Some big changes for the franchise. But are they all good ones?
Story-wise, Conviction is a great follow-up. It covers most of the uneven ground in the previous Splinter Cell game, Double Agent. It's what all spy-themed works are all about: a retired agent; another last mission; save one person, at one point; then, save the world, at another. One cool thing is how the story is related; story-segments and mission points are projected onto walls, ceilings and even floors. It's like a reel of what Sam must know, or have already known. It's like the player is fed with Sam's thoughts and feelings, through those visual projections, which are in black-and-white, like a real old-school movie presentation. Objectives are also shown this way. Words fittingly appear on any surface in any part of the game, to remind Sam as to what he should be doing at that time, sometimes even overlapping him as if he's blocking a projector. It's a great effect.
Sam is in ruins; his daughter is dead; Lambert's dead; and there's a new nut-job running the Third Echelon. That's a lot to think about, thus his retirement. But barely out of active duty, is he called back into the world of espionage by another familiar face. She claims to know his daughter's killer. After just a few seconds of spy chit-chat, Sam is on the go, regaining familiarity in his art as he plows through dozens of goons and henchmen in several different and sometimes familiar locales throughout the United States. The story progression is none short of epic, and it's told magnificently in really intense cinematic segments. Even the basic tutorial is told in a different and original way.
Graphically, Conviction is okay. It's presented in an older version of the Unreal Engine 2. Although it does look high-end, some elements sometimes make the game look too bright, and in other cases, too dark. A new graphical feature lets the screen turn black and white when Sam is in the shadows. While for others this may be a means to find a deeper sense of immersion, some may think that this is a step back. Having this effect ensures that you're concealed in darkness, but eventually you'll think that you're stolen of color in the otherwise shaded world, and those shades are muted and dark-looking.
Of course, stealth here is important, and you are rewarded for staying stealthy. Sam carries with him the standard silenced pistol, a very powerful weapon, especially in Sam's hand. Points are rewarded for stealth kills such as shooting an enemy in the head, undetected. There are also melee kills. Killing an enemy by hand gives you the 'mark and execute' ability. This is immensely helpful, especially with multiple enemies in the map at one time. It's really easy; just point the crosshair at an enemy, then hit the mark button. You can mark multiple baddies, but there's a mark limit, just to make things a bit fair. When all desired targets are marked, pressing the corresponding execute button will trigger Sam to shoot all marks in the head, in satisfying slow-mo. No melee kill, no execute ability.Although it's a wonderful addition to the game, it all the more makes it simple. Melee doesn't only merit a mark and execute perk; standard human shield option is present, but the most intriguing and possibly the most interesting feature the game might offer after capturing any key enemy is interrogation. You must do damage to the character, whose neck is tightly held by Sam's hardened hand. Interrogation lets you interact with different objects within the limited environment, such as a sink, or a stack of TVs. Clever environment use gives points for a successful interrogation. Alas, you can only interrogate specific targets, and interrogation feels incomplete, overall.
The points, per se, are used to upgrade Sam's weapons, in terms of power, accuracy; sometimes increasing magazine capacities, or even increasing mark target limits. All weapons in the game are upgradeable, which is slightly unnecessary because a single shot of any un-upgraded weapon will already send bodies plopping awkwardly on the floor. Enemy types are eventually presented, but unfortunately only later in the game. Some of the bad guys may then have body armor or helmets, and sometimes Splinter Cell agents also get in the mix, with all the spy capabilities integrated in them. It's a shame all of them are stupid.
That's it. There's no lock-picking, or any of the crazy spy stuff Sam did in the previous games. You're given the iconic spy-goggles, but still, it's on much later in the game, and only features a single nauseating view-modification. It's an obviously toned-down experience, but it's so fun and the story is satisfying. Stealth, although important, can be ignored here. Sam can gun his way through most of the levels (with the exception of one, which demands stealth), which can be a frustration for some, because it loses its 'Splinter Cell' essence. There are a few twists, but none of them truly awesome. It's a great single-player campaign, nonetheless. The voice-acting is superb, thanks mostly to the deep baritone of Michael Ironside. The musical score is also well-made, rising in crucial points and fitfully complementing each situation with a cool finesse of techno-epic music-omelet.
Co-op presents a different experience, with a new story and some new locales to traverse in. This is where the true meaning of Splinter Cell is integrated. There's much stealth here, and you're really in the role of a spy. But the PC version of the co-op is riddled with bugs and it really doesn't work to the convenience of the player. It's a pity, sad to say.
Overall, Splinter Cell: Conviction is both a step forward and back. It's not the most complete game to be released, even after all the delays that plagued it. It's simple, and the single player is extremely short (5-6 hours of playing would prove it). It doesn't have a replayability factor in single player, and co-op is so poorly rendered. Sam may be getting old, but he still has some neat tricks up his sleeve, and he deserves applause for that, not a standing ovation, but an applause nonetheless.