The BioShock 2 Short Script has taken a bit of a backseat, since I simply couldn't resist writing one for Splinter Cell: Conviction while playing it. There was more than enough for me to work with, to say the least. Most of my frustrations with the game stemmed from the nature of the PC version, which is prone to uneven performance and framerate issues. A quick Google search reveals a plethora of users suffering similar problems. At times I found it to be a genuine chore to play through the game, and while I finish all games I purchase on principle alone, I dare say it was the accompanying Short Script that helped to propel me to the end. It's a shame, because the game does get a lot of things right.
First of all, the game's cinematic direction is ace. The recent proliferation of hand-held cameras in movies (most evident in the Jason Bourne movies directed by Paul Greengrass) is used to great effect in Conviction's cut-scenes. Moreover, with no actual physical camera to consider, the developers were free to rotate, pan, weave, and zoom as much as they desired, and the result is a dynamic and consistent visual style which also provides a seamless method of switching from cut-scene to gameplay. And that's exactly why the game's poor performance stuck out like a sore thumb.
I've seen enough footage of Conviction on consoles to know that it can play smoothly, but its apparent lack of optimisation on the PC provided a very consistent stutter. The gameplay in and of itself is quite easy, even on the hardest difficulty, but it was made infinitely more challenging by framerate issues which made any encounters with more than three enemies a struggle. Combined with some very poorly placed checkpoints, which sometimes forced me to replay entire stretches of the game, this often provided ample frustration. My PC isn't top of the line, but it handles most recent games quite well. Yet even with all visual options turned down, I couldn't get Conviction to run properly.
Another thing that struck me was the game's audio. While the music is decent in that it underlines the action without ever overshadowing it and the voice work is excellent throughout (with special mention to Michael Ironside who continues to nail Sam Fisher's gritty tones), the game's use of sound really shines, especially in cut-scenes. Every action gets an appropriate sound effect, something which most games neglect. One set piece stood out especially, namely the point where Anna Grímsdóttir informs Sam why his daughter's death was faked (you can view it here). The use of DJ Shadow's well-known track Building Steam With A Grain Of Salt is also a great asset.
Conviction's story is not a very original one (this Penny Arcade comic pretty much sums it up), but it is handled very efficiently. I've always enjoyed the writing of the Splinter Cell games, and Conviction doesn't disappoint. Most dialogues are engaging, yet concise -- as long as they're not being shouted by a guard (again nicely illustrated by Penny Arcade). What really helps in bringing the story across is the game's presentation, as mentioned above.
I myself had no problems with the game's DRM, in that I never got bumped from the game because of a lost connection. The most trouble I had was the fact that I had to set up a Ubisoft profile to play the game when I'm generally wary of any such addition. For instance, Games For Windows Live remains an obtrusive but manageable hassle in every game that employs it. I can only imagine the problems and resulting irritation those without a consistent internet connection must have experienced (as evidenced by this post at Rock, Paper, Shotgun).
While I applaud Ubisoft Montréal's courage to take the Splinter Cell series in a new direction, I can't help but wonder what kind of game we'd be playing had they stuck to their original design. Splinter Cell is a franchise I hold dear (Chaos Theory remains one of my favourite games ever), so Conviction doesn't really come across as the next entry in the series, but as a new iteration of it. But in the end, isn't that what every new entry in any series is supposed to do?
Welcome to Playthroughline, a personal blog focused on the implementation of stories in games. In addition to general musings about narrative design, you’ll also find a collection of scripts that basically do for videogames what The Editing Room does for movies.