Four years have come to this...
It's been at least four years in the making, a game that has followed Batman: Arkham Asylum's example in terms of game mechanics and turned the stealth genre on its head, that's right, Splinter Cell: Conviction is almost here and we got our copy early for review, so I've been hammering at this game in order to give you the lowdown before its Friday release date.
Here's what you need to know: This isn't your old-school Sam Fisher adventure, this is a game that has dynamic stealth and it's a lot of fun. Bottom line - it's worth your hard earned cash if you're a fan or new to the series.Story
Sam Fisher has been through rough times, since Double Agent and the death of his daughter Sarah, Sam's life has gone through hell and back. He vanished off the map and tried to find a reason to go on living, then someone lets Sam get a whiff that his daughter's death was more than just an accident, gives him a target and he's off again, right back into the fray. The story is told in a very crisp manner through a mix of cut-scenes and top quality narration, projected images on the environment and more. There are no spoilers here, so don't worry.Gameplay
We're talking single player here at the moment, the multiplayer follows after. Things have changed since Double Agent and you can now no-longer move bodies from where they have fallen, this seems to reflect Sam's new agenda as a faster paced spy, more capable than before and significantly deadlier than he's ever been. He's like a hunting panther stalking his prey this time, no longer do you feel constrained by the shadows, the shadows are your playground and your best friend is the darkness. When you move from light to shadow the whole screen turns black and white to let you know you're hidden, this effect is rather odd to begin with replacing your light meter as it does and takes a little getting used to. To mimic Sam's combat training, traps and enemies remain in colour so that you can see them even in the pitch black.
He has a more acrobatic style of navigation in Conviction, he can get around the areas faster and getting onto a pipe is no longer a laborious rigmarole, a quick tap of the A button and Sam's up on the pipe and rapidly climbing up and over the heads of his enemies. Hit the left trigger and you can drop silently on their heads from above, giving the whole experience a feeling of 'cat and mouse'. Balanced on the edge of a ledge above an enemy, look at them with the crosshair and press B, Sam leaps off and knocks them out cold.
He can also engage in up-close and personal attacks, holding B puts your enemy in a headlock and from there you can use them as a human-shield, soaking bullet damage or dragging them off to dispose of them in a dark corner somewhere. This somewhat gets around the limitation of not being able to carry and move bodies around. Sam can also take cover against most walls and objects in the game world, moving over them, around them, and from cover to cover when the move icon appears against a valid target. Tap A and Sam will automatically run and slide into the next cover. It works really well and makes for a more dynamic use of cover/stealth.
Initially Sam has only a few gadgets at his disposal, a broken mirror allows him to peer under doors and see the enemies beyond them. Later on Sam gets some nicer toys that I won't explain since I always believe in having something to look forwards to in a game. Whilst there's not a whole lot of equipment, some old favourites make a return and have been tweaked suitably to work with Conviction's new mechanics. Talking of new mechanics, there's the much-debated Mark and Execute system. Now let me remind you that you DON'T need to use it if you feel it's too much of a cheat.
The system isn't really a cheat since it actually requires some patience to use; first of all you need to do a stealth takedown on an enemy in hand to hand. Once you have done this you then look at the weapon you're using, it can have 2-4 marks available. A tap of the right bumper marks enemies in the game when you have your cursor set on them. Every weapon has a range too; some are closer than others, so you can't just wait at the edge of a room long distance and hope to catch the marks. The icon is grey if the mark is out of range; it turns red once it's in range. Finally once all those conditions are true, you hit Y and Sam does an auto-kill against the targets. If a target moves into cover then most of the time the system doesn't let you kill them, the odd glitch can happen where they'll still die, it's minor and doesn't really detract.
Weapons and gadgets in Conviction are unlocked through story mode and co-op story play. They are also persistent across all game modes, so once you find a weapon stash, you can upgrade weapons through the Persistent Elite Creation system first seen in Rainbow Six Vegas and Vegas 2. You have PEC challenges across all play modes and those give you XP points, which can be used to purchase weapon upgrades and so forth. Mastery of these vital tactics will reap you the big rewards and allow you to execute your objectives in a much snappier manner. They range from playing cat and mouse with someone, basically doing a stealth takedown from high above them as they investigate a Last Known Position.
Talking of Last Known Positions, this is a new mechanic to the series and functions as a way to let you know where your enemies think you are. If you're spotted briefly the HUD will let you know the direction and severity of the danger. It'll either be a quick grey flash with a half circle and a small arrow pointing at your observer, or a full on red version and the word: Detected. Your enemies will then work together to bring you down, you need to vanish and break their line of sight. Either deploy a gadget or just use some acrobatic jiggery-pokery to get the hell out.