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Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Conviction

Score: 90%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: Ubisoft Entertainment
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Media: DVD/1
Players: 1 - 2; 2 (Online)
Genre: Action/ Stealth

Graphics & Sound:

Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Conviction is a long-time coming. Announced years ago, Ubisoft halted production to shift the focus back to basics. Though a completely different experience, Conviction carries the same spirit of past games. It sticks to the fundamentals, but revises them in a way that will appeal to a larger audience.

Presentation is top notch. Michael Ironside returns to voice Sam, though the performance is a bit weak. He's still the same gruff-voiced character, though at times it feels like he's channeling his inner Christian Bale. Sam tends to grumble through his lines, making it hard to shake the feeling he's just going through the motions.

Conviction utilizes a "projection" system to flash objectives and goals throughout levels. The idea is to streamline gameplay as much as possible, and for the most part, it works. A few story sequences run a little too long, but the system is effective. It's an especially cool effect when used to offer glimpses of backstory or convey complex emotions without heavy-handed explanations. It's sometimes easy to miss, but sound cues will usually let you know if something important is happening.

The game also uses color to great effect. When in the shadows, colors fade out, leaving behind a washed out black and white image. Depending on how well your TV is calibrated, it is sometimes hard to see while in the shadows, though you can always adjust things for look. As with the projections, the effect works and is infinitely better than a stealth meter.


Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Conviction finds Sam on the run for the murder of his friend, Irving Lambert and coping with the sudden loss of his daughter, Sarah. Sam has since retired from Third Echelon, but is pulled back when he learns his daughter's death wasn't an accident, setting him on a path for revenge.

Theme influences everything about Conviction's design. Gone are the methodical cat-and-mouse spy games. Instead, Sam is pissed and wants everyone to know he's coming for them. Compared to previous games, Conviction's tone is more in-line with Taken or the Bourne series. There's still an element of stealth, though without the mechanical nature. Gameplay is much more organic, reflecting the fact this is a personal vendetta, not a matter of national security. It wouldn't make sense for Sam to hide bodies and avoid detection. He's there to get the job done by any means necessary.

Conviction includes a number of multiplayer modes, including a co-op campaign following two operatives, Archer and Kestral. The story is weak, but offers a nice side-story to Sam's mission. Gameplay makes up for any shortcomings. Co-op play is closer to past Splinter Cells than the main game and places focus completely on stealth. It's not as hardcore a focus, but welcome. Another mode, Hunter, is based on the same style of play and challenges players to terminate targets quietly. If spotted, a new wave enters the area, upping the threat level.

Finally, there's Face-Off. Here, players take the role of rival operatives attempting to kill each other, but with the added threat of A.I. soldiers.


Single-player offers a mix of play styles. Though mostly stealth-based, there's a Gears-style flashback mission and a fantastic chase sequence. The entire experience lasts 8 - 10 hours, depending on how quickly you master Sam's skills. Even then, Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Conviction offers a moderate challenge. Once you figure everything out, however, even the hardest difficulty level feels easy.

Difficulty is bolstered by a series of tiered, in-game challenges. Execution Challenges involve taking out enemies; Vanish Challenges revolve around stealth; and Splinter Cell Challenges push your skills to the limit, causing Conviction to feel like earlier games. Completing Challenges earns points, which are spent on weapon upgrades. Challenges, upgrades and points carry over into other play modes.

Game Mechanics:

To paraphrase Liam Neeson, Sam has a very specific set of skills. New to Sam's repertoire is Last Known Position, which creates a shadowy outline of Sam when last detected. This indicates where enemies will look first, removing the guessing game from stealth. You know where an enemy is headed and can plan accordingly. It opens up a wide variety of strategies when stalking enemies.

Last Known Position works in tandem with Mark-and-Execute. Every weapon has a set of "marks" associated with it. Tapping a button let's you mark enemies or other targets, like chandeliers. Once tagged, Sam can automatically shoot marked targets with the press of a button. The ability is dictated by successfully performing hand-to-hand combat. It's a great skill to have, but you need to work for it.

Limiting Mark-and-Execute is a smart decision. It has the potential to make the game feel too easy. It certainly feels that way at times, but it plays into the "bad ass" fantasy the game is trying to fulfill.

One of the weaker additions is Interrogation. At various points in the game, Sam can toss people around for information. It looks cool, as evidenced by the E3 2009 demo, but doesn't always work. Even if you're close to an object, Sam must be perfectly positioned to interact with it. What should be spectacular slams usually end up as generic punches to the gut.

My first response is to lash out against certain gameplay changes, but it's hard to argue with Conviction's direction. Every decision makes complete sense within the game's context. Though it wanders from the "stealth" formula, Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Conviction is a fantastic action game and deserves a spot in your collection.

-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker

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