Double action: The Splinter Cell Conviction Demo

Due to some technical difficulties and generalized stupidity on my part I won’t be able to post the riveting conclusion of my er essay on boredom today as I originally intended. I will however be able to post some thoughts on the Splinter Cell: Conviction X-Box live demo . So I will. I’m doing it. I’m doing it right now.


I realize I’m going to prove once again how very boring I am but even in a game where you can literally punch a man’s face through a sink what I was struck most by was the elegance of SC:C ‘s graphical user interface (GUI) design. Like all it’s prequels the game sticks you in the shoes of Sam Fisher a Third Echelon (super NSA) covert operative voiced with grave aplomb by Micheal Ironside . Only this time Sam isn’t taking his orders from handlers and politicians: He’s out for blood. More specifically the blood of anyone involved in the murder of his daughter (which includes his former employers). In order to get his revenge he has the help of some of his old spy buddies but mostly he’ll be relying on " a very particular set of skills " that you can only get by being the hardest motherfucker alive for pretty much your entire life. And this believe it or not is where the GUI designer proves that his or her very particular set of skills are Fisher (or Neesan)-like even if they didn’t go to quite the same colleges.

Of course anything appearing on the screen that allows a player to interact with or gain information from a gameworld can be called a GUI so what I’m referring to here specifically is the seamless integration of HUD systems and certain menus into the actual play area. How about an example? You want an example? I want an example.

(Skip ahead to about 1:50 to get past the boring talky bit)

Where most games deliver their instructions through awkward immersion-breaking screen overlays or even worse cutaway videos Sam’s orders appear directly over top of the relevant object as though projected from an invisible film reel. The above examples of "take cover" and "kill these guys" are pretty rote but what the mechanic suggests for environmental navigation is interesting.

When sticking us into the role of a specific character games can transform our minute control inputs into spectacular visual outputs and however that manifests gives us a pretty clear idea of whose body it is we’re inhabiting. Here I push the "B" button and Sam breaks some poor goon’s arm closes his esophagus to prevent him calling out then puts two bullets in his chest for a good measure. That simple interaction has already given me an obvious portrait of a brutal ruthless man who’s spent too many years killing for "good reasons" to have even the slightest understanding of moral restraint. But it’s easy to communicate decades of military training and experience (or the slick Hollywood kind at least) with the way Sam fights especially when you’ve got a professional motion capture team half a dozen animators and a martial arts advisor working for you. It’s much more difficult to show me the way he sees a room the way he unconsciously assesses threats the way every upturned object becomes a piece of cover in his eyes every steam-filled pipe or dangling object a weapon. But it looks like the designers of SC:C might have managed it.

Ubisoft gave themselves a cool challenge when they decided that Sam would be coming to his latest adventure without the organizational support he’s enjoyed in his previous outings. It effectively removes a great deal of the traditional devices they might have used for exposition but reflecting the protagonist’s own training and situational awareness onto the game environment is a clever unambiguous way of overcoming the problem.

I’ve still yet to be convinced by the game’s oft-touted " mark and execute " system as at least in the demo it really did seem to make encounters with any group of enemies numbering less than six a total breeze. My hope for it is that finding the right rhythm between taking single guards down with hand-to-hand attacks and then auto-killing groups of them becomes a sort of meta game where we’ll all be trying to stage ad hoc Jason Bourne-esque setpieces but there’s no way to know until the full game hits in April. Oh and the dialogue is shite but that didn’t stop Batman: Arkham Asylum from being as definitive a take on the character as any of his comics. It’s a best-case-scenario to be sure but right now it seems as though SC:C is poised to do for spies what Batman:AA did for uh Batman. I remain cautiously optimistic.

(ADDITIONAL THOUGHT THAT I COULDN’T FIT IN ANYWHERE: Has anyone else noticed how everyone in Ubisoft’s trailers just can’t wait to call Sam Fisher "the ultimate predator?" I get what they’re saying but it still makes me feel a bit like I’m playing Splinter Cell: No really my panel van has tinted windows because my skin is unusually photosensitive. These cupcakes? No of course they aren’t laced with rohypnol. I resent the implication. )