One against many
It's been years since Sam Fisher, a member of a secret-ops unit called Third Echelon, had a chance to creep through shadows, coming out once in a while to pull in a target. The previous games in the series emphasized the dangers of being seen, and players with stealth in mind kept to the darkest niches, looking for avenues around enemies rather than the shortest distance through guns blazing. There were opportunities to fire first and leave a trail of dead in Fisher's wake, and while the decision was up to the player to pick their path, Fisher was a modern-day ninja with the newest toys. The sound of night-vision goggles warming up, that high-pitched whir, has become Fisher's whisper of death.
Conviction begins with Fisher looking for the man who killed his daughter. No longer an agent of any unit, he's working outside the law. But Third Echelon's eyes are everywhere, and Fisher is alerted to a plot against him.
It came from the shadows
Once again, Fisher will have to stick to the shadows if he wants to survive groups of enemies loaded with the latest weapons. Since Fisher is no longer an agent, his gadget inventory is limited mostly to reconnaissance tools and projectiles. In the previous games, Fisher had a light meter that showed whether he was in partial or utter darkness. In Conviction, the screen turns black and white whenever Fisher is hidden. It gives the game a noirish feel, and while it clearly indicates whether or not an enemy will start shooting or pass by, the lack of solid color can hinder a player's attempt to spot the next shadow.
There is no option to pick up bodies and carry them away from any eyes that might see them. The paradigm has shifted towards more action. Fisher can grab an enemy or go for a hand-to-hand kill. Grabbing an enemy lets players choose whether to toss the offender through a window or door, use him as a meat shield, or drag them away for a kill. Close combat yields a new execution ability that lets Fisher pick targets up to the number of slots Fisher's current weapon allows. Targets within range are highlighted by a red arrow while all others are in grey. From behind cover or a meatshield, after a flashbang, or with an EMP shock, Fisher can rush into a room and take out enemies with precision.
Another trick in Fisher's sleeve leaves an outlined figure in his last known position. If Fisher manages to escape after being seen, enemies will approach the area of his last known sighting. This can be used advantageously by sneaking around the area or sniping towards the position.
Carrying a new load
Weapons can either help or hurt Fisher's cause. Spread out through levels are weapon checkpoints where Fisher can change his primary and secondary weapons. By performing challenges, the list can be checked at any time by pressing start, points are awarded for weapon and gadget upgrades. Weapons are gauged by their accuracy, range, and power. Three mods are available for each weapon. It's important to make sure that Fisher is equipped with the right tools. Some suppressed guns may lack in power and range, but the ability to shoot in silence may make the game much easier.
Weapons and gadgets are collected in game as Fisher progresses. Gadgets prove very useful for taking out large groups of enemies at a time. Remote mines come with detonators that can be triggered at will. A sticky camera can be tossed into a room to see where enemies are. A sound function on the camera alerts those around it to inspect the source of the noise. These cameras can be especially effective in drawing enemies away from Fisher's location, and the explode function can knock off another target in Fisher's way.
All in all, it's a worthy sequel that doesn't settle for doing the same thing. It's not without its flaws. The new emphasis on action and the pace of obtaining new weapons and gadgets keeps the player from experiencing Fisher at his finest until late in the game. At one point, splinter cells will come after Fisher, and they're no pushovers. Though these tougher opponents bring a hefty challenge, they also highlight a specific problem -- that of progression without really progressing. Having a hand up on enemies is something that's made the Splinter Cell games interesting -- tactics over brute strength. The splinter cells Fisher must fight through are loaded with sonar devices Fisher obtains. The goggles use sound to penetrate walls and see where enemies are, but these battles become cat and mouse battles with Fisher scurrying to safety. It's also here that the action aspect of the game falls short because the controls and cover system keep Sam from being a total action hero.
True, there are workarounds, like execution mode, but that becomes more of a crutch which essentially takes control away from the player for a few seconds to watch. One wonders why Sam doesn't have the ability to whistle or knock on a wall to attract the nearest enemy. On the flip side, enemies looking for Fisher just won't stop talking. It makes up for not having a radar, but the constant jabbering by foes who think that provoking the world's best stealth killer proves to be another jarring effect that reminds the player they're gaming.
The game can be purchased at your local Gamestop at the Del Monte Center in Monterey, or at Northridge Mall in Salinas. Click here for more locations.