Splinter Cell: Conviction – PC Version

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The Bad

Interrogating Villains

The player is given intermittent control in a series of semi-interactive interrogation cut scenes such as the early sequence in which you get to use a thug’s head to demolish a urinal. There are limitations within these semi-scripted interludes devoted to torture; you are given only enough control to feel guilty over your involvement in the contrived brutality of it without having the option to use your initiative or influence events in any way. Unlike in other parts of the game, there is no badass sense of accomplishment to be had in slamming a goon’s skull discordantly into a grand piano just because the plot requires you to. Instead, all you get is a sense of impotent complicity in something ugly. The interrogation sequences are half-cocked and misjudged; they would have been more acceptable as cut scenes or as fully interactive melee combat.

Optics and Gadgets

An egregious design flaw in an otherwise meticulously designed game is the stretched image you get through the optical sight of the AK-47 and other assault weapons, a surprisingly crude mistake that should have been rectified in beta. Weapon optics in general are poor, as is the choice not to make modular weapon upgrades reversible, so that once you have suppressed an assault rifle, you can no longer restore it to full stopping power by removing the attachment.

The gadgets, such as frag grenades, proximity mines and remote cameras offer welcome assault/defend options that compliment basic hide-and-shoot tactics — it is fun to proximity mine a door and then assault though a window — but they seem to be a bit of a token gesture in a game which, unlike its predecessors, gives you no credit at all for indirect, non-lethal approaches to problem solving.

...it is fun to proximity mine a door and then assault though a window...

The Ugly

It is particularly sad that no review of this product can be complete without drawing the attention of the consumer to what is probably the most cynical implementation of Digital Rights Management and the most half-assed Internet multiplayer infrastructure I have ever experienced in 20 years of PC gaming.

Splinter Cell: Conviction occupies a unique place in a gaming hall of shame already full of the greed, shortsightedness and incompetence of publishers who seem to hold the PC gamer in contempt; unique because whereas many of these other games are second-rate console ports, converted to PC to make a quick buck at the customer’s expense, Splinter Cell: Conviction is a genuinely good game, but with its needlessly restrictive and ill-conceived DRM all but compromises both the accomplishments of its designers and the good will that would otherwise be flowing from a grateful PC gaming public.

Ubisoft reverts to 90s-era protocol by demanding the forwarding of certain data ports before the game is playable (or at least host-able) online. This must be done in your router firmware, as opposed to software firewall and imposes the need to adjust certain specialized router settings and obtain a static IP address. After you have jumped through these hoops, you will be greeted by a blizzard of server-side connectivity error messages, making successful coop a lottery. I think I have been successful in connecting to Ubisoft’s multiplayer servers one time in ten attempts on average. We shall see if Ubisoft intends to address any of the problems outlined below; so far, the silence has been deafening, with no formal acknowledgement of the state in which the game was released, no official communication on the boards, no apology and no response from two emails I sent to their head of PR asking for clarification. Many people paid $60 USD — about ten dollars above the average retail price for high-end PC games on release — for a product that offers only part of the utility users should expect.

Multiplayer

Ubisoft’s system of Digital Rights Management requires the player to have an always-on Internet connection, even to use the single player portion of the game. This often causes the game to stutter and crash when the player’s Internet connection falters momentarily and imposes a large, unjustifiable limitation of use on the paying consumer. It is also shortsighted and foolish; within hours of the game’s release, the DRM was cracked and exploited by hackers.

Initially, multiplayer for the PC was a broken mess. Adding insult-to-injury for the patient, law-abiding PC consumer, the hackers who cracked the DRM have reportedly been able to play coop much more successfully than customers attempting to use the original in-game multiplayer matchmaker. Consistent with the cynical nature of Ubisoft’s DRM policy, the matchmaker is all about control; there are no lobbies in which you can see who is playing what online and with whom. Its design eliminates the social aspect of multiplayer by limiting the individual’s interactions with the community. In this design for multiplayer, the game’s matchmaking utility empowers Ubisoft to mediate every aspect of the player’s experience, not allowing dedicated servers or lobbies.

Ubisoft has recently released patch 1.03, which supplies voice comms for coop but no other game updates or fixes. Text comms would still be welcome, especially in the pre-game interface, but I suppose the publishers are reluctant to supply any functionality for one platform (PC) that is not viable on another (consoles). Enormous connectivity issues that plagued me at first, making it a rare thing to find a coop game using either the obtuse matchmaker or my in-game friends’ list have receded somewhat, thanks to possible server-side improvements and much trial and error on my part. Complaints about debilitating connectivity and synchronisation issues continue to light up the forums but I have found that disabling my anti-virus software (in addition to the port-opening dance mentioned above) has made coop pretty accessible for me.

Despite advertising the PC game as playable with a wireless Xbox 360 controller, the controls were wrongly configured on release but addressed in patch v1.02. I cannot comment on the effectiveness of this fix as I use keyboard input exclusively.

This is, in many ways a really polished, innovative game whose design team has been let down by publishers determined to impose too much conformity and control — and a very iffy multiplayer infrastructure — on the PC player’s experience. I had hoped for better from Ubisoft but can still recommend the game to tactical gamers with the necessary patience to put up with the DRM and associated problems.

Sam doing his gymnastics

Reviewer’s System Specs

  • Processor: Intel Core i7 920 2.66GHz (Quad Core), overclocked to 3.3GHz – 3.9GHz
  • Motherboard: EVGA X58 3X SLI (Intel X58 Chipset)
  • System Memory: 6GB DDR3 1333MHz Mushkin
  • Video Card: 1x NVIDIA GeForce GTX 285 2GB (Includes PhysX Technology)
  • Microsoft Windows Vista Home Premium (64-Bit Edition)

 


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