Published on June 11th, 2009 | by Cameron Woolsey
E3 2009: Splinter Cell Conviction Impressions
Those who recall watching gameplay of Splinter Cell: Conviction many years ago surely took note of Sam’s appearance. He was a bum; a filthy, hairy, derelict being hunted down by the Government for espionage, violent outbursts, and urinating in public parks.
Apparently Ubisoft did not agree with this direction and decided to completely change the entire course of the game. Most gamers will feel irked when a game gets delayed a month or two, so one could imagine the amount of irking I felt over the course of a delay that happened for two whole years while Ubisoft made their changes.
A lot has changed with our favorite spy in that time. Gone is the long, shaggy hair and dark jacket. Now, Sam is back to his usual, stubbly-faced, short-haired self. Sam’s appearance isn’t the only change when it comes to style. Overall, the game’s look is more stylish then what we have seen in previous games. Cinematic angles cover every movement and mission details are now “painted” onto walls as you pass through the game. Imagine the cave scene from Splinter Cell 3: instead of having your details available in your PDA, they are now splashed across the cave walls as you sneak along, creating a game where you never have to pause in order to keep caught up on the mission’s details. In Conviction I witnessed mission briefings against walls of buildings and floors as well. There was a point during the video where Sam needed to infiltrate a mansion and instead of having to pause the game, look at the briefing, check out the map, and look for the waypoint, Sam viewed the detail, “Infiltrate the Mansion” across the very mansion itself as he drew near it. The wall text not only shows Sam what to do, but also acts as a waypoint so players may never have to interrupt gameplay again. Enemies and flashbacks are shown to Fisher during certain points where there will be a brief black and white video displayed on the wall which Ubisoft calls, projected memories.
These memories are used by Sam to recall faces and events, but they can also haunt him. In the previous game one of the plot points is the death of Sam’s daughter, who was apparently killed by a drunk driver. In Conviction, Sam realizes that her death is part of a conspiracy set up by the agency he once worked for. Oops. Spoiler warning… Yes, I didn’t really like the fact that Ubisoft pretty much started their E3 event by telling everyone a key plot point in the game. So if I have to be spoiled by it, then so do you.
Taking down enemies in the game has never been easier. Using a technique called, ‘mark and execute,’ the player can tag two enemies or objects—such as a light to create darkness—with the press of a button. With the press of another button Sam will execute the command, taking down an enemy or a light. In the demo, I saw as the player tag a guy—signified by a gray circle when Sam is out of the line of sight, red when he can see the enemy and fire—then a light above his head while Sam peaked under a door using a broken piece of mirror that was taken off a car at the start of the demo. After opening the door, a press of a button allowed the player to take out the light then the guy standing right under it, leaving Sam in complete darkness. One quick move that took a second to complete would have taken much longer in previous titles, leaving Sam in danger of being exposed. The Ubisoft player told me that this move mimics moves seen by that of 24’s famous agent, Jack Bauer. Using Jack as influence, Ubisoft hopes to create a faster and more accurate Sam Fisher than ever before.
As Sam moves through the dark, environmental colors become de-saturated, leaving only Sam, enemies, and mission objectives in color. This makes it easier to spot enemies as they are contrasted against the colorless background. Sam’s world returns to color when he steps out into the light.
If enemies view Sam, they will chase after him. If the player quickly leaves the enemies line of sight, there will be a white outline of Sam where the enemy viewed him last. This is called, ‘last known position.’ The last known position is where the chasing enemy saw Sam last and the enemy will keep their eyes on the area waiting for the player to come into view once more. The cautious enemy may fire at the area or move slowly and carefully toward it. Players can use this move to create diversions. Getting the enemy’s attention, a player can leave the silhouette to keep the enemy focused on a certain area. Quickly moving, a player can now try and flank that enemy and take him down quickly while he is keeping all his focus on where he last saw Sam.
All in all the game is shaping up quite nicely. The gameplay looks fast and designed to keep players on their toes. Like how it goes with stealth games, this one will be challenging and Ubisoft wants to create a game where even experienced players can run into frustration while playing as the (now) rogue agent.
Ubisoft is aiming for a Fall release.
My Take: The return of Sam makes me very happy. The long delay between the announcement and now had left me feeling anxious, wondering if the game will be put on a definite hold before sliding away into the mystery bin next to StarCraft Ghost. Since original title, I have been a fan of Ubisoft’s favorite spy. However, his most recent outing had left a bad taste in my mouth and I am hoping that Conviction can be the cleansing minty goodness to wash it all away.
I’m still on the fence with the new art style. Having Sam and his enemies displayed in color against a color-deprived background makes the game look somewhat arcade-y in the way an action game might feel, but seems off in a game designed around stealth gameplay. One thing is certain however: the game looks badass. Sam is back in action, pissed off, and ready to do business once again. I, for one, welcome back our gruff, scowling agent with open arms. I just hope that those arms don’t get bent back backwards and broken. Yet, from what I’ve seen so far, there will be warm musky hugs for all.