After five generally excellent Splinter Cell games, the trademark stealth action gameplay of the series was getting a bit long in the tooth. Typically, elite agent Sam Fisher working for the National Security Agency, would have to sneak his way into various facilities to save the day from terrorists, dictators, and tyrants. Well, that formula is getting a major shakeup with Splinter Cell: Conviction. Now, instead of skulking around in the dark for his country, Sam is a fugitive on the run.
In Double Agent, the last chapter in the series, Sam goes undercover to infiltrate a terrorist organization. However, by the end of the game, Sam is on the run from the FBI, NSA, and law enforcement while a "to be continued" flashes across the screen. Conviction is set two years later, and Sam looks a lot different; he's almost unrecognizable, thanks to a thick shaggy mop of black hair and a full beard. The trademark, high-tech Splinter Cell suit is also gone because Sam is now clad in regular street clothes and a hoodie. This is important because this new Sam Fisher has to venture through the Washington D.C. area in search of evidence that will exonerate him.
Conviction still features stealth action, but it's differently paced than its predecessors. The idea is to blend into a crowd, not to hide from it. This will raise all sorts of comparisons to another Ubisoft game that also has you blending in a crowd: Assassin's Creed. Indeed, it's almost eerie to see how similar the scene we saw in Conviction is to the demo level of Assassin's Creed. Sam walks out into the Korean War Memorial on the National Mall in Washington D.C. and literally rubs elbows with the crowd. His mission is to slip past a couple of security guards at one end of the memorial. We saw a couple of different approaches to this; the first had Sam almost get his cover blown by one of the guards after getting too close to the guard. That guard, having spotted Sam, follows him into a remote corner of the memorial, where Sam quickly incapacitates him. That's standard Splinter Cell. Another method is actually quite clever, where Sam causes a distraction by grabbing someone's laptop and walking away with it. The angered crowd begins to yell at him, and the guards on the other side of the memorial begin to come over to investigate. Sam can drop the laptop, slip through the crowd, and pass through a now unguarded entranceway. If you're feeling aggressive, you can also have Sam slip an MP-5 out from under his coat and gun down the guards, though that will cause lots of headaches because you'll blow your cover. And while it won't result in instant mission failure, it will count against you when it comes to evaluating your performance.
Another new feature in Conviction is the idea of active stealth, which is where you hide in crowds, as well as anywhere else logical. If you're in a room and someone is about to enter, you can try ducking under a table or a desk. You can also manipulate a lot more of the environment, thanks to a new grasping mechanic in the game. Basically, Sam can grasp almost anything that a person should be able to pick up and grasp. This ability should open up the gameplay. For instance, we saw Sam chased into a building, where he closed the door behind him and barricaded it by knocking over a bookcase. He then picked up various objects and piled them against the door.
Because this was the very first glimpse of Conviction, Ubisoft didn't give us much more to explore. However, the game looks great, and we can't wait to try out this new approach to the franchise. The good news is that it's due out this Christmas. The bad news for PlayStation 3 fans is that it's an Xbox 360 exclusive. Ubisoft will undoubtedly release more information about Conviction during the coming months, and we'll keep you updated on the game.