Malta. It’s not a big country, but it has a lot of people. Tourists, citizens, scum and saint, Malta is full of them. With that in mind, it’s one of the best places in the world to disappear. You don’t “blend in” in Malta, it devours you whole. Just what I was looking for.
You take what you can get when you reach a certain age. Hit your mid fifties, with a lifetime of pain and hardship behind you, and a run down café with a sea view is akin to the Ritz. You can forgive a lot as you get older, but all it takes is one spark to bring back old grievances, the rekindle the fire of revenge.
This is how Splinter Cell: Conviction starts, more or less. Sam Fisher, retired from a life of international black ops, has gone off the grid. He’s sick of the games played by his government, the same games that meant he wasn’t there for his daughter all those years ago, and forced him to end the life of his best friend. He is not a happy man.
Cue a phone call from Anna Grimsdottir, Sam’s former handler at Third Echelon. A group of armed men are coming to kill him, she’s seen them from her eye-in-the-sky, and they are led by the man who killed Sam’s daughter.
I want to say, right off the bat, that I think what Conviction does is quite clever. Double Agent was built around the idea that his daughter’s death had driven Sam to snap. He was offered NOC status as a coping mechanism, a way to channel the pain of his grief into something constructive. As a result, he had no outlet for his pain or any closure, and outside of the very start there is scarcely any mention of his dead daughter.
By the time Conviction rolls around, however, he’s had time to think about things. He’s grieved, he’s angry, he needs his closure. Then, from nowhere, the first lead he’s ever had is dropped right into his lap. Suspicious, yes, but he’s not going to pass that up.
There is a shift in focus with Conviction as a result of this revenge mission. The previous games fit very firmly into the stealth genre, punishing gamers who fell outside the scope of this label with slipshod shooting controls and monstrously durable enemies. It worked well enough, but Conviction has found the perfect replacement.
Where Splinter Cell used to punish, Conviction now rewards. Sneak your way up to a villain and take him out with a silent melee attack (of which there are a number of decidedly painful and awesome animations) and you earn “marks”. With these marks, of which the number available differs with your equipped weapon, you can tag enemies for a slow motion, instant-kill, ballet of death.
On the face of it, there is a fear that this feature could make the game too easy, but in practice this is not so. The mark and execute feature is a reward for playing the game properly, for being a ghost. Sam is still susceptible to a very quick death by bullet, and what this new feature provides is a last ditch way of saving your skin. Or it’s a way of dealing with those tricky buggers you just can’t reach. Or it’s a way of performing an action movie scene. It broadens your options while also encouraging you to play like the character “should”.
Not that you have to be much of a ghost. Conviction allows for the stop-and-pop shooters amongst you, even providing a level where that is what is expected of you, but does so a little begrudgingly. As is typical of the Splinter Cell series, there are a wide variety of gadgets and firearms to take on your missions, but even with the much improved handling it still feels like an admission of failure to use them.
Case in point: the Gulf War flashback. At various points in the game you are dropped into flashbacks, with this being the paradigm of them. As a mission it drops you off in a situation where stealth is almost impossible, your mark and execute skills are missing, your cover-to-cover skills are greatly reduced and leaves you to fend for yourself. What follows is a rather prolonged section devoted entirely to gunfights. It’s not a bad level at all, but it just feels out of place for a series so devoted to patience and stealth.
Scenes like this crop up a few times in the game, but they are so well spaced that they never really become a true annoyance. The shift in play style may lead to a fair few deaths, but you can power through without too much rage. Besides, in most cases, a good mark and execute will help to thin the pack.
I know that saying that a game has become more “accessible” can be dirty, but with Conviction I really don’t think that is the case. Yes, the stealth is less punishing and less necessary, but the rewards for doing it right are much more immediate. The plot makes sense, which is relatively new for a Tom Clancy game, with each mission being a logical progression from the last, and the twists and turns being acceptable if not entirely unforeseen.
This even hold true into multiplayer, which I think is a very important part of Conviction if you have friends. The co-op campaign is not a tacked on experience with a random extra man dumped into the main game, it’s a whole new story that precedes the singleplayer experience. First of all, this means that you won’t feel guilty for having raced ahead in the singleplayer campaign if your preferred co-op partner isn’t available, and secondly it allows you to delve deeper into the Splinter Cell universe with two new and fully formed characters. It even has a few surprises of its own.
Conviction is a fantastic game, well worth the extra time spent on its development despite a few small hiccups here and there. It revitalises the series in a way that gives it new legs, new avenues to explore. It’s always hard to keep a series going as long as Splinter Cell, and reinvention is necessary. They tried it with Double Agent but nailed it with Conviction.
Fisher is the latest in a series of “angrymen” cropping up in today’s media, but his character and this story makes him stand out from the pack.
No, no wait. Something’s wrong here. What is it? I’ve missed something.
I’m not going to go into a protracted rant about this, that has been done at length by a number of other writers and will inevitably be done again. What I will say, however, is that if I am buying a game I expect to be able to play it.
I didn’t buy Conviction, it was given to us for free by the lovely people at Ubisoft, and so I can’t quite compare to how annoyed I would be about this DRM had I spent my hard-scrounged pennies on this title. I can, however, tell you that even without having paid for it I am very, very angry.
We all know that, in the UK, the idea of “always on” internet is not as clear cut as it appears. Routers will reset without warning, lines will cock up for no reason, settings will interfere with connections, download caps will stride in and rob you of your fun. There are any number of things that could go wrong, and having a game constantly pinging its way across the internet to allow you to play singleplayer mode is just asking for them to hit you.
Ubisoft’s argument that the problems with the system are insignificant is utter and complete rubbish. Any problem that stops you playing the game you have paid for is unacceptable, especially those that drag you kicking and screaming out of the game the moment your internet connection drops. I have even seen a fellow reviewer work himself into an incandescent rage over the DRM’s penchant for overloading his router, causing a reset at regular intervals. It turned the game into a race from checkpoint to checkpoint.
It interferes with the experience. You’re not buying the game, you’re renting it for an unacceptably high price and they can and will cut you off whenever the hell they like. It’s unacceptable, it’s immoral, it’s insulting to consumers and, worst of all, it takes a fantastic game and makes it impossible to recommend it.
And until Ubisoft get the hint and drop this draconian piece of electronic intrusion, I can’t see myself recommending any Ubisoft games on the pc.