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Waaaay Back When: Splinter Cell Conviction and Series Evolution

So here's the deal,

It's been a full nine months since I last posted here, and a solid year and a half since I wrote with anything resembling regularity, and you know what? I've had just about enough. Yes, the lethargy ends here, and to cap off this momentus occasion of action and writing mediocrity, I'm going to talk about a two-year-old game and an issue that's already been widely discussed. Riveting shit, no?

But fear not, now-turned-off legions, there will be humour, most of it self deprocating, and shiny, evenly spaced pictures to lull you into a false sense of genuine enjoyment. Let's crank the diction.

So I recently picked up Splinter Cell: Conviction at an entirely reasonable $10 at my local FutureBuy Stop, and for a game that I spent about 1500 words tearing to pieces based solely on that 5 min gameplay preview that preceded its launch by about 4 months, I had a surprisingly amazing time.

The controls were shit-hot, the writing was sharp, the pacing was bang-on, and it lasted just long enough to make me feel like I'd gotten my money's worth without being laboured for the sake of length. It also has one of the coolest examples of characterization through gameplay I've ever seen, not to mention the way the co-op campaign ended, that was just... well, this \/

But aside from being a thoroughly entertaining experience, Conviction did something for the Splinter Cell series that many other modern franchises struggle with; it updated without alienating.

But before I get to that, let me completely ruin my narrative flow and take you back to that incredible characterization I mentioned earlier, it'll be worth it, I promise. Oh, and spoiler alert. So about 3/4 of the way through the game, Grim tells Sam that Lambert had been lying to him about Sarah's (his daughter's) death. He did this so he could continue to use Sam for Third Echelon's ends, and discover a mole within the organization, a plan which eventually failed. Spoilers are done with

When Sam finds this out, he destroys most of the room he's in, then flees. This is where the mechanic comes in. For the entire game, Sam's thoughts have been projected into the environment as text on walls, doors etc. At this point, the mark and execute system goes on autopilot, as Sam turns his barely contained rage into concentration, and every single enemy is automatically marked, regardless of whether you've killed an enemy hand to hand, the usual requirement to execute. Knowing that Sam deals with rage, betrayal, and sorrow this way isn't really a shock, but to have that conveyed through gameplay was a completely unique experience for me, and something that the sadly lacking techniques of characterization in games could definitely benefit from.

Anyway, the reason you're here, right. What Conviction did for the Splinter Cell series was keep it modern without losing or significantly altering its core elements. Let's be honest, the gameplay climate we're in right now is a lot different than it was even five years ago. A looooot of gamers want action, visceral combat, instant gratification, and not a lot of hard work, which, let's be honest, weren't exactly key focuses of the series' previous entries. They were about patience, planning, less-than-lethal force, and stealth.

Conviction does well because it acknowledges that we live in a post-Modern Warfare world and opens up its mechanics to new players, while giving old fans of the series nearly all the tools they need to play the way they're used to. It's still just as satisfying to stealthily stalk a room and plan how you're going to take out each hapless peon without alerting any of the others as it ever was, hell, they even found a way to make it faster and smoother without taking away the suspense.

The trimming was done skillfully, and happened mostly in areas you wouldn't necessarily notice. The speed Sam moves across ledges and pipes was jacked up, there's much less use of contextual buttons, fewer options when grappling enemies, and fewer bullet types, just to name a few examples. That last one is a bit of a downer though, I do miss the sticky shocker and airfoil round, but I understand why they had to go. Now, players who normally would pass on a Splinter Cell game because it's too plodding or not exciting enough can blow their way through almost as easily.

"Almost" is the cornerstone of this entire point. It is still more effective to play Conviction like an old-school Splinter Cell game, but if you don't want to, you can still have a good time blowing these relentlessly insulting assholes to bits. This is also done subtly through the P.E.C. challenges, which give you reward points to spend on upgrades. Ubi Montréal has spread their preference right into the diction as well; the "Splinter Cell" challenges are all goals that require you to complete certain levels or requirements while remaining undetected.

At the end of the day, all of this was done to increase sales of the game in a market that's significantly different than the one the original was born in. And if the result of these changes is that we see more Splinter Cell, then they were made for the right reasons. That said, Blacklist looks to have taken these slight alterations to the extreme, but let's reserve judgement until we're closer to release.

To all of the high level indstry execs and creatively groundbreaking devs who of course read every entry in the blog with baited breath: this is how you update and trim a series, with a small scalpel, in places people won't notice, not by grafting rocket launchers to the arms and jet booster to the back.

~ Om nom nom nom...

PS: Let me know if you were one of lucky 80 ish thousand to get a ticket to PAX before they sold out on day one and we'll chill at the show, I'm going without my partner in crime this year, and in light of how much fun I had with DToiders last year, I'm endlessly pumped to meet more of you
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About Om Nom On Soulsone of us since 4:57 PM on 02.27.2010

So here's me,

My real name is Max and I'm a diehard Browncoat. I also have an encyclopedic knowledge of the Star Wars universe left over from a childhood obsession, as well as an actual Star Wars encyclopedia, but that's another matter.

I like to sleep, but keep odd hours, I like food A LOT, I like TV on occasion, I'm not a huge fan of any music except symphonic, and apparently I have bad music taste, even at 20 I can barely grow enough facial hair to justify shaving more than twice a week, I love to write, I kinda read, I hate a couple of the people in my J-school program, HBO is perfect, LOST is actually alright, I'm a total gearhead, Avatar was a terrible movie but an incredible experience, How to Train Your Dragon was very, VERY awesome, and all I want at this moment is a 1:1 stuffed Appa.

Guess what this last paragraph used to be for? My two cents on the games/art debate. Guess what's here now? NOTHING, and that's the way I likes it.

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