January 19, 2010 – Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Conviction has seen its fair share of turbulence during its development cycle. In fact, the current game we got hands-on time with at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show doesn’t look very much at all like the game that was first announced several years ago. On the heels of a lukewarm fan reception to Double Agent, Ubisoft was once poised to take Splinter Cell in a radical new direction.
However, despite its changes in direction, Conviction feels great and has some exciting new modes that have us eagerly awaiting the game’s release. In some ways, this installment seems to be a return to roots for Splinter Cell, at least in terms of the gameplay’s core values. Outside of that, they’ve added some awesome new features that we can’t wait to get our hands on again.
Our sneak peek at one of the new modes included in Conviction, Deniable Ops, showed us yet another aspect of this game that strays from the old Splinter Cell archetype. This mode essentially plays like a “challenge room” of sorts, although this phrase carries a negative connotation of simplicity that is perhaps unfair to Conviction. Rather, these levels boil down the Splinter Cell formula to the core values, and what is left is a mode that condenses all that is fun about Splinter Cell into action-heavy sequences.
Deniable Ops is divided into four different gameplay styles: Hunter, Infiltration, Last Stand, and Face Off. The latter of which is a multiplayer mode between two spies in a level filled with enemies trying to kill them both. This emerges as a tricky new gameplay mechanic, as crafty players will be able to use the enemy soldiers to their own advantage, drawing their attention towards the enemy, etc. Last Stand, on the other hand, sees the agent defending a specific point on the map as enemies swarm to get there to activate something (an EMP bomb, for example.) Infiltration is pure stealth. You’ve got to get through a series of rooms without ever being seen. This emphasis on absolute silence helps balance out some of the other more action-oriented modes.
Hunter is the gameplay mode that we were able to try, and it plays out very similarly to Infiltration. You’re placed into a level and it’s your job to hunt down every poor soul in the room before advancing to the next one. This takes what is arguably Splinter Cell’s defining feature – controlling an awesome super-assassin – to the forefront. Stealth is not just an option in this mode but an absolute necessity. If you’re spotted even once, a huge wave of reinforcements will come searching for you. You can still win, but it makes your odds of survival that much more unlikely.
Alone and outnumbered, the player is at a huge disadvantage here, but Ubisoft has included an all-new tool to level the odds. The sonar goggles are a new addition to the traditional Sam Fisher tools. When equipped, they send out a wave that pulses through the walls and all of the surroundings. For a few seconds, they’ll show the location of every enemy in the level before the vision becomes blurred. However, those few seconds will be all you need to locate and begin your attack on a set of targets.
On the single-player side, Conviction begins with Sam Fisher investigating the death of his daughter, trying to figure out who it was that killed Sarah. Then, early in the game, Sam gets wrapped up in a big conspiracy that brings him back to the United States capitol. Details are obviously pretty scarce surrounding the storyline for Conviction, but we do know that this version of Sam Fisher has been drastically changed from his previous self.
February 4, 2008 – Those who follow the Splinter Cell storyline were quite riled up by the end of Splinter Cell: Double Agent. Although there were several endings that were possible through different actions in the game, they all led to one conclusion: Sam became a wanted man. Double Agent’s multiple endings were all quite tension-filled, and made many fans thirty for more. And that is where Splinter Cell: Conviction comes in. Originally slated for a holiday 2007 release, Splinter Cell: Conviction has since been pushed back to Q2 2008. Although no information has been revealed as to why this dramatic delay has occurred, there has been some new information about the game made available in recent weeks.
First up, it has been confirmed that the game will take place two years after the events of Double Agent, and the majority of the game will take place in the city of Washington D.C. We will find Fisher trying his best to keep a low profile in this massive city, and up to this point he has been doing a pretty good job. However, one of his former Third Echelon co-workers, Anna Grimsdóttir, seems to have found herself in a bit of trouble, and the only one who can help her happens to be our main man, Sam Fisher.
So as you can see, the story this time around is pretty interesting. But what about the gameplay? Since Fisher has been stripped of his title and is now roaming the streets of Washington DC, the gameplay won’t feature the usual stealth kill approach that was the centerpiece of the former games. Instead the game will focus almost exclusively on environment-based hiding and attacks. Nearly everything you see in your environment can be used to your advantage to either hide in or attack with. And as someone who has lived in the DC Metro for quite some time, this idea is not too far-fetched. Early video of the game shows Fisher utilizing a table and chairs to dispatch of enemies. Of course you will be able to pick up weapons, or use the good ol’ fists to do damage, but I think the real hallmark of the gameplay will be the environmental weapons this time around, mainly because they add an element of freedom and unpredictability to the gameplay. You’ll be able to have a lot of options when deciding how to take someone down, and there will be unlimited opportunity for kills, no matter where you are.
Another new facet of the gameplay is the idea of “Active Stealth” which will function differently than the stealth maneuvers that Splinter Cell fans are used to. Instead of running from big crowds the idea here will be to use crowds to your advantage. By using Active Stealth to blend into a crowd, you can escape from enemies rather quickly. This facet of the game definitely lends itself more to the realm of reality as it is much easier to hide in a crowd then it is to hide by yourself. And now that Fisher has the shaggy hair and beard look, he can easily slip into a crowd of faceless Joes and make an escape rather quickly.
Another thing that got me really excited from the early footage was how realistic they made the city of Washington DC. I realize that many people make a pilgrimage to the city at least once in their life, and for those who have not, this game looks almost exactly like it. The main part of the footage takes place in the arts district of the city, near the National Mall. You can even see the Washington monument if you look hard enough. The sidewalks and cityscape are recreated almost flawlessly, and major landmarks like the Smithsonian and the Jefferson monument are visible on the skyline. If you have not yet been to Washington DC, you can definitely use this game to take a virtual tour, because it is reproduced extremely well. And for those who have had the pleasure of going through the nation’s capital, you’ll probably get your bearings rather quickly.
