He's a tough American ninja spy with a mean attitude and a meaner pistol. He's a stereotyped Russian that is effectively identical to his partner save for red goggles and his accent. They fight terrorists!
Splinter Cell: Conviction delivers a fast, action packed single player campaign that takes you on a rock'n'roll ride through Ubisofts answer to Jack Bauer. But Sam Fishers story is only a portion of the complete story presented on the game disc. Before Fisher, there was Archer and Kestrel.
Archer is an agent of Third Echelon, Sams old unit. Kestrel is Archers Russian double, an agent of Voron. They get thrown together to stop an arms deal going down in Russia in a story taking place just before Sam Fisher is called back into active duty. Their story spreads over four huge chapters, each one divided into three to four large combat areas. Each of the chapters are much larger than the single player campaign chapters, but on top of that, there is now two players trying to bumble their way through the darkness to the checkpoints. Because of this, I have already invested much longer in the co-op story than I did on either of my runs through Sams story, and I've only just finished the third chapter. Chapter two alone took the better part of four hours.
I have an interesting outlook on the co-op story, thanks to the two people I'm playing through the campaign with, and how we play.
Aidonis and I play split-screen. We share a screen, couch, and verbal sparing. When one of us fails, the other sees exactly what we did wrong and can jeer and insult about how they'd never get caught like that. With Rubber Cookie, we play on Xbox Live. We have the full screen to ourselves, and have to rely on much more talking to tell each other who is moving where and what cover is safe.
Aidonis doesn't own the game, so his only practice and experience is playing co-op with me. He doesn't have the best weapons or upgrades, or the experience of the single player game. This made the first chapter particularly eventful, involving lots of running from mobs of guards and restarting over and over. Rubber Cookie owns the game and is going through the single player campaign at the same time as the co-op. He first experienced the trademarked goggles in co-op, but had a fully upgraded Five-Seven from the start. We got through the entire first chapter without a single restart, and the first stage without even being detected.
Of course, it also helps that I'm further on in the story with Aidonis, so we're learning the maps and patrol patterns through trial and error. By the time I get there with Rubber Cookie, I know the place like the back of my hand, pointing out and using all the hidden ledges, convenient shadows and overhead pipes. It helps. A lot. Practice makes perfect, and all that.
The co-op element of Conviction is, in a word, stunning. I could happily leave the review there and hope that you take my word on it. But I won't. To only play Sams story would be criminal. Ubisoft have created a complete set of maps unique to the co-op story, rather than recycling the single player maps. The co-op maps allow for a lot more teamwork, striking from the shadows simultaneously to eliminate hostiles distracted by conversations of their beautiful families and the upcoming vacation time. Foolish guards. Don't they know they can never get a happy ending? We're the heroes here!
Mark and Execute is used to full effect in co-op. A single melee takedown charges both players Execute ability. Two players with two upgraded Five-Sevens can mark eight guards in an area. When one presses Y, time slows to allow the second player to assist in a Dual Execute, taking down any of the eight marks in sight in one flurry of suppressed fire. Even in a situation where one player can see more than just the four marks he has tagged and the second player is not in line of sight to anyone, that one well placed player can execute as many marks as he has sight to by himself. Also, while a single melee kill grants both players their Execute command, using it only exhausts the one belonging to the player that initiated the action, even if the second player joins as part of a Dual Execute. This allows both players to mark four more guards and immediately take out potentially eight more as long as the second player can engage his still active Execute order! In an absolute best case scenario, that's 16 kills in a matter of seconds. But even getting ten kills this way is a rush to the system, and gets the heart pumping with adrenaline.
Along with Mark and Execute, Convictions other new feature gets a vigorous workout in co-op. Last Known Position is in the single player story, but I found it much more important in the co-op. Basically, if you get spotted by the guards, but then duck behind a corner, through a window or into a patch of inky shadow out of sight, a "ghost" image of your character appears where you were last seen, representing the guards belief that you are in that general vicinity. You need to haul ass away from that spot before they descend on you for that time you put a bullet in Kevin's head in the last section, leaving his kid without a father and his wife without a husband, but with an extra ticket to Aruba. With the Last Known Position ghost, you and your counter-terrorist teammate can set up some incredibly fun, clever and hilarious situations making use of Remote Mines and the ragdoll physics engine.
One problem I do have with the co-op story is the actual story. I'm hard pressed to tell you anything about it. Why are they in Russia? What type of WMD are they after? Who is the badguy? Mainly, this is because plot and exposition are doled out at the start of each chapter, as in the single player story. But the co-op chapters take much longer to get through, so I've already long since forgotten what I was told in the previous chapters introduction. In the single player story, I could follow the events. I got plot cut-scenes every half hour or so. I knew who or what I was after. In co-op, it can be three hours between these cut-scenes. I have to rely on the projected signposts throughout the maps and the objective marker to tell me where to go.
It doesn't help that I'm also playing a multiplayer experience, and it seems to be human nature to chat with your partner over the bits where we're not actually expected to do anything but sit and watch.
But it is great fun, regardless. I just can't fault it beyond my own inability to pay attention to cut-scenes. Every mode can be played either split-screen or over Live. And besides Story, there is Hunter, Face-Off, Infiltrate and Convictions answer to Gears of War 2's Horde Mode, Last Stand. We haven't even touched these yet. We haven't finished the Story. There is so much gameplay left on the Splinter Cell: Conviction disc. When we get around to trying the other modes, I'll post about them too. But it might be a while. I plan on playing the heck out of Story first.