Last month, we had our first look at Splinter Cell: Conviction's co-op offerings. It's a secondary feature to this stealth-driven action game that takes the various tools and techniques available to protagonist Sam Fisher in the main story campaign and adds an extra five to six hours of backstory that two players can explore together. Neither plays as Sam, but instead they are a pair of spies, each with a distinct background and personality. Developer Ubisoft Montreal refers to this co-op mode as Prologue, as a sort of nod to its story's place in the Conviction timeline. But as we mentioned last month, that's not the only co-op you'll find in this Splinter Cell reboot. There's another suite of co-op modes called Deniable Ops, which present four different ways to sneak through the darkness and take out enemies alongside a friend. We stepped away from the chaos of CES 2010 to spend some time with Deniable Ops.
Rather than focus on story like Prologue does, Deniable Ops is more of a co-op playground that tests your stealth skills under a variety of different circumstances. There are four modes to choose from. Hunter is the most straightforward of the bunch, and it gives you the simple task of trying to take out all the enemies within a given area as efficiently as you can. Last Stand asks you to protect a destructible object that your enemies are out to destroy. Infiltration is a sort of nod to Splinter Cell of old, which has you moving through an area only to find yourself at a game-over if you so much as get detected. And finally, there's Face Off, which puts the two players in a versus matchup in an area filled with enemy AI, allowing you to use enemies as a sort of pawn to lure out the rival player.
In our hands-on time with Conviction, we played a few rounds of Hunter. It's a simple task you face: move through the map and be sure to clear the entire area of enemies. Depending on the map you're playing--there are six total, all set in the former Soviet Union--you can easily be overwhelmed by the sheer number of ways to approach your targets. When the screen goes black and white, you know you're covered by the shadows, so you can sneak around and attempt to take out enemies from behind. Every time you take out an enemy with a melee stealth kill, you're rewarded with an opportunity to use the mark and execute feature. This lets you tag an enemy and hit the Y button for a quick, automated kill from a distance using your silenced pistol. This feature isn't quite the instant-win button a pessimist might see it as; it's genuinely challenging to sneak around and get those melee kills without being caught.
Thankfully, there are a number of gadgets at each player's disposal to make the process a bit easier. Hitting up on the directional pad enables sonar vision, which sends a sonar pulse throughout your immediate vicinity, rendering your vision murky except for the bright white enemy figures glowing onscreen even if they're standing behind two or three walls. This gives you a good idea of where an enemy is, but you definitely can't walk around with it on all the time unless you really like bumping into walls. Another useful gadget is the EMP blast that temporarily knocks out the power in the area (a good way to get a jump on enemies who patrol brightly lit areas).
The first map we played on provided a big, open setting that Ubisoft called a “black box” environment. That's the developer's way of saying that you essentially have a sandbox of shadows to play with, as you'll find a number of enemies all contained within a spacious area. Depending on your strategy of choice, you can slowly prowl through the darkness, using your silenced pistol to shoot out overhead lights and lure enemies into the darkness. Once you're done prowling, you can quickly pop out of the shadows to establish a last known position and then scurry off and toss a grenade at the group of enemies all examining where they thought they just saw you. If you want to further blow your cover, you can pick up the loud weapons (like shotguns) that your enemies drop or use the persistent points system to unlock new weapons such as submachine guns, automatic handguns, and others--many of which can be equipped with silencers.
Another map we played was more narrow and confined, and it had us creeping through a darkened office where the targets were much more spaced out than on the previous black box map. Our approach of choice in this area involved climbing over office walls, quietly dropping behind our target, and then leaving a splatter of blood on the wall in front of him after a silenced headshot. This wasn't really a luxury we had in the other level, since enemies weren't nearly as isolated there. We also enjoyed finding an enemy standing in a dimly lit room and using the EMP blast to cause him to freak out, ending his misery with a stealth melee kill. Since it was so dark in here, we could have also climbed up to the pipes on the ceiling and performed a “death from above” sort of takedown on the poor guy below. When you really get into the shadows like this, you can be pretty sadistic.
We actually played through Hunter solo, but for the full effect you'll want to go at it with a friend online or using local split-screen, which the game supports. No matter what, Hunter presents a lot of fun opportunity for you to paint a canvas using your own chosen style. With the absence of story or specific objectives, you can just lurk around and go after your targets as leisurely as you like. It's a fun sort of playground to work with all the game's various mechanics--of which there are many. You can expect to see Splinter Cell: Conviction released on the Xbox 360 and PC on February 23.