On Windows Phone, Gameloft is known for producing some glitchy games. There’s Brain Challenge, a game with an amazing six broken Xbox Live Achievements; and even the otherwise great Let’s Golf 2 has one Achievements that’s impossible by design. Yet on the iOS platform, the ‘Loft has a much different reputation. They’ve made a name for themselves by either porting or cloning big-name console titles to iPhone, usually quite competently. Splinter Cell: Conviction falls into the licensed game category. And luckily for Windows Phone gamers, it’s free of technical problems and glitched Achievements that have plagued previous Gameloft ports.
Can I get some tweezers and a microscope?
The Splinter Cell series is based around the universe of Tom Clancy, but he didn’t create or write any of the games in the series. Each game revolves around protagonist Sam Fisher, a highly-trained Black Ops agent. At the onset of Conviction, Sam has left the NSA following the death of his daughter. He’s trying to live a normal life ‘off the grid.’ But a call from his old associate ‘Grim’ promises news about his daughter’s fate, and soon Fisher is pulled back into the life of a covert operative. Players who are new to the series (as I was) will be slightly lost at the story’s beginning, but it doesn’t take too long to catch up.
Spy versus thugs
Whether or not you care about political intrigue and military jargon, gameplay is the real attraction here. Conviction is all about sneaking around and taking out bad guys, something we can all get behind. Gameloft has somehow managed to adapt a big-budget console title that makes use of every button on the Xbox 360 controller to smartphones with touch screen controls, leaving out very little of the core gameplay in the process. Of course, the touch screen interface takes some getting used to, but text tutorials ease you in pretty well.
A virtual stick on the left controls Fisher’s movement. Swiping with your right finger pans the camera, while two or three context-sensitive buttons on the right initiate actions. Sam’s method of operation revolves around sneaking in the dark – simply stay in shadows and dark areas and enemies won’t detect him. The screen doesn’t turn back and white when he can’t be seen like the console versions, but that’s probably for the best when playing on a phone in potentially suboptimal lighting conditions. Fisher can also take cover behind certain objects, doors, etc. with the press of a button. From there, it’s easy to jump to other pieces of cover or lean out and fire at enemies.
Let god sort 'em out
Conviction uses two basic types of combat: guns and melee. The gunplay works but could be better. Headshots will kill enemies instantly; hit them anywhere else and it’ll take a few slugs. An annoying auto-aim feature hinders more than it helps, sometimes pulling the firing reticle off of an oncoming enemy. Thankfully, Sam can usually take several shots from a single enemy and come out on top. He automatically heals when danger passes.
If you can get close enough to your enemies, melee combat becomes the easiest option. Press attack from the front and Sam will subdue his foe. Do it from behind and he snaps their necks. You can also grab a live enemy and use him as a shield with one of the context buttons.
Conviction introduces a new move to Sam Fisher’s repertoire, the Mark and Kill. After taking out an enemy with your fists (I think), you can press a context button to mark a few enemies at once. Press it again and Fisher shoots them all in a row. It’s a big help when available, but I only had the option to use it every now and then so I couldn’t rely on it. Anyone who claims that Mark and Kill makes the game too easy (even on consoles) is just full of bean dip.
Splinter Cell: Conviction consists of 11 missions. These can take up to 45 minutes or so, depending on your play style. For the most part they’re relatively easy, even on the highest difficulty, thanks to the very simplistic enemy AI. Even though the missions are long, frequent checkpoints and Fast App Switching support make it easier to play and step away as necessary.
On the whole I enjoyed the campaign, except for two frustrating and poorly-designed missions: the rooftop helicopter battle, and a late-game boat level. To even start fighting the chopper, you have to patiently dodge its one-hit kill attacks and succeed in a terrible Quick Time Event minigame. Then it takes ten or so hits from a rocket launcher to bring the bird down, all while you have virtually no safe cover. As for the boat level, at several points Sam has to man a turret and fend off enemy vehicles. The aiming is sluggish and you’ll automatically die if you take too long to kill everybody, marring what should have been some fun turret action.
Conviction captures much of the Xbox 360 game’s charm. The same beautiful FMV intro as the console version sets the stage for the story. Later story sequences use in-game graphics. Sometimes they include voice and sometimes they don’t. Not all of the story makes the transition to mobile though – you won’t find any flashback sequences involving Sam’s daughter here, nor does the player have a choice of whether or not to kill the final boss. You can’t skip the lengthy ending, either. The omissions and simplistic presentation make it hard to care about this version’s narrative, but it’s still more than what we get from most mobile games.
On Xbox 360, Splinter Cell combined realistic graphics with stylistic flourishes to great effect. This version couldn’t possibly stack up, but it does what it can. The 3D environments and characters contain a decent amount of detail, and the frame rate never dips to unplayable levels. I did notice a few places where animated textures should have been used, such as TV screens. Basically Conviction resembles a Playstation One game like Syphon Filter – a fair level of performance given hardware limitations.
Conviction bestows most of its Achievements as you beat each level. There is one for beating the game on the highest difficulty, so I suggest playing that way from the start. Except for the problem spots I mentioned earlier, it’s still pretty easy. Most players should gain the full 200 GamerScore in no time.
The current selection of Xbox Live games on Windows Phone consists mostly of casual titles and puzzle games. Splinter Cell: Conviction is the first mature, console-like game on the platform. With a well-developed stealth element, passable third-person shooting, and a realistic setting and story, Conviction should scratch a lot of hardcore gamers’ itches. Once you’ve completed it, you might just be tempted to pick up it up on Xbox 360 too - it's only twenty bucks nowadays.
Splinter Cell: Conviction costs $4.99 and there is a free trial. Sneak over here to the Marketplace to get it.