouting out enemy positions in your ear.
Regular multiplayer, from what I played, seemed to be just a shoe-horned and quickly re-proportioned version of co-op missions and maps. If you were a fan of Chaos Theory's exemplary multiplayer and were hoping to find it here…Ubisoft avoided fatigue and sidestepped that option.
Splinter Cell Conviction looks good, plays well enough, and even puts together enough "24" scenarios of its own to push a serviceable story into the game but it lacks a special something. A special something that made Kojima Productions rethink the way their venerable Metal Gear Solid series does stealth by making it more fun to play. Ubisoft focused a bit too much on going accessible with a game that was already known for being the accessible type. The new presentation and control additions it puts forward are good candidates for showing up in future third-person action games, but they don't help Sam aim any truer in his latest adventure.