Conviction is a title in the stealth-based Splinter Cell franchise that’s been a long time coming. It’s the one where Splinter Cell jettisons the “stealth-based” part of its descriptor in favour of firing hot lead into people’s faces. And when you take the stealth out of Splinter Cell, what you end up with is a tediously mediocre cover-based shooter.
Oh, the stealth is still nominally present, I suppose, but it takes a very definite backseat to the balls-to-the-wall shootouts, as evidenced by the numerous levels where the game simply throws waves of enemies at you that you have to kill to progress. This puzzles me slightly because they’ve made a lot of tweaks to the climby-jumpy part of Splinter Cell that would have gone down very well had they actually kept the emphasis on stealth; Sam moves around much faster, it’s far clearer when he can be seen and when he can’t, and the game’s habit of projecting available context-sensitive actions directly onto the object in question makes it very clear which bit of scenery you’re going to send him vaulting over. All this work, and there were maybe three levels in the entire game where I made even passing use of those features. I simply blasted my way through the rest, and while the gunplay isn’t terrible it’s nowhere near strong enough to carry the game on its own.
Recognising this, the developers have tried to mix things up a bit. There’s a couple of levels where you eavesdrop on people using remote surveillance, but where in previous Splinter Cell titles you’d have Sam infiltrating the facility in question to plant the bug first, here he just walks up to a computer console and plays Keep-The-Speaking-People-In-Focus using already installed surveillance equipment. It is not explained why these bog-standard CCTV cameras he’s using have highly sophisticated directional microphones. There’s also a chase sequence (which was sort of fun, I suppose) and an incredibly awful Iraq flashback where the game takes away your stealth abilities and forces you to mow down hordes of Iraqis.
It was in the Iraq flashback that one of the seemingly little niggles started to become slightly more prominent. This little niggle later blossomed into something that resulted in Sam having some lovely new ventilation installed in his torso more than once, and it is this: there are no physics-based objects in Conviction. Well, apart from the guns the goons drop, but there’s nothing else. So when I send this big six-foot guy careening across a car park at top speed, he stops because he’s clipped the edge of some traffic cones that have apparently been nailed to the floor. And then he gets shot because a surveillance camera spots him. I have no idea what the developers were thinking here, but this is the 21st century. I take physics objects for granted in my games now, and I’d very much like it if they’d get with the program and catch me the fuck up.
Continuing the “terrible” theme the plot is also shockingly bad. Splinter Cell has always had this problem, where it tries to present itself as being a pseudo-realistic take on current events when it in fact straddles the sci-fi and political fantasy genres, but it’s particularly pronounced this time around.
The story revolves around Beck, the head of a US intelligence agency plotting to use his power and influence to assassinate the president and replace them with somebody more biddable to his schemes, and… wait a minute. There’s something familiar about this.
Oho! This is Perfect Dark’s Trent Easton. He’s the head of a US intelligence agency plotting to use his power and influence to assassinate the president and replace them with somebody more biddable to his schemes. He’s even got the same hairstyle and very bad suit jacket. The sad thing is, Perfect Dark’s singleplayer plot wasn’t that great, but it was miles better – and more believable – than the inchoate nonsense in Conviction despite featuring aliens and flying saucers. Not only is there this tedious the-nation-is-in-peril bollocks going on but it turns out that Sam’s daughter, who died in a previous game I didn’t care about, [blackout]isn’t dead after all but had her death faked by Sam’s work colleagues who didn’t tell Sam because… uh…[/blackout] seriously what the hell.
In summary, then, the plot is bullshit, the gameplay is boring and the occasional flashes of the old Splinter Cell that show through in a couple of levels aren’t enough to save Conviction from the Pit of Shit from which there is no escape. Next, please.