The subject of dumbing down and the simplification of games is a hot topic in modern gaming. Gamers tend to be split into two camps - those who think it represents progress and evolution and those (usually the older gamers) who believe it represents a devolution and removes the need to think.
I fall into the latter camp and to demonstrate why I think this way I'm going to use Splinter Cell Chaos Theory (2005) and Splinter Cell Conviction (2010). From the offset Conviction is a very different beast to Chaos Theory. Almost unrecognisable (yes, I'm aware Double Agent filled the gap between the two but this is a comparison between old and new). The mechanics in Conviction have been completely rewritten and overhauled. Thats not necessarily a bad thing at first glance; games have to evolve right? But examining the changes in detail makes it easy to see why this series has been singled out for criticism. Lets start with the basics:
Conviction now informs the player on screen of any potential actions that can be triggered such as climb and take cover. I'm not a fan of this trend in modern gaming. Chaos Theory gave you the terrain and that was it, no on screen clues or guidance. Conviction tells you exactly which parts of the level you can climb and instead of being able to walk up to a climbable object and simply press the up key, you now have to press the action key, which means you have to line Sam up with the object until the action option appears on screen - not always easy to do in tight situations when you cant afford a mistake.
This also means that some objects can be interacted with whilst other very similar looking ones cannot. It's the luck of the draw whether you can climb, or jump or take cover next to something. Likewise some lights you can shoot out, but there's plenty you cannot. Chaos Theory was less artificial - Sam could interact with all scenery and could shoot (almost) all the lights out. The ones he couldn't shoot he could momentarily neutralize with the EMP in his gun (a great mechanic not present in Conviction). So in Chaos Theory the suspension of disbelief remains intact, unlike Conviction, with its constant help and instructions on what to do next plastered all over the screen. Immersion appears to be a concept disappearing from modern day gaming.
Sam is deadly with a gun in Conviction. In Chaos Theory shooting was difficult and inaccurate, largely I suspect due to Ubi, at the time, wanting to discourage shooting and encourage stealth. In Conviction you have a large arsenal of deadly weapons. Stealth kills are encouraged as they give you execution points to take out two guards at once with your gun. But it feels... too easy. And why would he only have this ability intermittently? Where have all the alternative ways to take out enemies gone? It's a lazy mechanic and removes a chunk of realism from the game.
Gone too is the ability to simply knock the guards out, Conviction allows only kills. In Chaos Theory you had the option to kill or KO, which meant you had the power to decide if the person should live or die. It was nice having the choice. In Chaos Theory you can hide the bodies to ensure the alarm wont be raised but you can't in Conviction, which makes stealthing through a level completely undetected nigh on impossible. It makes Conviction much more arcade-y (I'm purposely avoiding the more inflammatory console-ish term!) and removes a strategic aspect of previous Splinter Cell games. It also removes that feeling of satisfaction shared by stealth lovers from when you make it through a level completely undetected and without killing a soul.
Stealth is an area in which Conviction really shows it limitations. Ironic considering it is a stealth game per se. The whole "turn the screen black and white whilst in the shadows" thing may have been a nice idea in theory but it is no replacement for the light (and sound) meters from Chaos Theory. With the black and white system it's nearly impossible to predict which other areas are in darkness. Trial and error is the name of the game.
Chaos Theory's subtle sound and light meters allowed the player to keep track of exactly how visible they were (without the need for any obtrusive monochrome screen colour change) and how much noise they were making, another aspect not present in Conviction. In Chaos Theory Sam could use infra-red and night vision to scout for enemies not in Conviction however, instead you have the new sonar goggles that can see everything in the vicinity with a single pulse. It's both limited and unrealistic.
Chaos Theory had three goggle modes, each of which had to be used at specific times in the game and all had a genuine purpose AND Sam had the ability to remotely hack a computer with the goggles. None of that is present in Conviction. In fact, the only thing you can do really in Conviction is kill - clear an area and move on to clear the next. In Chaos Theory Sam had many diverse mission tasks - stealing from a bank vault, finding hidden microphones, hacking computers etc. There is no equivalent to any of these with Conviction. Just some QTEs when you interrogate people.
In Conviction the levels feel more like a linear journey from one set piece to another as opposed to naturally unfolding levels. Every location is littered with blocks to take cover behind with flares dotted about that cannot be extinguished - a poor excuse to keep an area lit and both combine to create an artificial, arcade like feel to the game. Chaos Theory had plenty of things to take cover behind, but they didn't feel unnatural within the level.
And some parts of Conviction have seemingly been designed to encourage shootouts over stealth. In many cases, to increase difficulty, the game just throws more and more enemies at you, as though the developers couldn't be bothered to create new challenging scenarios to test the player. Later in the game you'll find yourself clearing one room, walking into the next and then suddenly having a dozen enemies appear out of nowhere. There is often no chance to stealth. No chance to avoid a fight. Its just take cover, get your rifle out and settle in for a shootout.
I've not even bothered talking about the lack of a quick save feature in Conviction (check points suck), the lack of atmosphere compared to Chaos Theory, the dodgy dubsteppy like soundtrack, the multitude of plot holes in the story and that Iraq level (what were they thinking?).
Summary: It's impossible to argue that Conviction is not a heavily streamlined version of its predecessor-but-one Chaos Theory. In the words of Conviction developer Alexandre Parizeau:
"When you try to innovate somethings work and somethings don't. Not necessarily as you would like."
Conviction is not innovation. It's devolution.