SPLINTER CELL: CONVICTION
FOR XBOX 360 AND PC/RATED M FOR MATURE
PUBLISHED BY UBISOFT/DEVELOPED BY UBISOFT
Splinter Cell lacks conviction
“Stealth action” has always been an oxymoron. Satisfying though it may be, there’s not much action in crouching behind a crate for five minutes, waiting for an enemy guard to turn around so you can snap his neck. The Metal Gear Solid series has attempted to solve this problem, with varying success, by including slam-bang boss battles alongside the main course. The Splinter Cell series, by contrast, has always been more about diversionary tactics, creative use of the environment, and those breathless moments when its outnumbered protagonist waits silently for armed bad guys to pass him by.
Yet the problem with the newest Splinter Cell game, subtitled “Conviction,” isn’t that it paints a more overtly violent veneer on the robust stealth mechanics that have distinguished past entries. In Conviction, Sam Fisher has turned into a man with no allegiances and nothing to lose, and little reason not to kill everyone in his way. This time, stealth is a survival tactic, not a mandate. Sam can blast his way from one end of a map to another if the player chooses. This is a little harder than using tried-and-true stealth tactics, but that’s as it should be. Of course you’re more likely to die if you charge your enemies with guns blazing.
No, the problem here is all on the surface. Not to put too fine a point on it, playing Splinter Cell: Conviction is a pain in the ass. For some reason, the designers decided to ignore every other action game ever made, and come up with their own creative button mapping scheme. Look, every game needs to tweak its control system to fit its mechanics, but standards have evolved over the decades for a reason. This must be the only game in history in which you reload your weapon by clicking the left analog stick. Good luck remembering that in the heat of a firefight.
Not only unpredictable, the controls are inconsistent. One of Sam’s most effective attacks is “death from above,” whereby he drops onto an unsuspecting enemy and kills him instantly. When Sam is dangling from a high spot, the left trigger performs the move. When he is standing on an upper level, the B button does it. This is horrible interface design.
Some of the annoyances are even more rudimentary than that. Sam’s opponents are motormouths, to a man. Each one spouts inane babble that is apparently supposed to provoke the player into giving away Sam’s position, but more likely will provoke the player into giving away his copy of the game. Kirk Hamilton, of the Gamer Melodico blog, bravely catalogued over 100 lines of taunting enemy dialogue, including gems like, “Fisher? That guy's harder to kill than a cockroach with an Uzi.” God help him.
It’s probably not worth mentioning how stupid the story is, except to say that the harder you try to understand what the hell is going on, the less sense it all makes. But the conspiracy goes to the highest levels! This, too, would be fine if checkpoints were placed after cinematic sequences, and not before them. Dying in this game often means watching the same idiotic and unskippable cutscenes over and over.
A mode called “Deniable Ops” cuts the story almost entirely and lays out challenge maps. This is a little better, but gets at another of the conceptual problems: when your character is in shadow, he’s invisible to enemies, which is represented by the screen turning black and white. This makes it impossible to see anything. You can also use special sonar goggles, which illuminate enemies quite well, but obscure everything in the environment. Then again, with a game this irritating, maybe blindness is a plus.