Being one of the world’s best-selling authors, it was probably inevitable that the works of Tom Clancy would find their way into other mediums. His works, noted for their in-depth detail on matters of military and espionage, have seen films and TV series based on them, but it seems that video games are the area where the crossover has been most successful.
The tactical shooter series’ Rainbow Six and Ghost Recon were both met with positive sales and reception from players and critics alike. Part of their success may have been input from Clancy himself, who created the company Red Storm Entertainment to make games based on his books.
Elsewhere, Red Storm’s publisher Ubisoft saw similar success with Splinter Cell – a series of stealth games where players took on the role of Sam Fisher, field operative of the secret intelligence agency Third Echelon.
Well made as all these games are, like the books that inspired them they are big on the finer details and require a lot of concentration to stick out. Players not so keen to spend time strategizing on how to go about every mission and learning how to best use every gadget, move and weapon would likely find a Tom Clancy game inaccessible.
That was until 2010 and the release of Splinter Cell: Conviction – the fifth game in the series but, more crucially, the first that even casual gamers could play!
Conviction is, in many ways, a departure for Splinter Cell, with plenty of changes that would have riled devotees. Action and shooting elements are mixed in with the stealth, with the slow-burning missions being exchanged for a greater emphasis on the plot and presentation. Even the series trademark, Fisher’s multi-vision goggles, are absent.
All these changes go to show how the developers were deliberately keen to take Splinter Cell in a different direction. While it’s risky to mess with a successful brand, especially given the varying success of other game series who have changed direction, in Conviction’s case it works. It is able to retain the series’ USPs while making changes to the elements that would have acted as barriers for less nuanced players.
Conviction is as complex a game as its predecessors, with a lot of different controls and commands, but they are all laid out in a way where they’re easy to get to grips with. It also doesn’t fall into the trap other actions games do, feeling the need to have an ever-expanding array of gadgets, and getting too over-complicated in the process.
In terms of gameplay, stealth is still a huge part of Conviction and the easiest option for crossing a heavily patrolled area. Nothing feels more satisfying than completing one of the game’s stealth sections undetected, but if you are it’s not game over… there’s still the option to shoot your way out.
Doing so is harder, but the fact that getting caught is not an instant game over takes layers of frustration off the game. Previous Splinter Cell games had a high level of trial and error, where if you were caught, entire sections would have to be replayed. Not so with Conviction.
The presentation of Conviction was ahead of its time, with a rousing score and cinematic angles during blocked scenes among its many visual flourishes, drawing players into the moment.
Stylistic decisions extend to mission objectives that appear on environments, and the screen turning black and white when you are fully hidden from enemy view. Again, these are things purists may say make Conviction more straightforward, which you could argue, but you could also make the counter-argument for these additions keeping the proceedings focused.
In addition to these keeping players on track, none of Conviction’s missions have collectibles, side missions or bonus objectives. It is a stripped-down actioner with no distractions and is so much better for that. With just the mission objective to focus on, it’s an easy game to get into, as well as one that leaves room for natural character and story progression.
The plot, which sees Fisher uncovering corruption in Third Echelon in exchange for new information on a tragic incident from his past, may not always be understandable or sensible, but it allows for some spectacular scenes. It takes the story on missions set in Russia, Azerbaijan and Malta, all of which are beautifully designed.
The most memorable of these missions, visually, have iconic American landmarks at the focal point – the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial and, of course, the White House. Missions set at these locations, which are so realistically laid out and detailed, are the best example of Conviction’s extraordinary look.
On release in 2010, Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell Conviction on Xbox 360 and PC saw good reviews and sales – more than one million overall – but it won over few new fans. It was followed three years later by Blacklist, which was not as well received, and as such remains the last Splinter Cell game to date.
If you have never played a Tom Clancy game before, or have but found them too much like work, Conviction is available on disc and download from the Xbox Store and Steam. It is one you won’t regret playing.