Sneaking Away

Something about the Splinter Cell series got its hooks into me. I had never played a sneaking game before – the press coined it a “third person sneaker” even though Thief had beat it to market. It really put you into a super spy role, whereas previous games like Goldeneye were just running around going pew, pew in comparison. It was cerebral but it was still action. So this brings me to Splinter Cell: Conviction, which I preordered despite there being no real logical reason to do so beyond the three dollars off Amazon offered. I played through it this past weekend.

But there was a problem.

The problem wasn’t in the level design or the art. The game wasn’t buggy or broken. In fact, it was fun.

But it wasn’t Splinter Cell.

As I hid behind cover and took out handfuls of foot soldiers before dashing to my next cover and seeing a truck pull up with a half-dozen more, I thought: “This is the best Call of Duty I’ve ever played.” Because the game was not about espionage. Sure, the story was about it, but the mechanics were not. These mechanics I’d seen in Modern Warfare, in Rainbow Six: Vegas, in Gears of War, in Mass Effect 2 even. Yes, there were segments that reminded me of Splinter Cells of old, but these were punctuation marks to an experience that was mostly about running around kicking ass.

I fully understand why the game went in this direction. First, the creative director was the creative director of Rainbow Six: Vegas. Second, he says in this article was that the idea from the outset before he arrived was to make an antiSplinter Cell game. The article goes onto to say how large parts of the game were scrapped and others had to be retrofitted in a short amount of time to bring it back to a more Splinter Cell-type vision. I know from experience how difficult it can be to craft a consistent vision from table scraps.

So here we have a question: was the story (which relies heavily on Sam opening cans of whoop-ass versus sneaking around finding secrets) what was re-conceived first or did the story come from the more “panther-y” (to use the article’s words) gameplay? Traditional Splinter Cell gameplay trademarks simply wouldn’t work in the story – so which is more important? The story vision or the gameplay vision? And from that which is more important – the vision of the title or the vision of the franchise?

The above linked article seems to show a bit of contempt for the previous iterations of the franchise, which is a real shame because those put the studio and the publisher on the map.

Perhaps I am being an old man, pining for those good old days. If I asked you to explain the original Splinter Cell, you might say it was about “Sneaking around, using cool weapons, hiding from bad guys, and uncovering huge geopolitical espionage.” Sneaking would be the first word. But if you’ve played through Conviction and I asked you what it was about, how many words would it take for you to get to “sneaking”?

9 thoughts on “Sneaking Away”

  1. I’m not sure why I like sneaking games. Maybe it’s because you’re trying to cope with a huge mechanism that’s just too big to wipe out, I dunno. Maybe I’m descended from the primate that stole the alpha’s girlfriends when he wasn’t looking.

    I sure as hell haven’t played a lot of sneaking games (the last one I played was the last level in Metroid: Zero Mission, strangely enough), but despite all its flaws, Thief is the series I continue to evangelize for, long after its engine got surpassed. It was first person, though, at least until the third game.

    They changed the third’s formula, too, and it didn’t feel as good to me, even if the engine didn’t have so many weird hitches. They introduced faction play, and they let you know how many secret treasures were in each level, rather than let it be contextual, which took a bit of wind out of the idea of exploring a place. They kept more atmosphere than I thought, but they also made the pagans more silly than menacing, and trying to optimize for both third and first person meant that some of the immersiveness took a bit of a hit.

    You have to keep things fresh, I guess, and the market changes (as your SMB satire shows), but I sure miss the old Thief…

  2. I just hate when they use the name of a reknown video game to make a game completely diferent. If that’s the case, why not doing a completely new game.

  3. But at the same time, if they did the exact same thing, we would be sitting here talking about how it was stale and rehashed.

  4. Conviction doesn’t feel like a regular shooter to me. True, Sam Fisher is now more a “Jason Bourne” than a spy, but comparing it to CoD or ME2 is a bit exaggerated.

    Don’t forget however, that this is the first Splinter Cell using this ‘new’ style of gameplay. It *might* get better in the future, maybe. Still though, if people like it as it is, I don’t think Ubisoft is going back to the more sneaky type of gameplay.

    Also, the Infiltration mode in Deniable Ops is still a bit like the first SCs right?

  5. You’re spot on. I felt the same way when I started playing. It just does not feel like previous installments. There was a safety in the shadows that does not exist in this title. The level designers have forced you out of the shadows and into firefights. I also felt the Iraq flashback was out of place and rather boring.

    There used to be this excitement I’d feel with each new level. They were beautiful, various, and the attention to detail was unmatched. SC:Con has some diversity but ultimately I felt like I was spending most of the game in an office building or a slightly modified camp.

  6. I agree with most of what you said. In fact this has been my only deterrent to purchasing the game. Splinter Cell was a fantastic series, and I loved it. But the sneaking around barely seems to matter anymore. Hopefully they will create a game following in the originals up to Double Agent, as those were the ones I loved.

  7. I like the original Splinter Cell games. I think sneaking adds an inherent sense of danger to your surroundings. Knowing that if you get caught, you might die, is way more intense than a run and gun approach. But the average gamer with ADHD might not appreciate that. The dumber our society gets, the worse the video games industry will be.

  8. I already told you that this is not new…

    I mean, look at R6 itself:

    Until a certain point, you just defined the tactics, and you could even NOT PLAY. Some versions offered the option to just “watch” the AI doing the thing that you planned. I frequently challenged myself to win a level using clever tactical tricks…

    Then after R6 Lockdown (also, not by coencidence, the first version to be made first to console, to be ported later to PC), the game became a regular FPS… One that I even disliked (R6 Vegas pissed the hell of me… Several things in the game annoyed me). Without thinking, now dialog boxes and radio tell you what you have to do, and if you don’t do it, you fail. There are no more thinking, it is just… shooting.

    While on the earlier games, I could pass some levels without firing a single bullet. I don’t condier Lockdown onward R6, I consider them: “Tom Clancy’s Generic Shooter”

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