One thing the Splinter Cell series has always been known for is its killer visuals, and Splinter Cell: Conviction looks to further this facet. Early footage looks like it is running in full HD at around 720p, but I can almost bet that 1080i will be supported in the final title. Characters, especially Fisher, are presented in striking detail, and look stunning in both cutscenes and in-game footage. Environments, as I’ve stated before, are very lifelike, and feature true-to-life details that will leave you breathless.
One facet of this game that is still shrouded in mystery is the multiplayer mode. Ubisoft Montreal has been very tight-lipped about any new features or modes in the multiplayer realm, which has left many speculating. Since the gameplay this time around is so vastly different, it is hard to imagine that the multiplayer wouldn’t change with it. I personally could see smaller-scale multiplayer options, with a stronger focus on co-op or mission play rather than traditional multiplayer. Of course, this is just me speculating, and no one knows for sure what multiplayer options will be available when this game is finally released.
Splinter Cell: Conviction is most certainly a hot title for those entrenched in the Splinter Cell mythos. The story of Sam Fisher looks like it is taking a very dangerous turn, and one can almost guarantee that the events of Splinter Cell: Conviction will be quite explosive. Although no date has been officially announced, we’re expecting this one to come in during the late spring or early summer. So get ready, Splinter Cell fans, because this one looks like it will be the best entry in the series yet!
May 23, 2007 – The original Splinter Cell took the gaming world by storm. The mix of real-world scenarios, amazing graphics and stealthy gameplay combined with likeable bad-boy Sam Fisher was a mix that few could resist. Then the series included innovative multiplayer that set Xbox Live on fire. Even the latest iteration, Double Agent, introduced a system that required Sam to make difficult moral decisions throughout the gameplay. However, for the most part, the gameplay has remained the same plodding, slow “hide in the shadows” mechanic that gamers are tiring of. Thankfully, Ubisoft Montreal has recognized this weakness and has completely reinvented the gameplay for the newest Splinter Cell, subtitled Conviction.
While in the stellar Double Agent Sam had to play a dual role of agent and terrorist, in Conviction, Sam Fisher has cut his ties to Third Echelon completely. He comes back after a two year hiatus when he discovers that his friend Anna Grimsdottir is in trouble, but is frustrated by the newly bureaucratic Third Echelon. Instead of wading through red tape, Sam characteristically decides to go at it alone. This means no fancy, hi-tech gadgets and no support, putting Sam in a situation where he has to fend for himself and create his own opportunities.
Conviction changes the Splinter Cell formula in a number of ways. One of the foremost changes is the lack of dark areas for Sam to creep around in. Conviction implements what the developers call “active stealth”, which is basically the opposite of what Splinter Cell fans are used to. Instead of waiting in the shadows, Conviction forces the player to stay on the move to avoid detection or capture. Since Sam is a fugitive now, he must avoid being recognized by any police officers or even any hapless civilian that happens to recognize his “most wanted” features. This is obvious in the demo that I saw, as Sam flips up his hood whenever he’s in the public, attempting to blend into the crowd while hiding his face.
Another addition to the gameplay is the inclusion of melee attacks. While in previous Splinter Cell games, Sam had a lethal or incapacitating single attack, now he is able to grapple and fight with opponents. Sam is able to grab and toss foes, knocking over anything in the immediate vicinity. This shows off another new element, the unprecedented level of interactivity. Objects topple over and fall realistically, and Sam can pick up things and replace them or even stack them on top of one another. One of the more impressive things that the developers have included is a shockingly real object interactivity system. When Sam picks up a chair, his movements and hand placement will depend on how he approaches the chair. In almost any game prior to this, approaching and utilizing an object required the character to slide into the right position and perform a canned animation to lift the object. However, Sam picks up objects the same way that people would in real life. If he approaches an overturned chair, he may pick it up by the legs. If he wants to lift an upright chair, he might grab it by the back and the seat and reposition his hands once he gets a good grip. This also extends to the way objects interact with each other, as Sam can stack objects and throw them and watch them topple and land realistically, to the point where he can even barricade doors or entrances if he needs to.
While Sam no longer has his Third Echelon contacts, he still has his training and his conviction to help him achieve his goals. He will still have goals like computer hacking, but getting tools and contacts is now also part of the gameplay. The tools will probably be lower tech since Sam isn’t affiliated with Third Echelon anymore, and his contacts may be a little grimier than expected.
The Splinter Cell games have always been eye-candy, but Conviction steps the visuals up a notch. The details in the character models are great, and the lighting effects now allow shadowcasting from three different light sources. Light even bounces off of colored surfaces with the appropriate reflection, meaning that if Sam is near a bright yellow object, the light reflecting from that will have a yellow tint. Sam also now sports a beard and mustache under a full head of hair, making him look younger but far less clean cut than we’ve seen him before.
The innovative multiplayer that we’ve come to expect from Splinter Cell is a lock for Conviction, although there aren’t any details available just yet. The only thing that we know is that the same team that is doing the gameplay is also working on the multiplayer, so there should be a definite cohesion between the two.
Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Conviction is a radical departure from what Splinter Cell fans are used to, but Ubisoft Montreal apparently aren’t developers that plan on rehashing the same game with new scenarios and better graphics. While this may anger some fans of the series, it is possible that a fresh look at the game may hopefully shake things up for the better. From what I’ve seen so far, Conviction may be the best of the series so far, but we’ll see for certain when it sneaks onto shelves this holiday season.