GAME REVIEW – Splinter Cell: Conviction (PC Version)

By Marty Mulrooney

SplinterCellConviction

Splinter Cell Conviction is the fifth instalment in the Splinter Cell series of video games, yet it almost feels like a total reboot. Released in the middle of last month (April 2010) on Xbox 360 to critical acclaim, PC gamers had to wait an extra two weeks to get their hands on the title. Was it worth the wait?

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In a nutshell, no. I am pretty appalled that I have to start a review in this manner, but so be it. The PC version of Splinter Cell Conviction as it stands now is a total disgrace. So much so in fact that it heavily delayed my review for AMO.

I recently bought an Xbox 360 Wireless Controller For Windows (reviewed here) in anticipation of Conviction’s release, with our review copy due to land on the earlier American release date courtesy of our friends at Gamersgate.co.uk. I actually thought I might have a bit of an exclusive review on my hands for our UK readers. More fool me.

Upon launching the game and activating my controller (which Ubisoft claimed was supported), I noticed something very odd.  The B and A buttons were reversed, with a click of the right stick responding as if I had pressed the Start button. No other buttons worked.

Five days later, after constantly visiting and commenting on a multi-page thread via the official Ubisoft forum which detailed the problem, somebody finally came up with a solution. The pad would work if you forced your computer to install Beta drivers from 2007. Unbelievable. As of yet, there has been no official fix: a patch launched today that seemed to work somewhat for me, yet many are still reporting the game incompatible with the latest drivers.

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So five days later and I could finally play the game the way it is meant to be played, albeit with outdated drivers. I had tried playing with the keyboard and mouse, but the sloppy mouse smoothing removed all accuracy. You basically need a pad for this game.

First impressions were good, my new PC could handle the game on nearly full graphical settings. FRAPS sheds no light on performance though: it tells me the game is only running at 15fps regardless of graphical settings. Bizarre.

Certainly, things don’t feel optimised. This game should be smooth as butter on a new computer but it seldom feels that way. Still, I was happy that I could at least play the damn thing and ploughed ahead.

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Conviction is all about the mechanics. There was room for a really strong story here, but it never fully comes to fruition. The original Splinter Cell never really grabbed my imagination due to its focus on missions rather than narrative. Conviction does a better job, with some wonderful cinematics. Yet I couldn’t tell you the villain’s name even now (unmemorable characters galore) and the basic plot seems to have taken a few tips from Modern Warfare 2… which I had exactly the same problems with. Emotional involvement is severely limited as a result.

Ahem. Anyway, the mechanics. Splinter Cell Conviction immediately distances itself from previous games in the series by replacing the complex controls and slow pace fans became accustomed to with something altogether much more fluid and streamlined. You still can’t go toe to toe with armed opponents, as the controls are not made for heavy gun fights. However, Sam Fisher is far more aggressive and will be pumping plenty of enemies full of lead before his mission is over.

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The name of the game is ‘Mark and Execute’, an ability Sam gains by using a hand to hand takedown. He can then mark several enemies (up to four with some weapons) before unleashing a flurry of automated headshots with a click of a single button. The feature works really well, encouraging players to remain stealthy until they can successfully take down the remaining targets in style. It also looks pretty damn cool. For example, you can mark two enemies before jumping down on a third, executing your marks perfectly afterwards due to the use of a non-weapon takedown.

The game also deviates from past instalments with its use of light and dark. Players will now see the screen drain to black-and-white when in the cover of darkness, an effect I enjoyed at first but found grating by the end as it made moving in and out of shadow difficult to judge. Sometimes cutting off all the fat reduces some of the flavour too.

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Another new addition is the much vaunted ‘Interrogation’ mechanic, but I sadly found this to be all smoke and mirrors. The initial use of this new gameplay style is very fun, with one particular bad guy getting his head smashed into various objects in a bathroom during the opening level.

As this device pops back up again level after level however, you soon release that the number of interactive objects in any given interrogation scene is limited and the outcomes are always the same. You are basically just manoeuvring yourself and then pressing a button. Further interactivity and the use of this ability outside of set parameters could have made this an awesome addition to the game: instead it is soon reduced to mere window dressing.

