Review: Splinter Cell: Conviction

Russ Pitts | 20 Apr 2010 09:00
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It's something that's often overlooked when discussing the Splinter Cell series, but each new installment is very rarely just "more Splinter Cell." Part of this has to do with the fact that the stealth action genre is constantly evolving, obsessively chasing new developments in technology and game design the way dogs chase cars. If someone is doing something new in game design and tech, chances are it will show up soon in a Splinter Cell game near you.

Obviously there are two sides to this. The makers of some games believe nothing could be worse than throwing fans for a loop by radically changing the game's design. Then again, the makers of some games aren't so lucky as to have seen their franchises hit the six-game mark, serve as an inspiration for television shows and movie series reboots, create a character as iconic as super-spy Sam Fisher and continue to thrill audiences for almost a decade. Whatever else you can say about the makers of Splinter Cell, their approach works.

Enter: Conviction. There are elements of Conviction that will feel instantly familiar to anyone who's ever played a Splinter Cell game. You can climb pipes and get the drop (ho ho!) on your enemies. You can silently stalk and eliminate them. You can shoot lights to create dark shadows. You can perform feats of acrobatic athleticism the likes of which no mere human could ever possibly attempt, let alone while carrying a backpack full of weaponry and dispatching foes with the precision of the Karate Kid snapping flies with a pair of chop sticks. For all of these reasons and more, Splinter Cell: Conviction is very much a Splinter Cell game. And yet in some ways it's not.

Whereas previous installments have asked you to learn an array of contextual controls in order to perform stunts as outrageous as straddling alleyways and running up walls, Conviction pares the stealth genre down to the core. Gone is the black suit. Gone, the multiple flavors of night vision. Gone, the pistol that doubles as a lightbulb disabling device. Gone the bionic ears, gone the wall-climbing, gone the alley-straddling and gone the exhaustive (and exhausting) mission briefs. What's left? Plenty of kick ass.

Conviction catches up with Sam Fisher after he's invaded just about every country in the world, found out his daughter has been run over by a drunk driver, murdered his best friend in cold blood and retired from Third Echelon, the secret arm of the CIA that's so secret even the president doesn't know about it (I think). Sam, now older, wiser, less apt to straddle much of anything, thinks he's done with the whole sneak-sneak bang-bang thing until a surprise phone call from an old friend gets him right back into the mess, chasing down a mystery that could involve new details about his daughter's death and a plot to disrupt the entire underpinnings of the United States government.

Plot-wise, Conviction is the most exciting and adventurous Splinter Cell game yet. In true Tom Clancy form, the story covers a whole lot of international ground, introducing an array of new and interesting characters, reveals a bit of Sam's background in the first Gulf War and relies on sophisticated mil-tech to weave a yarn about as plausible as me winning the lottery, but all in good fun. You can excuse the fact that it feels very similar to a certain television show and a couple of recently-rebooted spy movie franchises when you consider that all three of the aforementioned were heavily inspired by the original Splinter Cell. All's fair in entertainment media.

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