“Cell” out

Pub date May 4, 2010

Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Conviction

(Ubisoft/Ubisoft Montreal) PC, Xbox360

GAMER Sometimes you play a game like Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Conviction and think, “Did the people who made this even bother to play it?” Questions begin to boil over. Why would you make a game in which you can skip some cutscenes and not others? If it’s really necessary to include unskippable cutscenes, why must they precede the three parts of the game most likely to cause the player to die and reload? My fingers got tired while playing the game, but not from the controller — from scratching my head in angry confusion.

Conviction has its satisfying moments, to be sure, nice visuals, and a distinguished pedigree of stealth-based, third-person titles. But the overall impression it leaves is of a game that is frustrating, uneven, and short. For every ambitious step that Ubisoft Montreal takes forward, it takes two in the opposite direction, mimicking the actions of the game’s protagonist, grizzled superspy Sam Fisher as he tries to creep up on a unsuspecting henchman. Clever set-pieces, like the one in which Fisher must eavesdrop on two villains with a remote-control surveillance array, are quickly overshadowed by the game’s profusion of sour notes, including a truly wretched take on the timeless “dodge the laser beam of instant death” mechanic.

The Splinter Cell series has always been about sneaking around in the shadows, and Conviction mostly hews to this dogma. Except when it doesn’t, and you’re suddenly expected to gun down enemies by the bushel while running at a full sprint. The developers seem to take a perverse pride in forcing you to unlearn the lessons of completed gameplay. Getting used shooting enemies in the head? Wait until you come up against their magical, bulletproof helmets as the game limps toward a conclusion.

Michael Ironside is a gem as the voice of Fisher, and he growls his way doggedly through a plot full of Clancyite conspiracy gibberish. Another amusing touch is the Zombieland-style floating text that shows up on the walls when the game is trying to get you to do its bidding. Less appealing, as far as pop culture goes, are the creepy, 24-style “torture is cool” minigames. We all play video games to be empowered. But if your idea of fun is bashing an unarmed prisoner’s face into the wall using the B button, please, seek help. At the very least, I can hope to avoid partnering you in the Conviction‘s entertaining co-op modes.