Originally scheduled for a November 2007 release, Splinter: Cell Conviction has been in the oven for some time now. In fact, it might be one of the most delayed games this generation, since it actually was dated several times during the long development cycle. Since the original date, the developers went back to the drawing board with the title, revamping the gameplay to better fit the style of the new generation. Now, nearly three years after the originally scheduled release date, Conviction has hit store shelves, looking dramatically different than it did when it was first revealed.
The story picks up three years after the events in Double Agent, which left Third Echelon agent Sam Fisher’s daughter dead at the hands of a drunk driver. This traumatic event lead to his leaving the organization and dropping off the grid entirely, mourning in seclusion instead of disarming nuclear weapons and killing terrorists. After some time, he's contacted by former colleague Anna Grimsdottir, who promises information on his child's killer. Before long, Fisher is back in the game, fighting against his former employer, private military corporations, and whoever else is crazy enough to gets in his way. While it starts off as an extremely personal tale of a father attempting to avenge his daughter, it eventually unfolds into a typically Tom Clancy story, filled with political intrigue and conspiracies. On occasion, Fisher will even need to interrogate enemies, smashing them into objects in the environment to gain useful information. While visuaully stimulating, they actually end up feeling like interactive cutscenes, and it would have been nice if there was more variety or usefulness for the interesting system.
Early on, Ubisoft stressed how low-tech this adventure would be, referencing Fisher's inability to use the resources Third Echelon granted him. Because of this, Sam has to approach situations in a much different way, which leads to the gameplay being a departure from what things were in the previous games in the series. It's still stealth action, that hasn't changed, but the way it plays out puts the focus on the "action" element. While he’ll still do a fair bit of climbing on pipes, a bulk of his time is spent taking advantage of the darkness, and the ability to see his "Last Known Position." When escaping from the eyes of enemies into the darkness, a white silhouette will show the area that visual contact with Fisher was lost. The game's AI is smart enough (or, rather, stupid enough) to assume that Sam is still in the area, and will carefully approach the location while he watches from the darkness.
Using this to his advantage, Fisher can set up an ambush for his confused foes, hiding from cover or using one of the gadgets he picks up during the game. Ubisoft's claims of a low-tech Splinter Cell only go so far, and before long Sam has a typical assortment of tools to use against his enemies. Beyond actual technology, though, he has additional skills, the most noteworthy being Mark and Execute. By executing melee attacks, Sam unlocks the ability to tag enemies before initiating combat. As long as they're within range, he'll take them all out in one fluid motion with the tap of a button, allowing him to clear a room almost instantly, and enhancing the feel of playing as a powerful super agent. Beyond that, there are massive improvements to the shooting engine and cover system, with the latter being one of the best in recent memory.
All of these abilities are available in multiplayer as well, which, too, takes a few steps away from what people expect from a Splinter Cell game. This is both good and bad, as the direction the game went in was away from the popular Spies vs. Mercs game type that popularized the series' online offerings. Instead, it's a more limited, intimate affair, limiting the player count to two people in cooperative or competitive matches. The spotlight is placed on the gameplay mechanics, which work wonderfully for dealing with AI opponents, and make for extremely entertaining online or local play. The game's AI deals with multiple player characters exceptionally well, and the mechanics of Last Known Position and Mark and Execute preform as strongly in multiplayer as they do in singleplayer. There's even a fully fleshed-out cooperative campaign that acts as a prequel to the events in the singleplayer story. It helps flesh out the lore while extending the gameplay possibilities, and makes up for the somewhat short campaign.
Overall, there are a lot of good things to say about the game, from the way it plays to the way it looks. One of the things that changed over the years is the style, which switched Sam's outdoorsman look for a more clean cut style. Besides that, they've added in an interesting element that projects some elements of the HUD onto the enviornment. Objectives, character images, and other things will play on walls, showing gamers what Sam is thinking. It's a fantastic way of showing informaiton instead of simply telling players what is going on, and makes everything look incredibly modern and sleek. Generally, delayed games show scars when it comes to presentation. With Conviction, that's simply not the case.
There's going to be a definite split down the middle with this game. Many will enjoy it for what it is, and others will hate what Ubisoft did to their stealth series. There's no doubt about it: Conviction is a massive divergence from the normal formula. Stealth takes a back seat, and the trial-and-error gameplay has been replaced with something much more akin to the recent Batman: Arkham Asylum. Still, there's no denying that the new methods work well and manages to maintain much of the Splinter Cell feel. In general, Ubisoft’s gamble has, indeed, paid off, and Conviction is a worthy addition to the franchise.