|System: X360, PC||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: Ubisoft Montreal||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: Ubisoft||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: Apr. 13, 2010||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1-4||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Mature||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Jonathan Marx
The Splinter Cell series has always been known for its methodical take on stealth-deliberate pacing, cadaver-hiding, and trial-and-error were well-worn hallmarks of the franchise. As you might have noticed, I used the past tense to describe those tropes. That's because Sam Fisher's latest romp, Splinter Cell: Conviction, has abandoned the plod in favor of an almost, dare I say, run-and-gun style. Without a doubt, the series' hardcore will be initially dismayed by the completely overhauled game mechanics, but once settled in, I can't see how anyone wouldn't enjoy the ride.
Now, run-and-gun isn't quite accurate, but when compared to its predecessors, Conviction is extremely loose and free-flowing. The biggest reason the game feels so quick is due to the new cover system. This is perhaps one of the most enjoyable aspects of the game, and it's certainly one of the best-executed cover systems in any game to date. Rather than locking players to sticky cover, Conviction's use of cover points is completely user-controlled. By holding down on the appropriate trigger you'll snap-to cover, but tilt the analog stick just a bit and you'll effortlessly shimmy away from it while still in a defensive crouch. Never once did I feel like cover points were hindering my progression.
Better yet, getting from one covered position to another is extremely easy. From cover, players simply aim the onscreen reticule at the position they want to take up, tap the A button, and watch Sam lithely scramble to the next cover point. While several titles have tried this in the past, no one has done so with such quality. It truly is a thing of beauty hopping from spot to spot, using the terrain, debris, corridors, shadows, and nooks and crannies to your tactical advantage. If there is one minor complaint I can manage, it is that often cover positions are too far away from Sam to be engaged. This means you'll have to get there yourself, but Sam simply doesn't move as quickly and as gracefully as he does when the cover mechanic is active. I don't expect to be able to use the cover mechanic to help me traverse a 50 ft. piece of open ground, but there were constant circumstances when I couldn't use the auto-cover to take up a position that was just 5-10 yards away. Despite this quibble, the cover mechanic in Conviction is without peer.
Another couple reasons why Conviction feels so fast-paced is that you'll always be guided by objective markers, or objective projections on the walls, that keep you headed in the right direction. Furthermore, creeping up on guards and the like is a snap. As such, getting hand-to-hand stealth kills is a big part of the game. This is especially so because you will be rewarded for your daring by powering-up your 'Execute' ability.
Depending on the weapon, and whether it has been upgraded or not, you will have a specific number of 'Marks' you can issue on baddies. As long as these marks are red (unfortunately, this is true even if one of the foe ambles behind a wall after being initiated), you will automatically rack up execution kills. This is used to great effect throughout the game, so you'll want to take out lone gunmen with a wicked melee attack, hop back into cover, and then mark the other 2, 3, or 4 virtual meat-bags, clearing out the rest of the room in one fell swoop. Some may find the 'Mark and Execute' mechanic to be too effortless, but I found it to be enjoyable, as it heightened the immersion. Besides, once you've used the 'Execute' command, the power will be drained until you make your next stealth melee kill. This, for the most part, balances out the ability's extreme efficacy by making it a somewhat limited commodity.