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One new feature that never grows stale though is the use of projected video and text. Sure, it breaks the fourth wall in the process but is undeniably cool and perhaps most important of all, functional. Text appears on the walls and floor to tell you your next objectives and guide you throughout your missions. I really loved this effect and thought it was a rather innovative idea that added to the style and presentation substantially.

Likewise, when interrogating an enemy, images would often play out on the surrounding walls like an old fashioned movie projector, allowing a flashback to be seen without cutting away from the present moment. Again, visually this is a wonderful addition to the Splinter Cell series.

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Sadly, this is where the visual impact ends. Although by no means an ugly looking game, Conviction is running on the LEAD engine, which is basically a heavily modified version of the Unreal 2.5 engine. This is dated tech and it shows: environments are nowhere near as expansive as they could have been and invisible walls will often herd you back on course. Texture work is perfunctory at best.

The levels offer very little variation, with the gameplay mechanics only just about managing to stay fun enough to carry a relatively short single player campaign (6 hours tops) through to its conclusion. There is one wonderful moment where you are chasing a man through a crowded area, yet this is an isolated, scripted incident. Usually, you will just be sneaking around a bit before using the ‘Mark and Execute’ command and moving on to another area. Rinse and repeat.

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The use of environmental weapons (such as dangling chandeliers) is emphasised heavily initially before soon becoming almost totally forgotten. Enemies are reasonably smart but are slaves to the game’s set mechanics. Moving Sam from cover unseen leaves an outline of his last known position which enemies will then mindlessly blast away at, allowing you to circle behind them and take them out. It works well but soon becomes rather formulaic.

Sadly, gadgets are few and far between too. Sticky cams are rather fun, but serve little purpose when you can just as easily issue a well placed headshot. I got this far without mentioning Metal Gear Solid, but that series honestly does stealth and action far better than anything we have seen here. Even Sam’s trademark goggles have been replaced with a headset that can see through walls (sounds cooler than it actually is), making it very difficult to play for any period of time with them turned on. I missed the old fashioned night vision mode.

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Thankfully, the game’s saving grace is its cover system, which is quite frankly the best cover system I have ever seen in a game. Once Sam is in cover, you can aim your crosshairs at any nearby walls or objects. If they can provide cover, a little trio of arrows will show up, allowing Sam to automatically scurry there with the click of a button. It is such an effective system that I am frankly amazed nobody else thought of it first.

In short, the single played campaign is fun while it lasts, but will never blow you away. Michael Ironside as Sam Fisher sounds phenomenal, yet all this achieves is a deep feeling of regret that the script doesn’t match his professionalism and vocal talent. Enemies sound far worse in comparison, repeating set phrases and coming across as rather cheesy caricatures. The music is a highlight, matching any Hollywood action score even if you won’t be humming it afterwards. (This series really needs a memorable theme tune.)

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So, onto the multiplayer aspect of the game, right? Wrong. As of yet, I am still unable to connect to a single online game. I have tried every day since release. Apparently there is a whole separate game with its own story to play online with a buddy. Yet I doubt I will ever experience it. Clicking matchmaking just endlessly loads with no end in sight… try 20 minutes waiting before you give up and see how you feel! Another quick glance at the official forums hints that I am not the only one with this problem either. Matchmaking is broken.

Players who have played online also report the complete omission of voice chat. I find this difficult to comprehend… what where Ubisoft thinking? This is the single most botched PC port of a game I have ever seen in my entire life. Even the frankly rubbish Iraq level is made worse by a glitch in the PC version of the game where your gun’s scope makes everything seem stretched and distorted. Really?!

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Then there is Ubisoft’s DRM scheme, whereby you have to be connected to the internet even to play the single player portion of the game. If you are playing and your connection drops out, the game pauses and you will be locked out. Funnily enough this aspect is something I hated in principle, but had no real problems with personally. However, other gamers have apparently had frequent problems with this new DRM. I have no doubt that pirates will have already cracked the game, so all this is doing is punishing paying customers.

