Thursday, 29 April 2010

Splinter Cell

Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell Conviction is a franchise within a franchise, much like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, and like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell Conviction is basically a waste of time.

Tom Clancy is also indirectly responsible for Rainbow Six: Vegas 2, a sequel within a franchise, within a franchise, and I just realised the main characters in both Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell Conviction and Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six: Vegas 2 look the exact same. Are they actually the same person, or is it just that everyone who produced this game is kind of early forties and has stubble?

Despite the fact he’s a clone of a character with even less personality, I grew to like Sam, the main character, and part of it was just how good at his job he is, and part of it was the little quips he makes to himself. Sometimes when you grab a guy you’ll whisper hi there into his ear. It makes Sam seem a little more casual, more off the clock, and since he’s meant to be this renegade ex-agent, it makes sense.

But by the end of the story I still don’t really care about him, or his friends. The narrator, who you play at one point, is meant to be Sam’s best buddy that he loves like a brother kind of a thing. They build that connection by making you play this character during the most uninspired mission in this, and perhaps any, game, but more on that later. Friendships come about through bonding experiences, sure. But friendships are about people, and there are 0.5 personalities in this game. Sam hints at having one, but he’s just so boring. His buddy makes all the conversation, tries to make a couple of jokes, which aren’t funny, and as such illicit no response from Sam. There’s no engaging dialogue, and I couldn’t care less about the characters as a result.

And the villains: you have to wonder what these guys do when they get home from work. How do they spend their spare time after a day of shooting scientists in an out of town warehouse for no reason? What kind of TV do these guys watch? Do they go to BBQs ever?

What I enjoy about stealth games, i.e. what I enjoyed about Metal Gear Solid (among other things), is just getting fucking ruthlessly efficient at what I’m doing. Killing 20 plus people without any of them knowing they might be about to die. Maybe this is because I’m just nice, you know? Like, I don’t want to put the fear of God in some minimum wage worker just before I drop his face into my knee and break his neck.

But what a lot of stealth games suffer from, and Splinter Cell is truly one of them, is some of the worst AI in any game that has ever existed ever. Seriously, the AI in this game is on a par with the ghosts in Pacman, or a wasp.

The guards the bad guys hire must be real misanthropists, since they clearly don’t like each other. They never cover each other, or even talk to each other. They don’t spend any time together even. They just walk around by themselves shouting abuse at you.
And if two of them set aside their differences to stand there, facing each other, it’s always around the corner from someone who is just hanging out by themselves, so you can silently kill them and do your magical execution spell on the guards you can’t sneak up on.

The stealth system in this game is as follows: when you’re in the shadows everything is black and white, and this means you’re invisible. The bad guys are never black and white, which doesn’t make any fucking sense, but I’ll forgive the game because, though it is tiny, this black and white idea is still an idea. What’s less innovative is the mission briefing projection bullshit.

Every time you start a mission your objective is projected on a wall or some such nearby. This doesn’t look that cool, though I get the feeling, from watching interviews, that the developers were pissing themselves from the eyeballs when they thought of it. It is practical though, for example when you turn a corner and there is your objective sprayed on the wall in front of you. It keeps the rhythm of the game going, helps direct your attention, and this is important. It’s just…Isn’t there a way to make something like that more relevant? The film projector motif plays no role in the story or content of the game, it’s just a cool little visual gimmick and, in a way, sums up how vacuous this game is.

The tutorial, for example, takes place in the past, as Sam recalls telling his daughter about how cool shadows are, how if you’re in shadows bad guys can’t see you (though obviously it turns out later that if bad guys are in shadows you can still see them just fine. The moral of this game? If you’re bad, you glow. Live it up, dicks.)

Your daughter complains about being afraid of the dark because maybe there’s monsters in it. You tell her how to make the monsters go away, and seconds later some actual rapists are actually breaking into your house and you just fucking kill them all. Then your daughter gets all indignant, what did you do to them daddy, it’s like make your fucking mind up, kid.

Later on, however, there’s a fairly long scene where the plot twist, or something, is explained to you. I wasn’t listening really at all. A DJ Shadow song plays in the background, the voice acting is pretty good, and though the characters are talking about other characters I’ve never heard of and know nothing about I was fucking pumped about taking cover in some shadows. Except that’s not what the game wanted me to do. I walked into a room, was instantly spotted by three guys, so I took cover. But I realised I had automatically tagged them all, and was able to pull off my magic execution instant kill power up attack.

This section, as you escape an exploding building, is meant to be this action run scene. You automatically tag everyone in a room, and then you can press a button to kill them all. It would have been pretty cool, pretty fast paced, except I still thought I was playing a stealth game, since Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell Conviction is a fucking STEALH GAME, so the fast pace was somewhat marred by my crawling through the first 3 rooms of this section before I figured out what the fuck was going on. That, coupled with the Middle East soldier mission made me think the game didn’t know what it wanted to be.

Normally in games like this I feel nervous. In Metal Gear Solid, for example, I feel like I’m on the run, like I need all the help I can get and don’t have an advantage in the world. Splinter Cell is different, and it is refreshing. You feel like you’re in control of the environment, and everyone in your way is just fucked, and that, as much as anything, makes the game a lot of fun.

Without its stealth system this game would be utter shit, which it proves to you by taking away the entire stealth system for a mission where you play Sam’s buddy, a soldier, who must rescue Sam in some Middle East excursion. Instead of an ok stealth game you have what equates to a really shit Gears of War with, effectively, a world war 2 rifle, since if you fire more than one bullet in 2 months the aiming reticule grows to the size of a planet, and you can’t hit anything. I mean yeah, I played the game on realistic mode, but did these guys have any training at all? Like when they were in the army? Which is more or less the only place people train you how to fire guns accurately?

And yes, thank you for asking, I would like to talk about Realistic mode. Realistic does not mean difficult. Sometimes things in the real world are difficult, realistically. Maths tests, sometimes, for example, or climbing a mountain. Maybe wrestling a body building shark, or getting into space are things which are hard, that I guess you can do in real life.

Realistic does not just mean you have less health and get spotted easier. It would mean that Sam’s arms get tired when he hangs onto a window ledge, with his fingers, for 10 minutes at a time. It would mean if you had a human shield his friends wouldn’t immediately start shooting, which they always do, regardless of whether or not he died. Realistic would mean if you destroyed a urinal by slamming someone’s head into it they would fucking die. They wouldn’t get up, take a swing at you, and be able to think and answer your questions. They probably wouldn’t be able to shit themselves.

Am I being pedantic about the use of realistic here, or am I just fucking correct?

Throw in a couple of aiming glitches (the amount of times I’ve been hidden, lined up a perfect shot and it’s all been ruined because Sam leans back to fire, thus missing wildly and leading to my detection and inevitable death has probably given me cancer) and you have an average game, weak on story and characters (and I can think of maybe 3 games which aren’t) but strong on visceral combat, with a couple (literally 2) of visual flourishes.

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