Review: Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell Convictions


By tradition, these games always have a super-long name, but with a Splinter Cell title on almost every platform, it was only a matter of time before Xbox Live would have the running, jumping and standing still genre. If you like your gaming like you like your summer blockbuster movies (repetitive, obvious, with lots of explosions, and directed by Jerry Bruckheimer) then you're going to be very happy with Splinter Cell Conviction. For everyone else, you might feel a bit of a passenger.

Author: Gameloft

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The mood is set as you open up the game, with a cut scene video that could easily be lifted from the script of a spy thriller. Even if you've not played through or have no recognition with the Splinter Cell series, you'll have the plot down pat after the two minute introduction. You won't even need the whole scene, just one line:

"He went off grid, looking for a reason to go on living, he heard a name..."

But this scene throws up two issues. The first is how games like Splinter Cell use cut-scene video. Handing over the video file to an instance of the media player means the familiar on-screen controls, allowing you to pause, rewind, or skip to the end of the file. The control is welcome, but it does take you out of the world created by the game. However, I'm not going to mark down Splinter Cell Conviction because it's a smart way of doing it on a mobile device.

The other issue is a bit more critical. The videos are all made using CGI, but not on the smartphone - they were rendered by the developers into a regular video file. Once the playback is over and you are into the game... with CGI that is not as advanced as the video. From glorious graphics you get handed a bit of a murky vision of the world. Splinter Cell Conviction is all about the graphics and the view, and while movement and looking around the three dimensional world is jitter free, with a high frame rate, it's nowhere close to the levels of a home console.

spinter Cell: Convictions on Xbox Live

First person shooters (of which Splinter Cell is clearly one, even if stealth and hiding while moving is the key selling point) have a certain level of expectation for graphics, user input, and control. Splinter Cell reaches quite high in all three of these areas, but never quite closes the deal. The graphics I've already touched on, so let's go for the user input.

Unlike a dedicated controller with the preferred "two control sticks" method of input (one to move you around, the second to look around), Splinter Cell Convictions has to use the Windows Phone touch screen. A virtual joystick is on the left of the screen which controls the movement of your character, Holding the phone in the landscape mode that is asked for, your left thumb will work this control. For looking around, there isn't a specific hot spot or virtual stick, you can slide your finger anywhere on the screen where there isn't another control.

It's an acceptable compromise, but it's very difficult to move and look around at the same time. I spent most of the game running, standing still, looking around, then another quick dash to the next spot that looks safe. It feels clunky though, with little of the fluidity a game like this can sometimes demand. It's a problem all touch screen devices/games have, and some cope with it better than others. The key is not to come up with a control system that works, but a control system that works given the level design of the game - in this respect, Splinter Cell Convictions fails, because the level design demands running and looking at the same time.

spinter Cell: Convictions on Xbox Live

Finally, on control. By this I mean the fine control you have on your character and the actions that are done on screen. That could be hiding behind a box, opening a door, climbing a ladder, shooting five guards, or strangling a night watchman. Most of these are taken out of your control, or relegated to a simple tap on the screen.

For example, when hiding and you can see a guard to take out. When they are 'in range' a black dot will appear above their heads. Tap on this to lock on, press the action button and the game will trigger the combo attack of guns and fists to take them out. No need to worry about aiming, accuracy, or timing, just let it happen.  But where's the excitement in watching the action?

Hiding behind a box? Get close and press the action key. Want to jump over it, press the action button. Want to garrote the person walking to you in the shadows... press the action key.

spinter Cell: Convictions on Xbox Live

I had high hopes for Splinter Cell. Previous smatphone versions have been a bit lacking, but I've always put that down to difficult control layouts on keypad based smartphones and slower processors. With some of the action games on Windows Phone perhaps this was the mobile one that would come through and be fun to play. Unfortunately not.

I said at the start of this review that Splinter Cell Convictions was rather like a summer blockbuster. To me it is exactly like a Bruckheimer assault. The plot is predictable and clichéd; the path you take through the game is determined for you, with no exploration elements or choice of routes to go through a level; and now even the choice of what to do in combat is removed from you; all that's left is the long range aiming and firing of your gun, which is so inaccurate you might as well be Megan Fox for all the good it will do.

Splinter Cell Convictions makes the biggest mistake that any game can make. It's not fun. By all means play the first level on the trial (and think of it like the opening scene in a Bond film), but I can't in all honesty recommend this.

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