Splinter Cell: Conviction Preview (Xbox360)

Spare a thought for poor old Sam Fisher. He’s been through more than his fair share of tragedy and trauma, losing his wife and daughter only to then be disowned by his employers, Third Echelon. You can’t blame him for going off the rails then, turning rogue and heading off on a personal vendetta to bring down the shady conspirators who brought his world crashing down around him.

When Fisher originally resurfaced following Double Agent, he was looking considerably more dishevelled, sporting a full beard and long, floppy hair combo disguising his more recognisable clean-cut look. The emphasis was to be tactile melee combat and gameplay featuring extensive crowd interaction, but evidently something didn’t quite gel with the approach and subsequently things went quiet for a while as Ubisoft apparently decided to go back to the drawing board.

And then Fisher came out of hiding for this year’s E3, hair and beard duly trimmed with fetching salt and pepper flecks revealing how much the uber-spy has aged since his last outing. There’s more than enough vitality left in the old dog yet though, and just because the dev team at Ubisoft Montreal has decided to reassess the franchise’s direction, doesn’t mean that Splinter Cell is floundering. It’s quite the opposite in fact as our recent demo session at Ubi’s Montreal studio amply demonstrated.

Showing off the same code revealed at TGS, we were given a strictly hands-off run-through by Lead Producer Alex Parizeau who was on hand to demonstrate the numerous skills and strategies now available to Fisher. Perhaps Conviction’s most exciting new addition is mark and execute, previously seen in multiple trailers and demos, the feature enables Fisher to tag up to three targets before picking them off with a ruthless efficiency that befits his current status as a grizzled, hardened veteran with bloody retribution on his mind.

Concerns that mark and execute might be little more than a ‘win button’ were quickly allayed by Parizeau who went on to say, “we want you to be the badass, be the predator.” The idea is to imbue Fisher with a more aggressive persona, so like 24’s Jack Bauer he’ll assess the situation before efficiently dispatching the threat. Putting in a so-called win button would be counter productive to this remit, so you’ll earn the mark and execute ability by successfully performing melee attacks. You can even seamlessly link close quarter strikes with mark and execute, in keeping with the faster pace the team has adopted for Conviction.

As creative director Maxime Beland states over a sandwich in a Montreal café, “We wanted Splinter Cell: Conviction to be more about action, but not like Rambo.” Beland likens Fisher to a panther stalking its prey - more than ever before, the gruff spy is a predatory force to be reckoned with. That’s not to say that stealth is no longer an option as a second walkthrough of the demo led by Ubisoft PR man (and consummate Scottish gent), Chris Easton highlights. Barely firing a bullet, Fisher enters the warehouse via a side entrance, shooting down an EMP device suspended from a chain, crushing the guards below.

Suddenly, the rest of the patrolling guards’ AI kicks in as they frantically search for the source of the disturbance. Enemies respond dynamically to your presence and the environment, chattering amongst themselves, spouting threats as they attempt to locate you. If you’re caught, you can escape into the shadows to reassess the situation, your last known position marked by a residual ghostly silhouette.

Slinking away into darkness is aided by the 100% dynamic lighting, meaning you can shoot out any of the lights throughout the entirety of the game. Dynamic seems to be the watchword for Conviction, the mechanics and controls in particular built around the increased pace and renewed emphasis on action. Stealth still very much plays a major role in Splinter Cell: Conviction and there are numerous routes you can take through each mission.

And just because Fisher has gone rogue doesn’t mean he’s any less well equipped. Sticky cameras make a welcome comeback, as do the iconic goggles, albeit sporting a slightly different level of functionality. During the demo, we’re shown the goggles’ sonar mode, which allows Fisher to see enemies as luminous white figures through walls. While in this view, you can tag enemies in the same way you normally would, despite being entrenched behind a wall.

Fisher then descends into a claustrophobic tunnel beneath the warehouse floor, garnering a sneaky peek into the room where a kidnapped scientist is being held hostage by several mercenaries. Using a sticky camera to distract one of two soldiers guarding the entrance to the room, Fisher bounces the other’s head off a nearby wall before quickly snapping the diverted guard’s neck like a twig.

This swift action awards a mark and execute move, which Easton then uses to clear the room of enemies, freeing the scientist from the clutches of her kidnappers. Fisher saves the day with great skill and aplomb, leaving us rubbing our hands in anticipation for getting hands-on time with the game. Sadly, today is not that day, regardless of how much pitiful begging and pleading we attempt in vain.

Still, with our early hands-on with the E3 demo still a fond memory and the intimate look we’ve been afforded of the TGS code showing off more of Conviction’s gameplay mechanics, we’re more than just a little hyperactive about getting the chance to get our mitts on more of the game in the near future. What’s more, what we’ve seen thus far is just the tip of the iceberg.

We haven’t even touched upon the gloriously violent and brutal interrogation sequences that allow you to drag your victim around by their throat and smash them into various interactive objects littered around the environment. Or the seamless integration of cut scenes and mission objectives into the game, preventing any kind of interruption that might infringe upon total immersion at all times.

Ultimately, something has been made abundantly clear to us following the demo’s conclusion. The Splinter Cell guys have a clear vision of what they want Conviction to be, and the most exciting thing of all is that they might just nail it.

Splinter Cell: Conviction is due for release February 26th 2010 for Xbox 360 and PC. Stay on your guard for our interview with Lead Producer Alex Parizeau coming soon.

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By Revan (SI Elite) on Nov 25, 2009
Woah! Awesome! Sam's been away for far too long. Good to see him back in the spotlight....I mean shadows. :)
By BoneArc (SI Elite) on Jun 11, 2009
hehe nice Save Revan

only thing ime concerned is Yay to Gta-like Splinter cell

now i can actually Play the game xD
By Jake_SI (SI Elite) on Jun 11, 2009
I don't know why, but I never really got into the Splinter Cell games, but give this one a crack when it comes out though!