The latest installment of Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell series by Ubisoft, Splinter Cell Conviction comes loaded with an impressive level of realism and a dark style with gritty textures and desaturated colors. Yet I can almost hear the collective yawn as that could describe almost any current gen since realistic grayish graphics are par for the course on the Xbox 360 in particular. But Splinter Cell Conviction brings some unique visual elements to the gameplay that sneak up on you like an ex-member of Third Echelon seeking revenge.
As fans of the series know stealth is the name of the game and if you get shot, it’s lights out for the protagonist, Sam Fisher. That being the case your most important weapon is darkness, which accounts for the most visually interesting aspect of the game. Setting the mood for this stealth action game, you spend a lot of time lurking in shadows and sneaking up on enemies. And since a pitch black screen wouldn’t be very interesting let alone advantageous to gameplay, Ubisoft gives the player insight into Sam’s ability to see clearly in the dark through a distinctive stealth mode. When the player enters the shadows the entire world seems dark, save for your enemies and objects you can interact with, simulating how a stealthy assassin could adjust their eyes to the dark. The contrast between Sam in the shadows and the strong lighting on his targets give the player a clear picture of his focus and intent and set the tone for the game. This visual contrast immerses the player and creates the perfect atmosphere for stalking your enemies and provides a genuine sense of anticipation and control. In contrast to the shrouded protection of the shadows, at times when you’re in bright lighting you feel exposed, making it feel urgent to find cover.
Splinter Cell Conviction ditches some of the cheesy conventions found in most games like floating cursors or text and flashing objects and replaces it with projected text. So rather than an interrupting pop-up explaining your mission or a flashing red beacon to lead to your next objection, the text is imposed onto the background in a bold clear type. Ubi’s projection method gives the player cues without pausing the action so the experience is as seamless as possible. Even flashbacks and thoughts are projected onto walls while you play rather than shown in disruptive cut scenes which keeps the story and the action going and makes the player connect with Sam on a deeper level.
If you’re on the fence about whether or not video game graphics have reached a level of realism that limits innovation, play Splinter Cell Conviction. Ubisoft not only enhances gameplay but creates a powerful mood through use of dynamic lighting and interesting text placement. The design choices keep the action moving without interruption and create a surreal understanding of what it would be like to see through the eyes of a trained spy.