As it happens, I was correct about Splinter Cell: Conviction. Most of the points I made in my previous post about the game remained valid throughout, and nothing the experience offered succeeding in challenging my opinion of it. This is still a pretty bad stealth game, and still an uncomfortably drastic step away from what I believe made the series great in the first place.
But, while negativity is often a lot of fun, I’m always much more focused on the stuff I liked and saw potential in, and Conviction has a lot of that. My issues with the game are almost entirely based on mechanics which play havoc with the stealth, or things I deemed to be specifically non-Splinter Cell. Some of those I discussed in the prior post. The rest are self-explanatory matters of preference which only really arise when Conviction is taken as part of a greater whole rather than an individual game.
There are a couple of missions I want to talk about in a little more depth, and one mechanic in particular that I liked a lot and I feel is worthy of some analysis. Needless to say, we’re entering spoiler territory here. If you haven’t played Splinter Cell: Conviction and intend to, you should probably do that before reading any further.
Anyway. There are a couple of instances in Conviction when it gets all confused and can’t quite decide whether it wants to still be a Splinter Cell game after all or simply have done with the whole thing and stand on its own two feet. These, I suppose, could be considered either the best or worst parts of the game, depending on where you’re standing. I’m still not sure how I feel about either, and I like that. There’s a lot to be said for a game which challenges my perception of how things ought to work, whether that makes my head hurt or not.
The first is totally new for the series – a mission which takes place outdoors, in broad daylight, and doesn’t really involve any stealth gameplay at all. It’s actually a cover-based third-person shooter level, with a reasonably clever little conceit at the end which reveals that the player is not actually controlling Sam Fisher himself, but rather his louder, brasher friend Victor “tighter than a drill sergeant’s asshole” Coste. This is… strange. On the one hand it is in total opposition to what stealth gameplay is all about and why it works so well. On the other, it isn’t particularly bad and, more importantly, is a very clear and concise representation of exactly what direction Ubisoft have taken with the game and Sam Fisher as a character; louder, more violent, and more overt. Communicating this initially through a different character and relegating Sam (the mission is a flashback, so it’s the “old” version of Sam, which you can take however you like) to a secondary character that needs to be rescued is actually kind of smart and interesting. In the final confrontation, Fisher seems a little out of his depth, taking a back seat and letting Victor do the lion’s share of the shooting. In moments like this, Conviction is more intelligent than a lot of people (myself included) have given it credit for.
The second noteworthy mission shows up about halfway through, and tasks Sam with infiltrating his old place of work, Third Echelon’s headquarters building. This is the only part of the game in which stealth is an actual requirement rather than an option, as a single raised alarm or living witness in the opening portion of the level results in instant mission failure. Surprisingly, as much as I’ve been droning on about how Conviction should be stealthier and more like previous games in the series, this section really didn’t work for me at all. I don’t know whether this was because by this point I was more or less on board with the new style of play, or because this section isn’t designed as well as those in previous instalments, or whatever. It doesn’t matter really. This part of the level is little more than context for the latter half, which is probably the most action-packed of the game up to that point. This is an important mission from both a narrative and a gameplay perspective. It contains the Big Reveal, but it’s also saying “this is what you had, this is what you have, and I think we both know which is working better here”. And, for better or worse, it’s right. There’s also a cool little part at the very end when Sam gets the full story about his daughter’s “death” and loses his shit completely, which translates into him being able to use his Execute technique whenever he likes, leading to him sprinting through the self-destructing building and taking out guards left and right as they fast-rope down from the ceiling. That’s an awesome way of expressing character development through the mechanics, and it works very well.
It also leads me neatly to the interrogations, which were perhaps my favourite part of the game for various reasons. I mentioned in the previous post that these sequences wholly embody the development of Sam Fisher as a character, and I truly believe that. I’ve seen a lot of people levelling criticism in their direction along the lines of “too gratuitous” and “unnecessarily violent”, but I don’t see that. I often think I’m a little less concerned about violence than I perhaps should be, but all the same I believe I’m able to recognise what’s too much or too far, and the extended interrogations in Conviction hit a strangely satisfying note for me. Extracting information from certain individuals has been a part of the series since the original game, but whereas before Sam would grumble threats in his victim’s ear as he dragged them into the darkness with a gun to their head or a knife to their throat, here… Well, see for yourself.
These scenes communicate more about the character and story than first appearances would suggest. There’s urgency to Sam’s actions, a lack of patience and an overload of frustration manifesting itself through quick, brutal actions against those who have wronged him. A lot of these guys are bigger than Sam, or better armed, but the single-arm chokehold is always more than enough to keep them in place. Anyone who resists receives a more brutal beating as a reward. This, along with a lot of the other mechanics (the instant-kill Takedowns, in particular) characterise Sam as a highly-trained, hyper-efficient machine fuelled now by rage and personal vengeance rather than professionalism and a desire to do the right thing as he was previously. Perhaps I’m reading into this a little too much, but whatever. I really think it works well, and that brief scene with the Vice President is especially great.
Splinter Cell: Conviction may well be a bad stealth game and a bad Splinter Cell game, but it’s a damn fine action experience. I don’t know which I prefer, but I appreciate both for different reasons. Rather than bitching and whining about what’s different, let’s all be content to admit there’s room in the world for the old and the new.