You can't accuse Ubisoft of resting on its laurels. In Splinter Cell it has a tried and trusted franchise with a fan base that knows what it wants: action stealth gameplay, complete with plenty of cool gadgets and a serious storyline. Lead man Sam Fisher is undoubtedly a hard man, but he's always been more about silently infiltrating bases than shotgunning someone in the face. Well, Conviction's Fisher is a broken man. He can't get over the loss of his daughter, and has left the Third Echelon - the black-ops sub-division within the NSA. When a man is this close to the edge, it seems he's a lot more willing to run up to an enemy and fire a pistol into their body at close range. Sam might have lost his trademark black outfit and night vision goggles, but he's more bad-ass than ever before.
Clearly, Ubisoft has decided that in a world where action heroes like Jason Bourne, Jack Bauer, and James Bond are more than sneaky agents, Sam Fisher needs to show what a power house he is, and from the opening levels it seems like a wise move. The widely seen interrogation scene that takes place inside a dingy public bathroom is a perfect example of this new Sam. He's on a mission and will stop at nothing to get the information he needs. If that requires a man's skull to be smashed through a sink, into a mirror, and then kicked in, so be it.
You might be concerned that Conviction isn't really a Splinter Cell game at all, but instead a straight up third-person shooter with melee combat, but fear not. After sampling the first few levels of the Xbox 360 version it's clear that Ubi's latest is still very much a Splinter Cell game. Sam doesn't have his night vision goggles (at least not in the stages I've played), but he still uses darkness to stay hidden – the game using grey-scale when you're in the shadows. There's a neat cover system, too, allowing you to hop from location to location while staying out of sight. This isn't Splinter Cell of War, though, with full-on assaults still resulting in death, or at least a hasty backtrack to safety.
What you get here is more brutal stealth gameplay. You may take out some lights to give you a safe passage through an area full of guards, but spot one in isolation and Sam can quickly and easily instant kill him, using a weapon or otherwise. These up close and personal kills are incredibly satisfying and are used to give you access to Conviction's big new feature: Take Downs. A melee kill will grant you use of a takedown, and depending on your weapon this will allow you to mark and instantly kill two or more enemies. You can pre-mark targets, too, so if three enemies are hauled up in a room, you can mark the two most distant ones, storm in, instant kill the guy nearest to you, then tap Y to dispatch the others. It's over in no time at all and no-one's had time to radio in for help.
Gun-play is equally meaty. Your stock silenced pistol will send enemies to an early grave with just a single shot to the head, while semi-auto and automatic guns will let you dispatch goons should you find yourself in a situation where stealth isn't the answer. Popping out of cover to headshot an enemy feels great and performing certain moves will earn you points to spend on weapon upgrades. These upgrade stations are conveniently located in each level, and assuming you're playing the game well enough it doesn't take long to purchase a few essential upgrades to your guns' accuracy and stopping power.