Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Conviction Microsoft Press Conference Impressions

Sam Fisher emerges from the shadows in Microsoft's stage demo of Splinter Cell: Conviction.

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Sam Fisher will never be the same. This much is perfectly clear, judging from Microsoft's stage demo of Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Conviction. The voice over in the trailer shown at Microsoft's E3 2009 press conference told us as much: “The Sam Fisher you know--is dead.” Even more prophetic is a line delivered by Sam himself: “Who said anything about hiding?”

The presentation of this sequel began with a short trailer. The trailer pans around a slightly grizzled, older Sam, who flashes back to memories of his daughter. The trailer shows hand-to-hand combat and plenty of gunplay, and toward the end, multiple agents crash through a glass skylight and surround a figure, aiming their weapons at him. The figure is a decoy, and Sam appears behind one of the agents, pulls him into a choke hold, and points his pistol at the others, proclaiming, “What happens next is up to you.” Sam will stand by his convictions and no longer plays by the rules. He's looking for answers.

As is clear, UbiSoft is taking the franchise in a different direction from the pure stealth it is known for. The gameplay demo was even more intriguing than the trailer. It began as Sam attacked an enemy in a men's bathroom. The combat looked reminiscent of what we saw in last year's The Bourne Conspiracy and featured a final environmental kill using a sink and the mirror above. The camera then panned across the building and outside to outline the next mission objective. UbiSoft wants the narrative to move at a fast pace, so expect story points and objectives to be delivered in real time within the story in just this fashion, which should help Splinter Cell: Conviction remain immersive.

Sam's actions are now fast and brutal, and Sam's new "mark and execute" ability lets him do--well--exactly that. Each environment is a sandbox, letting Sam use his surroundings as you see fit. We watched as Sam peeked under a door, marked his enemy, and exited the building, only to fill his enemy's head with lead. He did the same through a window and then climbed through the window and into the building. The next sequence showed Sam keeping to the shadows, picking off enemies one by one as he found his way to the ground floor. The visual story overlays were one of the most intriguing things we saw during this action. At various moments, text such as “get Sarah's killer” and images of her face appeared within the environment, yet were subtle enough to be dramatic reminders of the importance of Sam's personal mission.

The next scene was even more explosive. Sam forcefully charged into the next house, taking enemies down with a mix of melee moves and gunplay. Glass flew everywhere, grenades exploded, and Sam eventually dropped to an outside ledge and crawled through another window. There, he began interrogating his next subject but was interrupted when more cops dropped in through the skylight. Sam's subject told Sam that if he wanted to know what had happened to his daughter, he must cooperate. The camera then pulled away, eventually showing the full city scene from the eyes of individuals watching through a monitor.

The demo ended there, but we learned one more important tidbit--that Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Conviction is coming this fall exclusively on the Xbox 360 (though we assume the PC version is still coming as well). Clearly, this isn't the Splinter Cell of yore. Stealth is only one option, and if what we saw is any indication, your fists and guns will be equally effective when you want to emerge from the shadows. We'll bring you more on Splinter Cell: Conviction in the coming days, weeks, and months.

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