Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
System requirements: Windows XP/Vista/Win 7; 1.8 GHz Core 2 Duo/2.4 GHz Athlon X2 64 or better CPU; 1.5 GB RAM (2 GB for Vista or Win 7); 256 MB DirectX 9.0c-compliant graphics card and sound card; 10 GB of hard-drive space
Genre: Third-person shooter
ESRB rating: Mature
Release date: Available now
The Sam Fisher you know is dead, asked to make one sacrifice too many, crossed one line too far. An unknown drunk driver has killed his daughter, and one of his best friends has died by his hands. Sam left Third Echelon and has been on his own for years, chasing his daughter’s killer, but the trail leads to the last place Sam wants to see again: Washington, D.C. Sam must work with friends whom he can no longer trust to save a country that used him and threw him away. Unless he can stand against a vast, faceless enemy, he’ll never know what happened to his daughter.
Welcome to the fifth installment in the Splinter Cell series. Hopefully I’ve given you enough of a background to get you interested in the story, so now let’s talk about some of the features and changes in the game since Sam’s last appearance. It’s no secret that Conviction is much more action-oriented than previous installments in the series, and a lot of the equipment you used to use is gone. And justifiably so, since Sam (voiced once again by actor Michael Ironside) no longer has access to agency resources. You no longer have the opsat to keep track of objectives; instead, your next objective is projected onto the scenery (there isn’t some big “bat-signal” showing the objectives on the walls—this represents Sam’s instincts telling him what to do next). You don’t have the stealth suit, so there are no indicators of how much noise you’re making or how visible you are. This has been replaced with the simpler mechanic of having the screen go to grayscale when you’re in the shadows. To help you along, a feature known as Mark and Execute has been added. After scoring a melee kill, you are allowed to mark up to four targets (depending on your weapon). Then, with the press of one key, you kill all of the marked targets with precision headshots. The feature cannot be stacked; you must make a melee kill between each use, except for part of one scene (which I have dubbed “Sam’s Roaring Rampage of Revenge”). You don’t even have lockpicks; maybe the bad guys have given up locking their doors because they know Sam will get in anyway. Besides, there are several new ways of opening a door, including grabbing an enemy as a human shield and throwing him through it. There are no health bars or first-aid kits; now Sam takes a “walk-it-off” approach to health—if he takes enough hits, his vision begins to blur and you start to hear his heart beating. If he takes any more damage, he dies and you have to restart at the last checkpoint. If he can hide long enough and avoid being shot, he recovers on his own. To help you hide from enemies, the designers have also included a Last Known Position feature. If you’re spotted, the last place where the enemies saw you is marked with a white outline. They will continue to shoot in the general direction of the outline, or move to investigate it. This gives you the opportunity to move to a different location, and even flank and kill them while they’re still investigating your last position.
To compensate for the lack of gadgetry, there is a wider selection of guns in the game (six pistols, two machine pistols, four submachine guns, four assault rifles, one shotgun and four types of grenades); new guns are unlocked when you pick one up from a dead enemy. Two of these guns can only be unlocked by playing the co-op story. Once a gun has been unlocked, it’s always available from a weapons stash, but as in the previous Splinter Cell adventures, Sam can only carry one primary weapon, one secondary weapon and one type of grenade at a time. Weapons can be upgraded by spending points earned by performing certain in-game actions (called PEC challenges), such as killing five enemies without being spotted, or opening a door by throwing a human shield through it. Each PEC challenge earns 200 to 500 points, which can be spent at a weapons stash to upgrade the guns. Typical upgrades include laser sights for more accuracy, extended magazines, hollow-point ammo for more power, or match-grade ammo for more range. There are 38,000 PEC points total, but you only need approximately 27,000 to obtain all of the upgrades.
There are several game modes to increase replay value. In addition to the single-player campaign, there is a two-player co-op story that takes place before the events of the solo game, in which Agent Fisher and Agent Kestrel must find four stolen nuclear warheads in Russia. There is also Hunter mode, which is a simple kill-all-enemies challenge that comes in both a single-player and two-player co-op version. Last Stand mode is a defense challenge in which you must stop the enemies from doing too much damage to an EMP warhead; this is also available in both a single-player and co-op version. Finally, there is the Face-Off mode, which is available in two-player mode only, since it’s a “versus” game in which Sam and Kestrel try to kill each other.
Now you want to know, “Is it any good?” The answer is yes. The visuals are greatly improved, even though the game uses the Unreal Tournament 2.5 engine. The audio is equally impressive; the guns sound like their real-world counterparts, and Ironside and Claudia Besso (who has been providing Grim’s voice since Pandora Tomorrow) are back. On the other hand, it took me a while to get used to the way the screen turns gray when Sam is hidden, but once I became comfortable with it, I liked it better than the night vision/IR goggles from the other games. I also like being able to pick up guns and ammo from dead enemies (I hated how scarce ammo was in previous adventures). My only major complaint is that you can’t save anywhere anymore. The game saves only at certain checkpoints, such as when starting a new level or after completing a major objective, so if Sam dies, you have to go back to the most recent checkpoint. This led to a few frustrating experiences in which I had to replay the same section nine or 10 times until I figured out the best approach.
If you’re a fan of the Splinter Cell series, you want Splinter Cell: Conviction. Despite the shift to a more action-oriented style, stealth is still vital to Sam’s survival. Plus, this might very well be the last story featuring Sam Fisher; Sam left the agency at the end of the last game, and it took news that his daughter might not be dead to temporarily bring him back into the fold. It’s more likely that any future games in the series will feature Grimsdottir (who has been promoted to a field agent) or some other Third Echelon operative. For everyone else who is not a diehard fan, it’s still a fun game to play.