|Time to obey the statements I see on walls.|
Almost every mission in Splinter Cell Conviction begins with a little swooping flyby of the area Sam Fisher is expected to navigate. Then the game's camera sort of wobbles right behind Sam's right shoulder. A few words will be projected onto some nearby wall or crate - usually some espionage boilerplate along the lines of "PLANT THE C4" or "FIND THE SCIENTIST" - before acceding control to the player.
These little preludes are very well done, bringing to mind those kinetic tracking shots in the Dardenne brother's movies. You're primed for some espionage action when that camera swoops in over Sam Fisher's shoulder as he slurs some final thoughts before the mission proper begins. (Here's an aside: Michael Ironside, who has been the VO guy for Fisher in all earlier Splinter Cell games, must have gotten hard alcohol negotiated into this most recent rider, because he sounds inebriated and disinterested in the entire acting gig.)
I'm sure those prelude sequences were the result of countless iterations and collaboration between the many talented people at Ubisoft's Montreal studio. Still, that throwaway little bit of scene setting never failed. and someone had to animate all those virtual camera movements making sure it worked like they assumed it would in at least one early draft of SC: C's lugubrious dev cycle - and that person needs to be singled out. Looking though the game's credits, I'm guessing Juan Esteban Diaz, listed as the "Camera Animator," is the guy who deserves to be Singled Out. So, Mr. Diaz, you did an excellent job! Let me buy you a drink sometime after you meet Jenny McCarthy and Chris Hardwick.
Start moving Fisher around, and witness how Splinter Cell: Conviction continues to sell the game's assured and stylish presentation with an abundance these neat little gimmicks. I don't mean that in a pejorative way, let me stress - gimmicks are what separate a lackluster game from an exemplary one. Active reload is a stellar gimmick. Terrain deformation, at least as it was implemented in LucasArt's nearly forgotten Fracture, is not. The freedom to vault your way about a city during a firefight in Uncharted is a pretty good gimmick. Being one of an Army of Two in Army of Two is not.
So most of those clever gimmicks work great in Splinter Cell: Conviction. Like the black-and-white projections of mission objectives or brief vignettes of Sam's memories that pop up in the environment. Or the handy silhouette marking Sam's last known position, if one compromises whatever stealthy plans one was foolishly trying to implement and must resort to other improvised plans. Or the brilliant, intuitive, and quite lovely way the environment flips from color to black and white whenever Sam is hidden in the darkness.
The pièce de résistance, however, is the aforementioned virtual camera, wobbling and shaking in response to terrible acts of violence, nowhere more so than during the handful of morally dubious "interrogation" sequences. These pop up maybe half a dozen times throughout the campaign. In essence, these are sequences where one guides Fisher though a series of scripted beatings(ones Jack Baur would find excessive) to extract perfectly accurate intel from people as varied as scumbag dope dealers to powerful African American politician arms dealers. Incidentally, Fisher beats this latter man up in the Lincoln Memorial. Right there, at the feet of the Great Emancipator himself. I found myself wondering if the developers thought they had delivered any of the dramatic irony during this tasteless and insensitive set-piece or if they just thought the Mall was a great place to smash a guy's head though a wall of televisions at.
|This once had an African American bad guy's head inside it.|
Still, when that gentleman's head gets smashed into a wall of televisions as the camera circles and vibrates like something out of Children of Men, it looks amazingly painful and very cool. Sam Fisher may not have all the information on how appallingly unreliable information gathered through torture is, but I don't believe Fisher was ever steered wrong by his detainees over the satisfying, if brief, single player campaign.
However, one gimmick felt very pedestrian and flat to me. It was the most highly touted "feature" in all the pre-release coverage of this game, this "Mark & Execute" gimmick. Melee dispatch a dude with the B button, and you're on your way to Mark & Execute somewhere between 2 and 5 other dudes. Press the right bumper when said dudes are in your line of sight to capital M "Mark" them, then slam that X button down with AUTHORITY to capital E "Execute" those suckers.
I may have just played the game wrong, but I only did this between 3 and 6 times during the entire course of the game (if we exclude those moments where the act is mandatory to continue). If one truly embraces this system, it might help them get out of some of the hairy moments the late game can throw Sam's way -- but I found it more trouble than it was worth. I just aimed for a dude's head when no one else was looking.
I'm woefully under-qualified to review a Splinter Cell game in context. I've never played one before this installment. I make no claims for my gaming prowess. I have little of it. I've been stuck at 75% in the XBLA game Limbo for nearly half a year now, and I've played it just about every week since I bought it. I've done everything save watch a Youtube clip explicitly telling me how to solve it.
Still, I'm recommending this game. It's 20 bucks on Games on Demand. I spent about that much on a belt today.
I've enjoyed the belt much less so far.