Even worse, the launcher connects to Ubisoft… yet I had to go and download the 1.02 patch today myself, buried deep within the official forum, before installing it manually. What a joke. Splinter Cell Conviction’s single player campaign is a short, fun blast with some cool new ideas, that sadly never quite reaches its full potential. The other half of the game is of course the multiplayer, yet I couldn’t even play this mode. Perhaps as a whole, the game could have been worth a solid 8 OUT OF 10 if the multiplayer had worked, making up for a short single player campaign in the process. As it stands, the PC version of this game is a tragic letdown, hardly earning its final score.

6 OUT OF 10

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34 Comments

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34 responses to “GAME REVIEW – Splinter Cell: Conviction (PC Version)

  1. Ace-d

    Great and honest review!

    • Kyle

      this review is such crap, all the professional reviewers give it a 9.3 and i agree. single player is short, but awsome and easily replayable 5 times if you really like it. i have a strong 5 bar internet connection so i have no problems and ive beaten the coop mode and have no problems matchmaking. stop complaining and just enjoy it man. ive bought every single SC game that came out and have always been satisfied. the single player could have been longer but the story line was really good anyway, and with all the other modes to play i could easily be playing this game for another year.

      • Marty Mulrooney

        I am getting sick of people ragging on this review when I simply gave my honest opinion as a reviewer… I have Virgin Media 20 Meg broadband and can play every other PC game I own online, no problem.

        I guess because you thought it was ‘awsome’ and easily replayable five times that I should have given it a better review? I am glad you never had any issues, but I did and I am sure other players will have encountered them as well. It is my duty as a critic to point out these negatives.

        And as for professional reviewers loving it when I didn’t, what about Gamespot? http://uk.gamespot.com/pc/action/tomclancyssplintercellconviction/review.html

        They gave it a 6.5, citing:
        * Campaign is short and easy
        * No voice or text chat in co-op play
        * Bugs, glitches, and connection issues
        * Stealth options are stripped compared to previous games
        * Interrogations are a missed opportunity.

  2. Sean

    IMO the game is not that bad.
    Controller issue is MS fault the wireless version of the controller uses wierd drivers causing incompatible. I use the wired version and it works like a dream. As far as frame rate, I maxxed out gfx and smooth as butter NO hiccups.
    my only gripe is the DRM and online has yet to work. Other than that it’s a great game.

    • Marty Mulrooney

      The wireless controller works fine with every other game I have thrown at it, it isn’t Microsoft’s fault at all. The fact that Conviction will only work with Beta drivers from 2007 is pretty disgraceful. If a game says it supports the wireless pad, then it should with the most recent drivers, end of story.

      I also find it hard to classify the online component of the game not working as a mere ‘gripe’… it is a broken product and false advertising. You couldn’t even get the game refunded if you wanted to because the game serial ties itself to your Ubisoft account via the horrific DRM!

      Paying full price for a PC port of an Xbox 360 game that is two weeks late, has broken wireless controller support and won’t even connect to the online multiplayer component is quite frankly appalling. I still feel like I was very generous with my final score… this is at best half a game in its current state.

      • Sean

        Just update the game and enjoy all the features including wireless controller support and online (which is lots of fun).
        The game is no longer broken cry babies dry your eyes and enjoy.

      • Marty Mulrooney

        I have recently updated the game, which in my case fixed the wireless controller support (people in the official forums have reported varied success)… yet this was not true at the time of the review going live, a week after release I might add. Should I have just lied to make the review seem more positive?

        Furthermore, the online is still broken. I just loaded it up again to give your comment a chance… but no, I left matchmaking on for 20 minutes and had no joy. I can jump into a game of Counter Strike in less than 30 seconds.

        Perhaps if more ‘cry babies’ spoke up and didn’t stand for shoddy ports (the multiplayer doesn’t have voice chat for heaven’s sake, or even work in the first place for that matter) then we could all enjoy quality PC games without these issues.

