When Ubisoft unveiled the new-look Splinter Cell: Conviction at E3 in July, it immediately topped many people's "Best of Show" lists. Despite being a hands-off demo, it was impressive enough to beat out Halo: ODST and Mass Effect 2 to win GameSpot's own "Best Xbox 360 Game" award, as well as the "Best Action Adventure Game" award. So we were fairly excited when we received an offer to actually go and play the game for the first time, and after getting firsthand experience of the action, we drooled over in Los Angeles.
Our hands-on demo covered exactly the same ground as the E3 build--a spectacular 10-minute set piece that sees rogue agent Sam Fisher infiltrating a mansion to hunt down a man connected to the death of his daughter. If you're unfamiliar with the demo, read our E3 coverage or check out the E3 stage demo to see it in full. There was only one problem with the E3 demo--seeing the game producer effortlessly blast through the game doesn't really compare to the final experience you'll have with it. During our play test, we used a number of different playing styles, from stealth to guns blazing, and also tried to do some crazy stuff to test the game engine.
Long-time followers of Splinter Cell: Conviction may remember that when the game was originally unvelied, the developer emphasised the crowd dynamics and how non-player characters will react to your behaviour. The beginning of our demo level contained a crowd of people going about their business--walking around the market and drinking in the coffee shops. We decided to draw our weapon and fire into the air, and sure enough, it resulted in panic spreading through the civilian populace. It also resulted in guards coming to investigate what was going on, which means we were killed shortly after.
Ubisoft production manager Andreane Meunier was also on hand and emphasised that the guiding principle for the team was to avoid frustration. "You should feel like the ultimate predator," she said, bringing up an image of a panther on her presentation slides. As part of this revised design consideration, dead bodies can no longer be dragged and hidden from other guards because Sam's just too badass to worry about such trivialities. We tested this new gameplay mechanic out on two guards outside the mansion. We sneaked up and executed the first guard, then got out of sight before the other patrolling guard found him. He approached the dead body and exclaimed, "F***, he's been killed!" before altering his patrol pattern to scout the rest of the area. In another nice touch, he peeked around corners and became more frustrated as time went on, calling us a "douchebag" to try to tease us out of the shadows.
Our session also revealed that Sam's trademark night-vision goggles--which have been the iconic imagery of nearly every game in the series--will not feature prominently in Conviction. Instead, when you're hidden in shadow, a visual filter will help distinguish enemies and interactive objects. Meunier hinted that the night-vision goggles will make a limited return later on in the game, but they will be supplied along with other gadgets by your new network of allies. These include the sticky camera, which allows you to queue up "mark and execute" assassinations, and electromagnetic pulse grenades, which can be used to take out lights so you can hide more easily.
Finally, we got to play around with Sam's new hostage-taking capabilities. If you approach enemies and hold X, you can hold and interrogate them, and you can then press X again to execute them. You can also push forward and X to throw hostages into enemies, disorientating a number of people while you either take them down one by one or run for cover. Performing executions like these allows you to build up points for the aforementioned mark and execute move, allowing you to use your camera to scope out an area and then take down multiple enemies at a time.
While it was fun to uncover some of the mystery behind the flashy E3 demo, Splinter Cell: Conviction was still at its best when played as the ruthless assassin. The developers have done a great job of making you feel like a predator, and thanks to Sam's increased athleticism, you can be hanging from window ledges, sliding open windows, and pulling enemies out to their grisly deaths in minutes. We were unable to draw Meunier on any multiplayer details, but we're sure Ubisoft is planning a seperate reveal in the future. We'll be sure to bring you more news as we have it.