The highly-acclaimed Splinter Cell series has been sating players’ appetites for stealthy kills for the better part of a decade now, with its latest iteration hitting consoles last month. Luckily for handheld gamers, they can now download a pocket-sized version of that game for the iPhone and iPod Touch. So how does it stack up against its App Store competition?
Pretty well. Gameloft is almost in a league of their own, since they’re one of the only companies pumping out big-budget iPhone titles on a regular basis. Splinter Cell Conviction is undeniably a high quality game, but it’s not quite up to the level of their last release, Zombie Infection, for a few reasons.
Outgunned? No problem.
The storyline in Splinter Cell Conviction for the iPhone mimics the console version’s, so it puts you in the sneaky shoes of Sam Fisher, who’s chasing after the guy who ordered a hit on his daughter. At least that’s the start of it; there are twists and turns aplenty. Suffice it to say that the story is convoluted and messy, but at least it gives you sufficient reason to move from one stage to the next.
There are 11 levels in the game, and they’re very well designed. You’ll walk down city streets, tip-toe through indoor environments, climb ladders, navigate zip lines, and jump off balconies. Some levels take place at night, and you’ll use shadows as a tool for eliminating bad guys, while others are bathed in bright sunshine and feel more like a traditional war game. Each level is highly linear, with clear objectives shown onscreen at all times. This is a little disappointing because it gives little room for player creativity, but the objectives are varied enough to keep the game engaging throughout.
Typical for this type of game, you’re given an onscreen D-pad and two context-sensitive buttons that handle shooting, fighting, climbing, and taking cover. The cover system works reasonably well, allowing you to rush toward and hide behind objects in the environment, although occasionally you’ll end up still exposed to enemy fire. Since there are plenty of pipes to climb and ledges to shimmy across, we’re glad to see that movement controls are handled very well. Fist fighting and using enemies as human shields works just fine, too.
So much for the stealth kill.
What’s not handled quite so well is the shooting. We had no problem lining up shots, since there’s a helpful snap-to aiming assist that pulls your crosshair to the enemy’s chest or head. The issue is distance. Oftentimes you’ll be able to see an enemy and even get his head right under your crosshair, but your shots won’t register. In these cases you need to get closer, but when you’re trying to remain unseen and make stealthy kills it can get frustrating.
Also frustrating, or at least confusing, is the effect of light and darkness in this game. Some street lamps you can shoot out to keep enemies from seeing you, but oftentimes you’re visible whether you’ve turned them off or not. An icon in the corner of the screen tells you when you’re hidden, but it doesn’t seem consistent or reliable. Then there’s a “mark and kill” option that lets you highlight multiple enemies and take them out automatically in quick succession. This works pretty well, but it relies on line of sight and feels finicky. Finally, if the enemies lose sight of you, a white silhouette pops up that represents your last known position. Supposedly the bad guys will keep looking for you there while you can sneak around and take them out. In reality, the AI is usually too random to make this work. Like most of the stealth maneuvers in this game, it’s a cool idea but the execution isn’t quite there.
Overall, Splinter Cell Conviction feels like most other Gameloft titles, from Zombie Infection and N.O.V.A., to Modern Combat and Brothers in Arms 2. We had been hoping that the stealth aspects would make it stand out from its predecessors, but for the most part we found ourselves playing it in the same aggressive, shoot-‘em-up style we’re used to. We can’t deny that Splinter Cell Conviction is a very fun, highly polished game, but if you’ve played any of the other Gameloft titles we’ve mentioned, you won’t be missing much if you skip this one. By that same token, if you’ve been holding off on buying those premium games, or if you liked them and don’t mind more of the same, Splinter Cell Conviction won’t disappoint.