    • Kyle

      why not just use a keyboard and mouse? ive been playing games on the pc ever since i can remember. its easy to play with Keys and mouse if your adjusted to it.

  3. LB

    That was a good review. A fair judgement if the PC port is as ludicrously inferior as it sounds.

    The controller related problems are absolutely ridiculous. It’s a shame to hear about the useless mouse controls as well.
    Never mind missing a massive compenent of the game or the fact that scope is essential in the Iraq section.

    But the DRM put me off even thinking about waiting for the PC version, anyway.

  4. Sean

    I’m telling you online now WORKS!
    True there is no voice chat for some dumb reason but if you add the game to your steam acct you can use voice chat that steam provides.

    • Marty Mulrooney

      Please refrain from posting the same old messages. Only a few games can be added from retail to Steam and this isn’t one of them.

      Furthermore, I am telling you that online doesn’t work, the matchmaking system is still broken even with the latest patch (I checked less than an hour ago).

      I am either a liar or simply being an honest reviewer… I can assure you it is the latter of the two.

  5. Sean

    Lmfao! I really hope you get yours going.
    I’ve been playing on and off all day while watching the Cavs play. And you can add Conviction to steam as a non steam game and you have full acess to steam’s overlay.

    • Marty Mulrooney

      The game has no .exe (due to launching via the Ubi launcher because of the DRM) so as far as I can tell it cannot be added to Steam, even as a non Steam game.

      As well, you may very well have been playing with friends on Steam… but none of my friends have this game on PC, which means I am relying on the in-game matchmaker… which is still broken! Lmfao indeed.

  6. Sean

    I’m going to make a video using x fire and I will post it for you, cause it really does work. At least it does for me. I will keep you posted.

    • Marty Mulrooney

      It’s okay thanks, no video required. To be fair I am not saying it doesn’t work 100% for everyone (how could I know that?) But since release, I have personally not been able to play online once. A glance at the forums shows plenty of other people with the same issue. So something is going on.

      In the first place, adding it to Steam shouldn’t be a requirement to get some form of communication going for online multiplayer anyway… is in-game voice/text chat really that big a challenge for a huge studio like Ubisoft?

      Whether this all gets fixed in the end or not, the fact remains that they dropped the ball big time upon release. This is also why I will not be updating my review or ammending my final score. The PC version was already delayed by two weeks!

  7. adarbronstein

    Great review.. I agree completely.
    Besides that, I had to crack the game although I bought an original version because I received the connectivity error message every 3 seconds for no reason (no firewalls, no router, fast internet)

    • Marty Mulrooney

      When paying customers are having to resort to illegal cracks to get a product they paid for working the way it should, something is seriously wrong. Thanks for the feedback adarbronstein!

  8. Michaël

    I fully agree with your review. They strayed way to far from their original series, making this a very bland game.

    The mess that is currently online play is what makes this game an even bigger disappointment for me. I can’t believe they did not add spies VS mercs.

    And of course people having cracked illegal versions where capeable of playing online a while ago. While even after 1.02 i can only connect to 4/5 online games.

    As a long time Ubisoft customer, im very disappointed with the lack of feedback through their forums aswell.

  9. Ban4na

    Online worked for me even before the patch. I tried port forwarding (you don’t speak of that in your review), but it doesn’t help for me, so I put my pc in the dmz on my router and it works, have about 10 hours of online play (mostly hunter and some coop).
    It’s great, BUT, no voice chat or even text chat??!!
    Like I told ubi support, game studios just don’t respect pc gamers, so why would we and buy games?
    This game deserves to be pirated!

    • Marty Mulrooney

      I would highly recommend not using the DMZ mode on your router as this exposes your entire computer to the internet! Your firewall will no longer offer any protection either: this is very dangerous and not worth chancing just to play a game online.

      Also, I wouldn’t say the game deserves to be pirated: it just doesn’t deserve to be bought full price in its current state.

  10. forgetfulzee

    I’m not so sure about this but i think ubisoft isn’t the first one to think of that cover to cover system. If I’m not mistaken, wanted: weapons of fate uses something similar.

