Next week, Sam Fisher comes sneaking back onto store shelves in Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Conviction. We've been playing through the majority of the single-player campaign and chronicled some of our exploits prior to its release on April 16.
From the get-go, Conviction treats you to some great visuals, with a fancy title menu leading through to a meaty and memorable opening sequence. Conviction uses "projection storytelling," which is a new and innovative way of driving the plot forward without cutscenes. This technique is used to advise players on what to do and where to go by highlighting key areas to climb or use for cover. After the second chapter, the tips stop appearing as often, leaving you to work things out for yourself. The mechanic doesn't feel as intrusive as tips appearing up on the screen, leaving the projections to highlight Sam's emotions, key story points, and mission objectives.
The main campaign will apparently last up to 12 hours and can be replayed in a variety of different ways. Each time we replayed a level, there were different routes to be explored and new strategies to execute. The inclusion of the persistent elite creation system also encourages you to try out all sorts of play styles, such as performing silent headshots or repeatedly pulling mercenaries out of open windows. If these PEC objectives are completed, Sam is awarded points that can be spent on upgrading weapons and gadgets, as well as unlocking uniforms or accessories for the game's co-op mode, Deniable Ops.
While you start off with a variety of silenced pistols, the assortment of weaponry soon develops into submachine guns, shotguns, grenades, mines, and even a portable electromagnetic pulse. These offer Sam a good range of equipment and a choice to storm a room using firepower or to sneak in to kill targets silently. There are three other core features: mark and execute, last known position, and the light and shadow filter. Mark and execute really changes the Splinter Cell formula. It may have come under fire from longtime fans of the series, but mark and execute makes a carefully planned assault feel immensely gratifying once pulled off. For example, while infiltrating a building, we marked three guards under a door before dropping into the room from above, taking out a guard in the process before tapping the execute button to watch Sam swiftly take out the remaining guards using headshots. The last shot always slows down time, which lets you truly appreciate the planning and perfect execution.
Last known position makes the stealth action more accessible. The feature gives Sam the ability to sneak away into the shadows once spotted, leaving an outline of his last known position on the map. There are several points in Conviction where Sam is pitted against large groups of guards, and if you are not keeping an eye on each of them, then you risk being detected. Of course, if you are quick and can break the line of sight, last known position can work to your advantage, letting you take out any curious guards who happen to investigate. The light and shadow filtering switches the colour scheme to black and white, indicating that you're out of enemy sight. It is slightly reminiscent of Velvet Assassin's colour change feature, but Splinter Cell still highlights certain objects in colour, such as explosive barrels, traps, and targets. You know instantly when you're not in the cover of darkness because the screen reverts back to full colour. While it's a simple feature, it certainly makes a difference to the gameplay and regularly saved us from being detected.
Splinter Cell: Conviction is shaping up really well, but for the final verdict, be sure to check out our upcoming review.