Sam Fisher's latest mission was revealed back in 2007, but just like its star, Sam Fisher, it disappeared into the shadows. Since then, the team at Ubisoft Montreal has been slogging away on redefining the game, and the result is a fresh direction for the series. We got an updated look at the game when we paid a visit to Montreal to meet the development team behind Sam's toughest assignment yet.
After evading the authorities in Double Agent, Sam has gone deep undercover. Two years later, he's forced out of hiding to hunt down the drunk driver who killed his daughter, Sarah Fisher, in Double Agent. On the hunt for personal revenge, Sam's quest will take him across the globe; first to Malta and then, eventually, to Washington with the hope of unravelling the conspiracy behind her death. Being a fugitive on a personal quest, Sam is without his usual Swiss Army Knife of gadgets and suits. This time around, you'll need to procure makeshift items in the field or from Sam's network of allies, as well as take weapons from downed enemies. At the start of our demo, we saw Sam breaking off the rear-view mirror of his SUV to use as a makeshift snake cam. He'll get plenty of other improvised items along the way, and Ubisoft hinted that it's possible Sam will reenter Third Echelon at a later part of the game. When asked if Sam's trademark three-sensor night-vision goggles make a return, Conviction's creative director Max Beland was coy, saying that whilst he doesn't have them, some of the enemies he encounters have similar night goggles. We're hoping they can be taken from the cold corpses left in his wake.
Third Echelon's chief analyst Anna Grimsdottir is back again in a support role, and you'll also be introduced to Victo Coster, a former Navy Seal, who is now the head of a security consulting company. Coster and Sam go way back, so there's sure to be some history dredged up along the way. The person Sam's most concerned with is an arms dealer called Andriy Kobin, who is believed to be Sarah's killer and currently located in Malta.
Beland said that the goal for the development team was to create the fantasy of being one of the world's best stealth operatives, without the slow pace that's usually associated with stealth games, including Splinter Cell. While using stealth and the shadows is still important, you can move faster than before with a more fluid animation system. For example, you will see Sam run, climb, drop, leap, and kill with a minimum of sound. In the demonstration we saw, Sam can now run up pipes and shimmy across ledges in record time. We're told the frustrating control scheme from Double Agent has been improved in Conviction, but we couldn't get Ubisoft to reveal any specifics in this area. The team is also remaining tight-lipped when it comes to multiplayer support because, perhaps, it wants to focus on single-player first.
One neat addition to the series is the "mark and execute" feature. Rainbow Six Vegas fans will be familiar with this; it allows you to identify targets before storming a room and eliminating them. Instead of assigning their death to a teammate, Sam will have to do the dirty work by himself. By marking targets beforehand, Sam will auto-aim and fire once you issue the command. And, it looks like it will work in much the same way as it did in Vegas. You will need line of sight to shoot targets, and you can not only select people but also interactive objects, such as lights, barrels, or traps.
Due to the personal nature of the mission, Sam's attitude is more aggressive and desperate this time around. This is demonstrated in another new addition to the series: interrogations. If you thought Jack Bauer was cold, you should check out Sam's moves. You can grab people by the throat or put them in a headlock and proceed to beat the information out of them. Depending on the circumstances, Sam can either knock them out or kill them outright. A great example of this is the opening scene of the demo where Sam interrogates a man in a seedy bathroom in Malta whom he suspects knows the whereabouts of Sarah's killer. After pressing him for information, he eventually gets an answer, cracking his head onto a sink where the game's titles are displayed above on the mirror.
One final new feature is the "last known position." When an enemy breaks line of sight with you, a ghost of Sam will be superimposed into the environment to indicate where that enemy last saw you. In addition to using it as a tool for escape, it will aid in creating an ambush while the enemy makes a beeline to your last known position. Conviction has thrown away the light meter and instead uses the environment itself to indicate your level of visibility. When you're exposed, everything will appear as a full-colour spectrum. When you're hidden in the shadows, however, everything will appear in grayscale. In this mode, objects that appear in colour are interactive--such as a chandelier that you can use to kill multiple guards.
Players seeking an immersive experience will be pleased to know there are no lengthy cutscenes or loading screens in Conviction. Instead, everything is presented to you through the game's engine. Ubisoft has taken a cinematic approach, and in-game text will be projected onto the world itself, such as buildings (for example, "infiltrate the mansion"), or roads. Fans of Panic Room, North by Northwest, and Fringe will be familiar with this technique, which looks great in the game. Video updates will also be projected in front of Sam, much like they were in Dead Space, and you can choose to watch or ignore them entirely. The videos seem to represent a mental projection of Sam's thoughts, including information on suspects and flashbacks of Sarah's death. We thought it worked well within Conviction's story and setting. We also saw a cool transition scene where the camera panned through the Maltese mansion from the room where Kobin is holed up, down several interior levels, through the front door's keyhole, out into the street, and eventually to Sam's car. Conviction's visuals are looking top-notch, and we can't wait to see more of the game before launch.
Splinter Cell: Conviction is an exclusive for the Xbox 360 and PC and is currently due to ship this fall. For more on the game, check out the E3 trailer and stay in touch with all of GameSpot's E3 coverage at e3.gamespot.com.