Thursday, June 3, 2010
Splinter Cell Conviction: Impressions
Its been a good long while since I actually wrote anything for this blog, so I thought Id throw out my impressions of the new Splinter Cell game for those of you who havent picked it up yet. In short, the game is well above average but fails to uphold the legacy of Chaos Theory, the best game in the franchise, while exceeding the very mediocre Double Agent. If you like Splinter Cell style stealth-action games, you will certainly enjoy this, but if you played a lot of Chaos Theory, it will also be disappointing.
As a videogame-product to be marketed to teens and drive up Ubisoft's shareprice, its a fine addition to their roster. Its far from a black eye, this is a piece of software that the developers can confidently tell investors in their quarterly conference call will be a million plus seller. It has customizable outfits, various online modes, a full coop campaign, HDR lighting, simulated torture, silenced pistols, anistropic filtering, kidnapping, soft shadows, extortion, - its pretty much everything any god-fearing apple-pie eating American video game player would love. In this regard, as a videogame-product, Splinter Cell Conviction is a resounding success.
But how is it as a game? I think that if you are new to the franchise this game will please you. While the single player campaign is a bit short in length on the default difficulty, the coop campaign is almost as long and is a ton of fun for the few hours that it lasts. However, the game doesnt have a lot of replayability, especially if you play it on the Realistic difficulty setting the first time through - as you should if you have any experience with stealth action games. Chaos Theory not only had a difficulty above Realistic/Hard (Expert), the original Xbox classic would score you for each mission based on how many alarms you triggered, how many guards you killed or incapacitated (the latter giving a much higher score), how many bodies were found, and your overall time and accuracy with a weapon. The replayability of Chaos Theory was (and is) extremely high, and thats just for the single player, offline component.
When you consider that Chaos Theory also had a complete coop campaign, with all the same difficulty levels and scoring options as the single player, you really wonder why Ubisoft made the conscious design decision to simplify and streamline the gameplay in Conviction. Gone are all scoring systems, gone is the ability to hide bodies, gone are many of the non-lethal gadgets, gone are many of the non-lethal CQC moves and melee attacks, gone are night vision, infrared vision, and the OCP pistol attatchment, which would disable electronic devices without destroying them. The fewer people you killed, the less lights you shot out, and the more discrete you were about leaving any sign of your presence, the higher your score was in Chaos Theory. In Conviction, the game plays almost completely the opposite. The developers dont want you to tread lightly. They dont want you to be non lethal. Non-lethal CQC moves and hiding in the shadows quitely for several minutes apparently dont sell well with the 12-22 year old male demographic that Ubisoft has its red dot sight set on.
So they took it all out. Well, almost all of it.
The result is almost like you crossed Splinter Cell with Army of Two, Rainbow 6 Vegas or some other mindless 3rd person shooter where endless hordes of enemies constantly stream into your firing line. The thing that sticks out to me the most, more than any other facet of the redisgn of the franchise, is the sheer number of enemies. Yes, there are still many stealth elements in the game, and several times where you are sneaking and hiding and staying out of the light, and those parts feel great - but there simply arent enough of them to make this feel like a true stealth game, a true Splinter Cell game. Instead it feels like a genre mishmash, like someone gave a description of the Splinter Cell franchise to some 12 year old boys and let them make the game. Maybe thats too harsh, but then again, this is the Splinter Cell game where Sam Fisher walks around with an AK-47 and frag grenades.
Finally, Id like to talk about the online multiplayer. Yes, there are a ton of modes. No, they arent all that much fun. There are several Horde style survival modes, a mode where you protect a generator from waves of enemies, and a VS mode which pits two spies against each other. There is neither a coop vs mode, with two teams of 2 spies facing off against each other, nor is there a return of the Spies vs Mercs mode which has made an appearance in prior games. While in previous Splinter Cell games, even those from the last generation of consoles, a 4 person multiplayer match was possible, in this new game (which has spent years of development on a "next gen" console) the highest number of people that can play online together is 2. If there ever was a recipe for having your game not make the top 10 most played Xbox Live titles, its limiting the online play to only 2 people. Back in 2005, we thought Ubisoft would expand on its outstanding multiplayer formula in future games to include 6 or 8 players, but the past two titles have taken so many steps backwards its hard to give the developer any credit at all.
I dont know whether the market has changed too much since 2005 to expect a Splinter Cell like those in the past - which were difficult to learn and even harder to master. One of the Ubi developers, when specifically asked why Spies vs Mercs hadnt been created for Conviction, stated that the gameplay was simply too hardcore for most players to ever get into. Hearing statements like that, its hard to be optimistic for the future of the franchise. Many games today - not all, but many - arent being made into the best possible game they could be. They are being made to be sold to the highest number of people. Its an alarming trend, and unfortunately as core gamers who are the minority demographic, one we have little control over.