Ubisoft’s last few outings in its cash-cow Splinter Cell series have largely been pretty disappointing affairs, marred by fiddly controls and lack of action.
The Tom Clancy
titles have of course always been about sneaking around and taking your enemies by surprise, but the stealthy Sam Fisher seemed in danger of becoming just a little bit too slow and the games plodded along.
For me, despite the slickness of their production, they were becoming just a little bit too much like hard work. Not really what you want your entertainment time to feel like.
So it was with a heavy heart that I approached the latest in Ubi’s Splinter Cell
series - Conviction
. Would I experience the same growing sense of frustration as I reached yet again for a walkthrough to get me through the grind of another damn level? Or has Ubisoft Montreal’s much-publicised ‘re-boot’ of the franchise added a little more zest to proceedings? I shoved the promo copy into the Xbox praying that it would be the latter…
The first and most pleasing thing to note as you play through the initial level and familiarise yourself with the controls – which are still a bit fiddly at first, but surprisingly quick to get to grips with – is that the overall look and feel of the game is just superb. The graphics are stunning and the artistic use of lighting (or lack of), the grunted dialogue of the constantly-irritated Sam Fisher and the clever use of flashbacks to set the scene and tell the story really do suck you into the game world very quickly indeed.
Sam is properly pissed-off at the world this time around. Not that he was ever the most jovial and easy-going kind of chap in the past, but the general gist of the story (not to give too much of it away) is that Fisher is looking for evidence to find out who killed his daughter in a hit-and-run, which had previously been dismissed as a mere accident. The game is set a few years after the happenings of Splinter Cell: Double Agent
, but it really doesn’t matter if you have never played any of the previous titles, because this works perfectly well as a stand-alone entertainment experience.
I delighted in the fact that I had spent a good couple of hours getting stuck into the game before I even realised what the time was. This, more than anything else for me, is always the marker of good gameplay, when you are able to lose yourself in the story and constantly find yourself thrilled by your virtual surroundings and determined to press on and beat the next challenge.
Some critics have pointed out that the single-player campaign might be a little too easy and over a bit too quickly for the more hardened Splinter Cell
devotee. I disagree. Sure, you could probably rattle through the entire thing in six hours or so – maybe one sitting if you've got the time. It probably took me a little longer, in total, over the course of three fairly lengthy gaming sessions. But the overall experience and the pacing of the game and narrative just worked really well. And why do some people think games should always offer thirty or forty or more hours of entertainment anyway? Who set that rule?
And it is the aforementioned pacing that makes the real difference in Splinter Cell: Conviction
. It’s much quicker than its predecessors (thank god!) and each level loads up as you watch a cut-scene and learn more about what all these nasty terrorist types are up to. I watched every cut scene and didn’t have the urge to skip through one, something I can rarely say about a game. You also find out more about the back story by way of movies that are projected onto walls throughout the levels – which is a really nice and very cool and unobtrusive way of telling a story.