Admittedly, Ubisoft Montreal’s series of Splinter Cell games has never enticed me enough to be involved with them more than as a casual curiosity. There is a level of intimidation that is hard for a “gamey” gamer such as myself to get around; that is, the temptation to mess about and not take myself seriously during a game’s mimesis outweighs the gravity that my sometimes foolhardy actions will have on the structure of the mechanics themselves. And the Splinter Cell titles are made for the invested, not the curious. The success of main protagonist Sam Fisher, the gruff talking battle-wearied agent of the “Third Echelon,” a fictional black-ops branch of the U.S. National Security Agency, rests solely on your ability to engage with the games’ earnest shadow play, hiding from direct human contact and utilizing improbable spy tech with the utmost sincerity. Which isn’t to say that video games aren’t capable of being heavy or dramatic, but giving the player any semblance of freedom while simultaneously dictating a specific attitude they must possess carries with it some obvious challenges in design.
What interested me in Conviction and led me to play through the single-player story mode of this chiaroscuro sneak thriller was the marked stylistic shift from the slick black-suited trifocaled Fisher that dominated the earlier Splinter Cell titles to a more haggard and beaten-up character, preoccupied with the death of his daughter (a continuation of the story arc from the previous game, Double Agent) and forced to improvise more on location—in other words, a tad more flawed and human. Double Agent introduced a darker, grittier tone to Splinter Cell, but Conviction has solidified it, also bringing impressive production values that reinforce higher storytelling over spy-op gameplay catered solely to the hardcore.