I only recently got around to playing Conviction, which is why I’m writing about it something like 6 months after it’s been released, so consider this an early retrospective or something.
It took me until the last sections of Conviction to figure out what it was – until then I was getting frustrated and angry at the whole thing, then it clicked. It was the realisation that this isn’t Splinter Cell and that trying to play it as Splinter Cell isn’t right. From then on, it was great.
I’m a huge fan of the Splinter Cell franchise, Chaos Theory firmly placing itself in my favourite games list, and the idea of “like that but faster” was very much appealing. On reflection though I know I was lying to myself ; if I remember correctly the trailer for Conviction saw Fisher going crazy with a shotgun, so I should have known that this was never going to be the glacial stealth of Splinter Cells past, but I’m sure I was promised “you can play it like that if you want to”.
You can’t really. You don’t have the space to be that stealthy in and there are often bottlenecks full of guards that you are forced to fight through. Every level in every Splinter Cell game has been something of a sandbox – you’re dropped into an area, given some objectives, then left to get on with it. This is why stealth could properly work – multiple approaches to multiple areas/situations means you have enough room to manoeuvre in unseen; Conviction has corridors that you can’t backtrack down and the odd large/very large room. You have to kill everyone and you will be spotted when doing so because there are too many people and no alternate routes.
Let me put it this way: In Chaos Theory there is a level where you have to infiltrate and effectively rob a bank. At the start you are outside and there are a couple of guards. You creep past them all, hugging a wall, until you get to a fuse box. Destroying the box descends the front of the Bank into complete darkness enabling you to sneak past everyone to an unguarded area. Once there you climb to the roof and then silently abseil into an office and then proceed towards your objectives. If this level were in Conviction there would be six guards outside with reinforcements ready, and you would kill them all, then blow up the door.
I was fighting against this all the way. I will get past these guards without being seen, I will not get into another firefight here. I stubbornly stuck to a silenced pistol all the way through, reloading to checkpoints when it all went wrong. Right until the end. I had just died in the same corridor for what felt like the millionth time but I happened to be ‘re-spawning’ next to one of the gun lockers that lets you choose your loadout. Fuck it; this time I take a more powerful pistol that doesn’t have a silencer and a shotgun. This was when it clicked.
As soon as I removed the option of picking off a guy, hiding, picking off another guy, hiding; Conviction started doing its thing. Now it was a case of shooting one guy with a satisfying BLAM, change position, BLAM, move to flank, BLAM, move, BLAM, move. It was fluid, visceral. And this is something that I had touched on a few times earlier in the game, but I tried to avoid it. Instead of embracing the action I was shunning it, now I was like Leon.
And the more I think back over Conviction, the more and more I like it. Sure it had a wonkey section or two and a bit of dodgy checkpointing now and again, but what game doesn’t? Everything else was polished and slick, the concept behind levels especially. Anything that doesn’t include a sewers level or a warehouse is good in my book, but Conviction goes a step further. It’s not quite Blood Money in terms of variety – things rarely are – but it does jump happily from a Maltese mansion to an actually-done-well science lab cum factory to a fairground, and escalating to the wrecked streets of D.C. and the Whitehouse.
Importantly, each place feels authentic and vibrant. As I walked through the carnival, for instance, counter-stalking some spies, it felt alive. People on stalls were calling out to passers by; people were staring up at rides, questioning whether it would make them sick; it just felt alive – and while none of this is particularly innovative, it’s a far cry from the almost clinical levels of the old Splinter Cells – and it’s re-enforced completely by some staggering displays of humanity in D.C. that I won’t spoil.
Fisher, too, is brilliantly written. Take Jason Bourne or Jack Bauer beyond breaking point, and this Fisher is what you get. He’s on a ruthless, unforgiving rampage and you can feel it, especially in the interrogation sections. Rather than whispering questions into someone’s ear, now Fisher gabs them by the throat and practically breaks them in every way possible until he gets what he wants. He’s an angry, lethal, super spy on the brink of going insane, and it’s amazing to watch. And I suppose that’s what Conviction really is, an angrier, more brutal, more up front game.
Even after all this though, it’s still difficult to place Conviction, mainly because of what it is compared to what I expect of a Splinter Cell game. This isn’t a Splinter Cell game, but it isn’t an action game either. The closest comparison I think I can draw is the stealth sections from Arkham Asylum, as in you are an aggressive predator with a bunch of toys, able to take down tens of people so long as you can outsmart them. Which, you know, is great, but I can’t help but miss the hard-stealth lines of Chaos Theory. And I definitely like it a lot, so much so that while I have tens of other games to play – all I want to do is replay Conviction.