This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Splinter Cell: Conviction.
Besides being the smallest possible unit of Mutant Rat Karate Master, Splinter Cell is a series of stealth games under the Tom Clancy label, although one suspects that Tom Clancy himself had as much to do with the development of Splinter Cell: Conviction as Tom Clancy's goldfish. But if there's one thing that characterizes his games, it's that they always seem to be about someone trying to take over the United States. Speaking as a foreigner, who the fuck would want to take over the United States? It'd be like trying to keep a giant, diseased ape in your apartment that eats money and suffers from life-threatening obesity and constant diarrhea, who viciously savages you every time you try to give it free health care.
I have a fondness for stealth games, but I've never been into Splinter Cell as much as Thief or Hitman. I've never quite bought that Sam Fisher, a man bearing a close resembling to a shaved bear with glowing eyes, is the greatest stealth operative ever. Maybe if all the other ones wear saucepans on their feet. And in official media he's supposed to be 5'8". Fuck off! Maybe if anyone else were an Oompa Loompa.
So in the previous game, Sam Fisher's daughter was laid up with a bad case of dead. It was a fairly pivotal moment of character development that led to him going deep undercover, but we should know by now that there's no unconnected personal tragedy that sequel writers can't shoehorn into a conspiracy theory somewhere down the line. Having saved the free world once again, Sam is in hiding somewhere - either because everyone forgot to write down that he was an undercover agent or because he wants to be spared the embarrassing congratulations party - when he's attacked by thugs, learns there might have been more to his daughter's death, then becomes embroiled in the fight against a sinister conspiracy being carried out by the new head of Sam's old company. Who intends to become president by killing the old one, because that's how politics works.
Note that Sam only finds out about the conspiracy after it sends thugs to kill him, so the baddies said to themselves: "Hey, the one guy who can threaten our operation is in a different country and isn't the slightest bit interested in our stupid conspiracy. Fuck that! Let's go shoot at him!" Now I know why Sam Fisher's the best stealth operative ever: because everyone else in the world is a fucking retard! And the more I play, the more evidence I find for this supposition. The enemy A.I. must have been dropped on its head as a subroutine.
Here is a brief list of things that these professional soldiers, guards, and career mercenaries have never been trained not to do:
- Stand next to each other and jabber about how much they hate democracy and apple pie and the smiles on little babies' faces instead of guarding the fucking room;
- Give away their position every five paces by screaming out personal insults at the professional killer they can't see but know for a fact he's in the room, currently training his sights on their big, flapping potty-mouths;
- After catching a glimpse of said professional killer, unload every clip they have at the spot where he used to be, with their backs to about 12 different entry points;
- Walk around in circles, repeatedly checking for the professional killer in the same square yard of floor space, loudly announcing their discoveries with each revolution.
Of course, none of this eclipses the stupidity of going up against Sam Fisher in the first place, when he's the one who got most of the solitary brain cell everyone had to share.
But if the A.I. is thick as pigshit, then it's an esteemed professor of pigshit compared to what the game thinks the player is like. It must have been designed for a member of the royal family, because everything is done for you. It feels like I'm controlling a little man riding on Sam Fisher's back rather than Sam Fisher himself. You move from cover to cover by pointing Sam at the spot you want to move to and giving him a slap on the back of the head. For melee kills, stand next to someone and press B. Doesn't matter how alert he is, or where he's facing, or how many bullets he just put in Sam's midriff, press B, *blows raspberry*, dead. And doing melee kills lets you use the execute function, wherein you point out two or three baddies whose faces you particularly don't like, give Sam another slap, and he will shoot them all for you. This is like that power-up in Mario that lets you skip a bunch of levels; unless you've got a school report on the game's ending sequence due in one hour, all it does it cheat you out of gameplay.
There's a range of guns and the usual upgrade system that's about as necessary as a water-proof camel, and it raises two questions: Why would I ever want a non-silenced gun, and why would I want a silenced machine gun when pistols fire as quickly as your index finger can allow and have infinite ammo? Where's he keeping that, Ubisoft, in his shoes?
Wait, let my head break the surface of hatred for a moment to say that I like how you take cover by holding down a button. That works pretty well. Right, back down again.
The context-sensitive actions are as fiddly as a fiddler crab fiddling with his tax returns. To jump up a wall, you have to be pointing directly at a specific spot on the wall that makes a tiny, little "Jump" prompt appear. Otherwise, Sam might get confused, as he did when I was playing, and instead mistakenly open a nearby door to a brightly lit room full of terrorists playing Hungry Hungry Hippos. Forget what I said earlier, Sam can be filed under "retard" as well. So that's the protagonist, the enemies, and the player all slapping the backs of our hands together in a big, retard jamboree. I'd hate to think where the developers have lived that's given them this impression of human intelligence. Wait a sec, Ubisoft Montreal? Well, that explains it!
As I said, I like stealth games. Kicking the door in and holding down "Fire" until all organic matter in the room has fused with the wallpaper feels like it should be a last resort, while getting in and out unnoticed is the real show of skill. So why has Splinter Cell never really hit my stealth spot? I still don't know. It could be because it always tends to be a linear succession of stealth encounters, when my favorite games, like Thief II and Hitman: Blood Money, offer open-ended, sprawling levels, letting you choose to burst in the front, sneak in the back, or come down the chimney dressed as Father Christmas. But I've never had a problem with linearity before. It could be because it's fun letting guards live, so after you've gone you can picture them stomping impotently on their hats in fury, but in Splinter Cell: Conviction you're expected to cap them in the head anyway, which only feels like a step above the wallpaper option. Whatever the case, Conviction is a disappointingly short and insubstantial installment. If the series so far is a stream of urine, then Conviction is the last drop that goes down your leg.
- Mysterious man in the shadows: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- I've played, like, fifteen games where you go inside the White House, I probably know enough to launch a terrorist strike on the bloody place now
- Not that I'd want to launch a terrorist strike on the White House (phew)