Splinter Cell: Conviction Hands-On Preview

Third Echelon’s old posterboy goes in search of retribution. Our hands-on with Ubisoft’s fifth Splinter Cell.

By Edwin Evans-Thirlwell, March 12, 2010

The excitably abbreviated ‘Last Known Position’ feature encapsulates these changes. It’s the franchise’s timeless fool-the-AI gambit in more conspicuous (whisper it: n00b-friendly) attire: a pearly ghost image appears wherever your opponents think you are, allowing you to distract, flank or elude them with greater precision.

Mark & Execute can be, um, executed in any circumstance.

Mark & Execute can be, um, executed in any circumstance.

If the barrier to entry is thus lower, the possibilities available to those in search of an extra mile seem to be as generous as ever. There are familiar toys like the EMP grenade, which knocks out all lights in the vicinity, and the snake-cam, which allows you to peek under doors (we found a fragment of wing-mirror glass just as effective). Sam can take human shields, shoot from a hanging position, throw enemies into one another and drop onto them from above. A hearty roster of tick-box challenges – break X number of chokeholds, incapacitate X number of people by bashing open a door – does much to spur experimentation.

And then there’s Mark & Execute, which is far from the smartbomb-style screen-clearer it sounds like, but a clever means of shaping combat situations to taste. Dislike snipers? Paint a couple for obliteration via the snake cam before busting into a room, then stalk and suffocate their ground-level comrades at leisure. Not so fond of shotguns? Paint the ground-level goons instead.

There’s a limit, naturally, to how many targets you can queue at once, and you’ll need to ‘recharge’ the ability afterwards by dismantling somebody at close quarters. This should forestall any over-reliance on Sam’s new knack for taking cover: play the peek-shoot card too much, and you’ll miss out on M&E points.

Satellite dishes are good for two things: global telecommunications and C4 manufacturers.

Satellite dishes are good for two things: global telecommunications and C4 manufacturers.

While Conviction’s AI turns in few show-stopping performances, it pulls all the tricks you’d expect from a stealth sandboxer, sensitive to noise and other environmental disruption, smart enough once alerted to investigate window ledges and dark corners, but sufficiently blinkered as not to notice hulking men with assault rifles when doused in gentle shadow.

The AI’s real trial by fire will come during online co-operative and competitive play, in which NPCs feature prominently. Conviction lacks a straightforward deathmatch option; the nearest to barebones one-on-one you get is Face-Off, in which two assassins try to exterminate each other on maps filled with pugnacious mercenaries. Elsewhere, Last Stand is about defending a nuclear warhead, Infiltration challenges you to reach an objective unseen, and Hunter simply involves killing everything on legs.

We were able only to dip our toes on the day, but there’s definite promise despite the much-mourned demise of Pandora Tomorrow’s Spies vs. Mercenaries mode. Faking death to lure a guard out of formation – thus allowing your partner to pull his partner out a window – shouldn’t get old quickly. Players can also mark targets for each other, which rather brilliantly heightens the benefits both of taking different routes through the levels (higher/lower, direct/indirect, etc) and ganging up on the opposition.

The co-op storyline is set before that of single player, but Game Director Maxime Beland still reckons you should play as Sam first.

The co-op storyline is set before that of single player, but Game Director Maxime Beland still reckons you should play as Sam first.

The standalone co-op campaign, starring a pair of tooled-up stealth operatives from either side of the Iron Curtain, tantalises with insights into the events surrounding Fisher’s return to action. For the moment, though, it’s enough simply to know that darkness still has its uses. True to its name, Conviction has come back strongly from that embarrassing identity crisis of 2007. Sam Fisher may not be aging gracefully, but on present form his vengeance should be sweet.

Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Conviction is out for Xbox 360 and PC in April.

One Response to “Splinter Cell: Conviction Hands-On Preview”

  1. Brush says:

    Demo was interesting.

    the mark and execute, might not be to everyones taste but it is damn slick.

    you can actually use the gadgets/grenades etc which were useless in previous splinter cells.

    But, on the other hand, even on realistic, the guys in a room at the end of the demo can’t see you a few feet above them on a railing…directly in front of them. Needs sharper Ai in areas of the game to give it some challenge imo…seems like a fun procession, as many games are, but it’d be good to have some challenge.

    Am hoping realistic and hunter mode with the enemy desnity turned up can provide this…to it’s credit though at least because it flows there’s a buildup of pacing, unlike quicksave, sneak, reload save, which for me was getting tiresome.

    jury’s out


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