Note: I know that a lot of people are having troubles with getting Splinter Cell to run smoothly (even one of our own reviewers). Whilst I found the game to run without a hitch, be warned that if you have a different system, we can’t guarantee it will perform the same (I posted the specs of the computer we used to test this in the comments below).
The Mac App Store is without a doubt divided. You’ve got big name publishers pushing out huge (and expensive, mind) console-quality games like RAGE and Batman Arkham Asylum, and small independent developers looking to make a quick buck or two with a cheap and casual title. Dominating the former of these two is Feral Interactive and Aspyr Entertainment, bringing in the bulk of PC ports to the Mac App Store. But a new player has entered the space; Ubisoft. Their only previous release, Assassin’s Creed II, made a big splash a year ago, and now comes Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell Conviction.
Splinter Cell Conviction once again focuses on the series’ protagonist Sam Fisher. After supposedly putting his life of violence and espionage with Third Echelon behind him when his daughter was hit and killed by a drunk driver, Fisher is sucked back in once questions rise about whether his daughter’s death was an accident, and even if she is dead at all. The plot can get a little convoluted at times, but it’s just about followable enough to string each mission from there on together.
Splinter Cell Gameplay
Splinter Cell has the best stealth/combat mechanics I have ever seen in a game. Full stop. Similar to Batman Arkham Asylum’s stealth scenes, in Splinter Cell Conviction you are given a room full of enemies, fit with many different environmental features to take advantage of, and told to go wild. Instead of simply using stone gargoyles as a cheap form of cover (uh… not that I’m calling the Dark Night a sissy or anything… ahem), here you must climb winding pipes, swing out of windowsills and lift yourself between the gaps in the ceiling, raining hell on all unfortunates below.
Gameplay is well balanced between combat and stealth, with the game pushing you to keep moving as the enemies sweep search for your position. AI behaviour is a critical part of any stealth game. If the enemies are unrealistically dumb and the player feels cheated of satisfaction, but having them too astute makes them unpredictable. Thankfully, Ubisoft struck the happy medium between the two. When you’ve been spotted, the adversaries act with expert precision, covering doors, flanking on your last known position. But when they have no clue where you are, it’s time for you to strike, with deep, dark precision.
Darkness is your weapon in Splinter Cell Conviction. In it, you are virtually invisible to all nearby enemies, allowing you to flank or sneak up on unsuspecting gun-totting guards. When you are under the cover of darkness, the environment turns black and white, which is a great design choice to visually signal when you’re hidden. You can shoot out lights to create cover, sure, but this will most certainly attract attention of everyone in earshot. As you progress, the game throws in some interesting challenges, like rooms with motion sensors that light up when stepped in, and security cameras which alert the opposition of your position if triggered.
But Third Echelon aren’t the only ones with some nifty gadgets up their sleeve. Fisher has the ability to mark and then execute up to 4 men seamlessly and quietly. A little gizmo that enables Sam to look under doors before entering, and the many EMP, frag and stun grenades at his disposal means Sam is not under-equipped for the mission.
Splinter Cell Conviction’s arcade-inspired design choices, such as Last Known Position – which shows the last position which the bad guys saw you in the form of a ghostly outline – and the alert meter – which lets you know when someone is noticing you, make staying stealthy a sure-fire thing, rather than a hit-or-miss shot in the dark. Silently climbing above an enemy on a pipe overhang as he rushes to your last known position, absolutely baffled by how you’re not there is purely priceless.
Whenever Splinter Cell’s campaign starts to get stale, the game grabs your attention again with an intense firefight or chase. Whilst these action sequences are less impressive than the game’s stealthier levels, they are effective in varying the gameplay.
After you have completed the campaign, you can still blast through the co-op story with a friend or online companion, or partake in the single-player mode; deniable ops. Spanning over a number of different settings, Deniable Ops sets you the task of infiltrating a base of some sorts, taking out room after room of enemies. If you’re spotted, reinforcements are sent in, making your life just that little bit harder. I was surprised by the amount of extra content available after you’ve finished the main story. Impressive stuff.
Splinter Cell does throw in a few wobblies here and there, including the bizarre second level based in Iraq consisting of just run-and-gun cover-based shooting. No stealth mechanics, no special gadgets. Whilst this horribly boring mission seems more like a waste of time than a lever used to flesh out relationships between characters, it just highlights how strong the rest of the game is.
As for sound, while most of the time you’ll be hearing the verbal abuse from your terrified victims as they shakily scour the room for your presence, underneath it is solid sound design with atmospheric music mixed on the fly to reflect in-game activities. Some sections can suddenly be left with utter silence, which may be put down to the lack of ample ambient noise, but in the main sequences, sound only aids the heart-pounding action.
Splinter Cell undoubtedly looks a little dated, the lip syncing specifically is pretty awful, but the graphics perform well, with some scenes going so far as looking spectacular. There has been some confusion over how well Splinter Cell Conviction runs on the Mac, especially on Lion. From my experience playing the game, I found minimal issues. On the second level, I found the game to suffer in the framerate department, but otherwise, the whole thing ran very smoothly. Just make sure you meet the system requirements of the game before you purchase.
You have to buy Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell Conviction, there’s no question. The story is a little underwhelming, but the nail-bitingly close encounters and excellent stealth mechanics will leave you with a sweaty brow and a heightened risk of some sort of heart condition. The only question left now is who would win between Batman and Sam Fisher in a gloomy mansion…? Maybe next time Ubisoft.
Price: $24.99 (£17.49)
Description: The Modern Stealth Sensation
Pros: Great blend of stealth and action, open-ended levels, some well done design choices.
Cons: Story can become a little hard to follow.