Conviction marks the first time the Splinter Cell series has broken away from its tried-and-tested stealth formula. While the changes are by no means revolutionary, a new sense of style and violence make Sam Fisher's long-overdue outing a refreshing if not quite revolutionary experience.
The root of the game's new direction comes from Sam Fisher himself; It's all gone wrong for our All-American stealth master: After his own agency, Third Echelon, set him up so that he was forced to off his best mate Irving Lambert and his daughter was 'killed' in an 'accident', Sam is left with little to live for. Of course, there's a Hollywood rule that states when a badass military type goes into retirement, he's going to be back on the scene sooner rather than later.
So we join Sam - a little older, always frowning - sitting in an outdoor market when he gets the call. No explanation just, "Your life's in danger, do what I say," as gunmen close in on Fisher's position. Of course he puts out all the classic "I'm outta that game for good" lines but it's not long before Sam's back into his old shady, crouchy lifestyle.
The marketplace serves as a quick tutorial of the basic game mechanics but you're also introduced to a whole new take on objective display systems as well. Sam's mission bullet points are printed on the surrounding environment as you play rather than on a pause screen or some PDA that your character has tucked away in their inventory. The text looks like it's being shone onto a wall or floor by a searchlight and it actually bends around your body if you walk through it.
This is all part of Ubisoft's efforts to make the game more cinematic, making sure that you're always in control and constantly flowing from one objective to the next rather than having to stop and start all the time. There's no map either and Fisher's thoughts and flashbacks are either projected as flickering films on walls or subtly integrated into the soundtrack. It all adds to the immersion and you're rarely given the chance to put your pad down.
Crouching behind stalls to get from one end of the marketplace to the next you're familiarised with the game's cover system. This works in a similar way with icons of light indicating your options as you hide from roaming henchmen or anyone else looking to put a bullet in you. Small double arrows highlight potential cover and indicate the direction in which you'll pop out should you decide to open fire yourself. Using the left analogue stick you can cycle through your cover options before pressing A to make Sam dash to his next crouching spot.
If you manage to get within grabbing distance of an enemy it's bone snapping time. Pressing B unleashes a context sensitive hand to hand take down. They're all quick, brutal and final with Sam sometimes butting a guy with his gun or shooting them point blank through the neck. Satisfying? Yes, incredibly.
Performing a close-combat take down opens up the opportunity to use Conviction's 'Mark and Execute' system, a new feature that does exactly what its name suggests. Marking up enemies using the RB button places a triangle over their head which will change from grey to red if they're in range. Press Y and Sam will take them out in slow-mo with pin-point head shots.
It's a feature that could have been horrendously over used but with it being restricted to two shots before it has to be replenished with a new takedown, you're forced to really think about how you use it.
Better yet is the fact that a lot of the time you don't feel like you need it at all. That's not to imply that Mark and Execute is a wasted feature - it's more a testament to the game's tactical freedom. With pipes to climb, lighting rigs and fire extinguishers to shoot, stealthy CQC takedowns and human shield options - not to mention the good old pick 'em off one at a time with a clean headshot approach - each situation you find yourself in really is yours to work through however you want.