Conviction follows a scorned Sam Fisher, who is out for blood against Third Echelon, the company he gave everything for until they betrayed him. Those who played the previous Splinter Cell games might want to take the catchphrase of this game, "The Sam Fisher you know is dead", and apply it to the game mechanics of Splinter Cell: Conviction. While the game is still incredibly based in stealth, this time around, Sam Fisher is more well-equipped to survive a firefight than ever before.
The most spectacular upgrade that Fisher has now is his Mark and Execute ability, where he can identify enemies and targets around him (by using the right bumper) and execute them instantly. While this may seem like a cheap, instant win feature, Ubisoft places it into the game with the idea that each execution must be earned. To earn these execution moves, Sam must defeat at least one enemy in hand to hand combat, which means stealth comes into the forefront. After sneaking up behind one member of the opposition, the player must decide if they want to simply destroy another 2 - 4 enemies instantly using the flashy executions, or if they want to save it in case some more formidable opponents come along. It really adds a great mechanic to the title. The best thing, perhaps, about the Mark and Execute ability is the fact that is really makes the player feel as though they are controlling a trained killer, which is what Sam Fisher is. While the previous entries in the series tried to convey this feeling, this is the first time that they have really succeeded 100%.
While discussing gameplay, one thing that cannot be ignored in terms of issues, is the fact that the "A" button feels like it does way to much at times. Countless times during the campaign, the player will accidentally pick up an unsilenced weapon instead of jumping across a desk or up onto a ledge. It's not a huge issue that presents itself too often, but it can be very frustrating and disruptive to the flow of the mission to have to go back and try to find the silenced weapon that Sam dropped.
One of the absolute coolest new features in Conviction has to be the cover mechanic that leaves the screen in black and white when Sam Fisher is covered by darkness. The entire screen goes black and white, except for the enemies and possible traps in the environment that Fisher can use to his advantage. This give the player an even greater feel at being Sam Fisher, the hunter. Also incorporated into this is the "Last Known Position" mechanic that appears when Fisher breaks the line of sight from his pursuers. A white outline of Fisher will appear where his enemies think he is, which gives the player an indication that it's time to flank the opposition and take the upper hand.
The cover mechanics can prove a tad troublesome at times. The camera can be a little finicky when taking refuge in the corner, this is particularly obvious when Sam is in the dark. Another issue can present itself when Sam is in cover and is targeting an individual. If the angle is too severe (which there is no indicator for), Sam will have to stand up before he attempts to shoot at the target, causing the aim to shift dramatically and cause the shot to miss. Other than these few issues, Splinter Cell: Conviction has the best cover system ever seen in a stealth game.
For those that are looking for Splinter Cell: Conviction to deliver one of the most graphically spectacular experiences of this generation, you will be disappointed. The game looks good enough, but when compared to recent titles like Mass Effect 2, Battlefield: Band Company 2, and Assassin's Creed II, the game definitely is a few steps behind. Some of the player models look a bit awkward, particularly in the face. Also, when Sam goes to perform executions as a part of the Mark and Execute ability, he will sometimes shoot through walls to kill the targets. Some of the effects of Sam Fisher's gadgets, however, look brilliant. The EMP looks great when it goes off and his goggles create a really cool effect that allows you to see clearly through walls as long as you stand still.
The presentation of the game is on par with other titles on the market, however. The game has one of the most cinematic feelings of any game released to date. The fact that your mission objectives, as well as key flashbacks from previous Splinter Cell games project up on the environment make the whole experience flow a little better and feel a bit more epic. Another key component to the cinematic feel of Splinter Cell: Conviction is the interrogations. While the interrogations are little more than interactive cutscenes, they are fun and give the player a true bad-ass and satisfying feeling in squeezing the information out of the target.
One of the main gripes up to this point by many critics has been the fact that the campaign lasts only around 5 hours. From experience, the title generally lasts closer to 7 hours, and while that is still very short, the campaign mode's replayability is on the high side. Replaying the missions with a slight knowledge of where the best hiding spots are and where the enemies are congregated in each level gives you a true feeling of what it's like to control a super-agent like Sam Fisher. This feeling of premonition really completes the experience and allows you to perform more satisfying "paths" to stealthily take out the enemies one by one.
Not a fan of going back through a campaign you already completed? There are plenty of things on the side that will definitely extend the life of Conviction well beyond the campaign's short shelf life. The Deniable Ops mode is a great way to practice your stealth moves by yourself or with a friend in four different game modes: Hunter, where you must clear a room of enemies as efficiently as possible, Last Stand, where you defend a position against waves of enemies, Infiltration, where you have to reach an objective against a group of enemies that may or may not know you're coming, and Face-Off, a great mode that has two user-controlled spies fighting off waves of enemies. If all of those modes leave you wanting more multiplayer goodness, there is a completely separate Co-Op campaign that is a blast to play through as well. The fact that the Co-Op campaign is different from the main story gets Conviction major points. All of this adds to why Conviction is definitely worth a second look after many dismissed it as a "rental" due to a short story mode. As if that's not enough, however, Ubisoft has announced that they will be added several items as DLC in coming months, which will definitely breathe life into the game, even if you get sick of it.
Splinter Cell: Conviction is by far one of the most entertaining titles for the Xbox 360 so far in 2010. While the game does have its shortcomings, they are all vastly overshadowed by the games cinematic presentation and just overall great feel. This is the first time that players can truly feel what its like to control Sam Fisher, the trained killer, the hunter, and the master of stealth. With Ubisoft providing you with all of the right tools, even someone who has never played Splinter Cell can jump right in and by the end of the campaign, feel as though they've mastered the gameplay mechanics. For those that do want a slightly more traditional Splinter Cell title, however, they may want to look elsewhere.
If you were among the many that wrote Splinter Cell: Conviction off just because of the fact that it has a shortened campaign, it may be time to reconsider that notion. The game is deceptively loaded with content and with the promise of DLC in the future, Splinter Cell: Conviction might be grabbing some space in your Xbox 360's tray more than you might think. With so many great deals going on for this game, if you are even remotely interested in the title, you'd be foolish not to check it out.