Splinter Cell: Conviction Eyes-On Preview

Sam Fisher has spent many years in the shadows. In his previous adventures, only the chirping sound of his Third Echelon-provided earpiece kept his silent escapades moving forward. In Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Conviction, this marionette’s strings have been cut, his Echelon ties have unraveled, and former spy is on the streets searching to uncover who was behind his beloved daughter’s death. I got to take a look at Sam’s latest adventure at E3 2009, eager to see if this old spy has any new tricks.

The demo began with Sam in a bathroom, where we got our first look at the new ’interrogation’ gameplay. Nearly every object in the room was at Sam’s disposal, allowing him to pulverize his ‘informant’ in any way he saw fit. This is also where we received our first look at the game’s innovative in-gameplay cinematics. While other titles have foregone noninteractive cutscenes to tell a story in-game before, Splinter Cell: Conviction takes this idea one step further by displaying projected visions of cinematics on walls. Mission objectives and other key information are also projected as you make your way through the level. It is an interesting mechanic that allows the player to still feel in control of the game while the story is unfolding, keeping the plot moving as in-game events unfold.

It became immediately clear that Sam packs an extra punch in this iteration. This isn’t your typical Splinter Cell title, as Sam now embodies certain characteristics of Jack Bauer, James Bond, and Jason Bourne. He is not a man with whom to be trifled, as he is now able to rush headfirst into battle. Stealth was once the confines in which Sam had to operate. Now, it is a tool at his disposal. What once restrained the gameplay is now being used to expand the boundaries of the series into new territory.

This isn’t to say that all planning can be forgone. The development team has replaced loading screens with an area viewer which allows the player to get a preemptory look at the level. This isn’t the only strategic feature that has been added. One of these–called ’mark and execute’–is a new way for the player to achieve a cinematic level of marksmanship, as Sam can mark enemies before charging into a room as long as they are within his line of sight. If they aren’t immediately visible, he can use a mirror to look underneath doors and around structures. Once marked, Sam can execute these enemies automatically with the simple click of a button. It allows for the perfect accuracy you’d expect from an iconic action hero and leads to some thrilling moments.

As with past Splinter Cell titles, strategy is vital. Players will be unable to rely solely on tactics like mark and execute, as each weapon carries with it a limited amount of slots for these abilities. Also worth noting is that mark and executes are not limited to people, as Sam can destroy parts of the environment–like lights, traps and explosives–to give him an advantage over the opposition. When multiple targets are marked, Sam will complete them in the best possible order. For example, if two enemies and a light are tagged, Sam will immediately destroy the light to submerge the fight in darkness, giving Fisher the edge as he finishes off the rest of them.

Another tactical maneuver that Sam can take advantage of is called ’last known position.’ When a battle becomes heated, Sam may need to slink back into the shadows to retake control of the situation. If Sam drops off the radar after alerting the enemy, they will begin to search for the former spy in his last known position. This provides Sam with a great way to flank enemies, adding another layer of strategy to the proceedings.

Each level provides multiple means of completion, as the game can be played with pure stealth, as a third person shooter, or as a hybrid between the two. You could charge head-first into a room of fortified enemies if you so desire, or you could dispatch the first few thugs using mark and execute, climb out a nearby window, and find a better vantage point to eliminate the others. The choice is yours, bringing a welcome change from the rigid structure of previous titles.

Since Sam is no longer a weapon of Third Echelon, he finds himself without many of his signiture gadgets. While this makes sense from a storyline perspective, it would end up being a very boring game. Thankfully, Sam has improvised a bit for Conviction. Early on in the demo, Sam breaks a car mirror and uses a shard of glass from it to peak underneath doors, a low-tech solution to Sam’s lack of vision tools. We were also able to see some of Sam’s more high-tech weaponry, such as the new EMP grenade. This device allows Sam to quickly knock out all electronic devices in any given area, providing him with plenty of much needed darkness.

Based on what I have seen of Splinter Cell: Conviction, it is clear that Ubisoft is attempting to bring the stealth genre up to the standards set by our fast-paced, 21st century society. Sam is quicker and more deadly than ever, and in an on the go world, this quick, impassioned gameplay should resonate with gamers.

Splinter Cell Conviction will be available for PC and Xbox 360 this Fall.

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