Funny thing about weapons. They have a nasty habit of falling into the wrong hands. This is a lesson Third Echelon is about to learn. They spent years turning Sam Fisher into a very advanced, very potent, very lethal weapon. But in Splinter Cell: Conviction, all those finely honed stealth and spy skills that turned Sam into such a powerful, silent killer have fallen into the wrong hands: his own.
Yes, Sam's gone rogue, spurred by the death of his daughter to strike out on his own and track down the people responsible for her death. In leaving Third Echelon he leaves behind an arsenal of fancy gadgets and futuristic weapons. But he still has all the skills that were the real secret to his success.
Splinter Cell: Conviction Demo from Ubisoft E3 2009 Press Conference
It's the Splinter Cell designers' chance to "tell a more personal story," says Lead Designer Steve Masters. But it's not just the story itself that's new -- it's also the way it's being told. Conviction is delivering its story in a ballsy new way, using uniquely stylistic methods to convey the kind of information usually reserved for cut-scenes and heads-up displays. We see cinematics splashed across walls as Sam moves through the environment, as if from a film projector. Mission objectives are plastered in 20-foot-tall type on the sides of buildings. Changes of scene are hidden with deceptive zooms and other cinematic tricks, so that the player never experiences a loading screen. "We want to tell the story," says Masters, "without ever breaking the scene."
Sure, these storytelling devices would probably seem like cheap gimmicks if it weren't for the fact that Sam also has a damn impressive suite of new tricks of his own. For one thing, he's both faster and "more brutal," as Masters puts it. He can throw enemies around as quickly as in any brawler, for example, and his ledge-hanging shimmy is now the fastest I can recall seeing in any game.
But two new abilities really steal the show: The first is called "mark and execute." By finishing off enemies in close quarters, Sam earns the ability to mark targets for his pistol, and then take them out virtually automatically. When the execute ability is activated, he can ease open a window, for example, target two enemies inside, and then leap through the window and take them both out virtually simultaneously. He can also fire normally, of course, and he has only a handful of slots available for marking enemies. But it's a powerful new ability that helps keep the focus of the franchise on well-planned stealth while giving Sam the ability to pack serious heat.
The other major addition is the Last Known Position. With this activated, the player can see a ghost outline of the last place enemies had sight of Sam, so it becomes possible to predict where the enemies' attention will be focused, and use that information to execute what amount to one-man flanking maneuvers. Think of it sort of like one player drawing the enemy's "aggro" in Army of Two…only solo.
If these improvements weren't enough, the game also looks spectacular. Environments are richly detailed, and teeming with people. (Masters says that the Malta setting is the first real civilian setting in the series.) And Sam can do damage to these environments…by, say, bashing an enemy's head into a urinal, to use one memorable example. And, of course, lighting -- a crucial element to the series since its inception -- is impressively realistic. But in this game the interplay of light and shadow is taken a step further: When Sam is fully in shadow, the screen de-saturates to emphasize that he's hidden, but enemies and interactive features of the environment are given a bit more color. It's a neat touch that both offers a bit of guidance and eliminates the need for a stealth-o-meter like we've seen in previous games.
So Conviction has undergone some pretty radical transformations since it was originally scheduled for a 2007 release. After so many years in development, it's a relief to be able to say Conviction is due this fall, for 360 and PC. But if two years of delays are what it takes to deliver such an unusually presented and solid-looking game, well, I say it'll be worth the wait.