Revenge isn’t always carried through someone’s force of will. Sometimes, it’s through his skill.
Ubisoft’s Splinter Cell: Conviction spends a lot of time trying to prove this point, transforming one of its flagship characters into an aggressive, precise and predatory instrument of death. Sam Fisher is full of rage, and players get to reap the benefits in a short but very sweet body of work that boasts the most pure fun of any game in the series.
The story picks up at the end of Splinter Cell: Double Agent, which featured the death of Fisher’s dearest friend as well as his daughter, Sarah. This drove him to leave his life as a super-agent for the NSA. He originally thought Sarah’s death was a car accident, but learns that she may have been murdered. Taking a page from Liam Neeson and the movie “Taken,” Fisher uses his particular set of skills to exact his vengeance.
Fisher has always been a cool character, but he has never been as enjoyable to use as he is here. While past games focused on his abilities as an invisible federal ninja, the “Conviction” gameplay draws upon his considerable talents for ending lives. This Fisher evokes comparisons to Jack Bauer or Jason Bourne, men so freakishly good at what they do that crossing them guarantees trail of highly trained bodies.
Fisher’s most prominent gift is the mark-and-execute feature, which enables him to clear out a room with the cold efficiency of a printing press. For example, if there are four people in a room, the player can mark each target, bust through the door and take them out one-by-one in slow motion, one shot per enemy.
I kept waiting for this to get old, and it never did. The game deftly adds balance by requiring Fisher to eliminate someone hand-to-hand first, therefore “earning” the right to use the feature later on.
But sometimes Fisher can be a little too good. In some cases, he was able to make impossible shots and — on rare occasions — fire through solid objects simply because enemies were in range.
Complimenting mark-and-execute is the “last known position” feature, where Fisher leaves a ghost-like outline of himself in a spot if he’s detected by the enemy. This phantom Fisher stays in place when he moves, and indicates where the enemy believes he still is. It functions as a decoy of sorts, and it adds an intriguing tactical dimension to inevitable firefights.
Some traces of Sam’s past still exist. He’s able to shift undetected among cover points, climb on walls and pipes, and still thrives in the shadows, where the screen turns black and white when he’s hidden.
This is also the most artistically diverse game in the series. There’s a lot fun with colors, including the aforementioned black-and-white veil as well as the color being sucked out of an area when Fisher needs to interrogate a target. Walls and other flat surfaces are used like projection screens, with tightly-worded mission objectives or grainy footage splashing upon them. It’s a cool way to merge information with immersion, and it helped make the experience more seamless.
Unfortunately, the experience doesn’t last long enough. An experienced player can probably get through Fisher’s mission in about seven hours or less. It’s time well spent, but I’d have liked to have seen a lot more, especially when it came to character development. Some fun co-op multiplayer missions add some extra life, but the game will always be a single-player trek first.
Aside from those gripes, I’m glad we finally get to see what happens when Sam Fisher decides to stop hiding and impose his will — and skill — on those who cross him. Gaming get a national security superhero of its own. Who needs Jack?
Splinter Cell: Conviction
Xbox 360, PC
Rated M for Mature