Splinter Cell: Conviction's first full-sized downloadable add-on is a good one; unfortunately, the main game's continued online problems diminish its value. Broken matchmaking makes finding a match in any mode--and on any map--a time-consuming hassle, and it's still all too common to run into server errors when entering the multiplayer menu. These problems are heartbreaking, because the Deniable Ops Insurgency Pack is an excellent bit of downloadable content. The four included missions are even better than those included with the main game, filled with numerous nooks and crannies in which to hide, winding pathways and corridors useful for flanking, and dramatic opportunities to bring down your vocal foes. Those occasionally dimwitted enemies can get confused in these intricate environments, but bewildered combatants only slightly soften these levels' impact. It's unfortunate that Splinter Cell: Conviction's continuing online defects so easily get in the way, but this is a quality add-on that you can enjoy even if you're playing it without a buddy in tow.
Like the maps that shipped with the main game, the Insurgency Pack's are actually extensive three-part levels that you can use in Face-Off, Hunter, and Last Stand modes. (And as in the main game, you can explore the latter two modes in single-player as well as in two-player co-op.) The maps are set in four distinctive American cities--San Francisco, New Orleans, Salt Lake City, and Portland, Maine--and all four do an impressive job of bringing the spirit of those cities to Conviction's stealth/action gameplay. For example, the last stage of the San Francisco map takes place on a bayside dock cluttered with cranes, crates, and pulleys, a site you would reasonably expect to see at that city's piers. The Portland map opens with a nighttime glimpse of Maine lighthouses and a sojourn through a courtyard and into the bowels of a prison. These areas and the others (a New Orleans mausoleum and a Salt Lake City laboratory are particular standouts) are brimming with dark shadows, winding pipes, alternate staircases and creepy crawlspaces. The spotlight is on Conviction's cooperative flexibility. These maps are more complex than you may have expected, leaving you plenty of room to decide how to take down your enemies. You could leap onto the shipping containers and shimmy around them in the San Francisco level, for instance, or hide under enormous industrial vehicles and pick off your enemies one by one. This flexibility, coupled with the voice chat capabilities added in a recent patch, leads to the excitement of a well-timed dual execution, or a narrow escape from a tense showdown.
Just don't rely on Conviction's built-in matchmaking to hook you up with others. It remains nearly impossible to find opponents, and just entering the online menu can result in connection errors. If you want to experience these levels in cooperative play, you should coordinate matches with friends. If you can find a buddy to join you, you'll find that Conviction's lone competitive mode, Face-Off, shines in these new maps. Here you might miss the delights of co-op play--dual executions, rescuing your teammate from chokeholds--but the complexity of these maps enhances the tension when you have another player stalking you. Because there are so many places to which you can escape, heading towards the ghostly image indicating your opponent's last known position could turn the tables: he or she may very well be waiting to ambush you, using that ghost as a lure. Unfortunately, whether you play on your own or with a cohort, your computer-controlled opponents seem to have a tougher time in these elaborate setups. You can occasionally use chokepoints to take down enemies one by one as they barrel down hallways, oblivious to the rising pile of bodies directly in front of them.
It's too bad that disastrous online issues cheapen what should have been a great value for Splinter Cell fanatics. Nevertheless, $9.99 still gets you four quality levels that are fun to investigate even when you must rely only on yourself to complete the mission. That's a bit much to ask considering the troublesome online play, but the maps are still good enough to make the Deniable Ops Insurgency Pack worthy of your consideration.