    • Marty Mulrooney

      Wanted: Weapons Of Fate does use a similar system, I have never played the game but thanks for bringing this to my attention.

  11. forgetfulzee

    Oh and yeah, gears of war uses the same cover to cover system. This time I’m sure coz I just played the game last month. So it’s safe to say ubisoft isn’t the first one to think of this cover to cover system.

    • Marty Mulrooney

      Again, thanks for bringing this to my attention. As far as I am aware though in Gears Of War you don’t have to hold the trigger down to stay in cover?

      Still, I had not played these games so Conviction was my first exposure to this type of cover system. And, having looking at the two games you mentioned, I still think Conviction does it most effectively.

  12. Maal

    Have you tried doing private matches? I haven’t been able to get matchmaking working either, and I wanted to try a private match, but I don’t know anyone else who has the game. Even the matchmaking program on Ubisoft’s site doesn’t work.

    • Marty Mulrooney

      Nah, I kinda gave up when I discovered matchmaking still wasn’t fixed 2 weeks after release. Just checked the forums and it still isn’t working. Epic fail.

    • forgetfulzee

      If you want to find people to play with install tunggle then go to room shooter>tactical shooter> splinter cell conviction. Lots of legit copy owners are using tunggle to find and add people to your friends list.

  13. Josh

    @Sean,
    I have a Wired Microsoft Controller, same as you.. X Becomes B, B-X, A,-Back, RS-Start.. Even with the updates..

    Online doesn’t work.

    I play anything I want full framerate, including this POS, yet at highest graphic settings many shadows are blotched like fingerpaint while the rest of the scene looks fine..

    You might have had the game bought for you, Sean.. But for those of us who buy our own products, advertising “Multiplayer, Gamepad Support” and other things which do not exist.. It IS false advertising.

    So they aren’t whining, child. They are warning people not to buy this if they expect multiplayer and being able to use a gamepad.. Hence calling it a “review”.. Next time tell your mommy you’ll buy your own game with your own money.

  14. Sean

    First of all I am 33years old and I buy all my own things. Secondly I didn’t review shit nor did I make this game. It works for me and my friends and it’s fun but it is apparently that it doesn’t work for everyone. So I don’t know what to tell you.
    Hope you get it working cause it’s fun living out your fantasies of being Jack Bauer.

  15. ven

    This review doesn’t do the game justice at all, the graphics are excellent, the gameplay is far more inviting then older splinter cell titles, as it is quicker paced without sacrificing the need for stealthiness and tactical thinking. The hand to hand moves never get old and the graphics and animations overall are excellent. I do agree that the enemies sometimes get very repetetive in their speech.

    My advice would be downloading the 1.03 patch and writing another review after playing some Co op games through Tunngle on LAN. It is one of the most fun gaming experiences i’ve had in a while.

    • Marty Mulrooney

      Fair enough, I guess you are entitled to your opinion. Just remember so am I and I backed up everything I said in my review!

      Played on LAN isn’t an option for me, so it seems to be an odd thing to mention as well? Also, I shouldn’t have to use Tunngle: why couldn’t Ubisoft even get their own matchmaking system to work?

      Patches seem to be becoming an acceptable way for game companies to release their products before they are ready, which worries me.

      • Agreed. There’s a worrying trend that games are being released half finished, no doubt to appease the publishers, only to be patched up at a later date. I seem to remember the first Stalker was broken until it was patched up so it resembled something playable.

  16. Stephen

    hey i think it was a good review and showed a good point of view from people who are into games like you……. but one thing bugged me was that you talked about the covering system. its been used before in full spectrum warrior 1 & 2. i know, i know the styles of firing and things are completly differant but its still based on the same concept of aiming towards a piece of cover and then automatically scurrying towards it. still i think its a very good system and should be used in more 3rd person games. P.S sorry to bring it up again just people had it wrong, it was (as far as i know) full spectrum warrior who started this amazment and deserve the credit 🙂
    thanks

  17. Isaac

    I think you did an awesome job with this review.. i found myself nodding yes to many of the things you had to say.

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