The last time we were in control of Sam Fisher -- aka the X10 demo -- he was sneaking, shooting and (neck) snapping his way through a mansion in Malta, tracking down the man he believed had information about his daughter Sarah's killer. Recently, I played through a new section of Splinter Cell: Conviction, which picked up right where the previous demo abruptly ended -- with a a team of Third Echelon forces breaking up Sam's one-man operation.

Forced to surrender, Sam's put on a plane and "brought home" for questioning about a plot to bring down Washington, DC with an EMP attack. Handling the transport is Black Arrow, a private military contractor, and it's this outfit's private airbase that serves as the setting for the game's second level. It presented me with new challenges, specifically staying out of site in some really wide-open spaces. I was reminded of Metal Gear Solid more than once, what with patrolling guards, stacked crates and roaming flood lights to negotiate.

My ultimate goal in the level was to escape in a car, which was parked just outside the base's main gate -- exactly the kind of place a black ops agent goes sneaking around if he wants to get himself killed. That being the case, the objectives were still clear: remain hidden, kill as many mercenaries as possible and destroy any assets they could use to pursue me or to alert their employer that I'd escaped.

It was tense from the get-go. My first challenge was completely counter-intuitive to the way I'd been "trained" to play stealth games -- I had to step out into the open in front of two guards. Of course, before making my move, I waited until a third enemy had just passed my hidden location with his back to me. Meanwhile, crouched behind a crate, I "tagged" (a gameplay mechanic to set up strategic, swift takedowns) the two enemies facing my direction. Then I stepped out, grabbed the third enemy and took him down using a swift hand-to-hand move -- this gave me three "execute" markers, turning the marks above the other mercs' heads red. With a quick tap of the Y button, I deftly squeezed off two rounds and my problems were gone. The entire sequence took only seconds, but was so satisfying.


The next scenario played out inside one of the air field's hangers. Using my newly acquired fiber-optic snake cam, I peered under a door and tagged the enemy I could see. Standing back up, I could still see his marker on the other side of the door,. Rather than bust through and surprise him, but risk altering many more enemies I hadn't seen, I decided to patiently wait for the "bad guy" to move along. Slipping inside, I executed a few marked targets as silently as possible, but was spotted by an enemy that came rushing up some nearby stairs to investigate the commotion I'd made. As I headed into cover, a "shadow" of my last known position was created --

Objectives: remain hidden, kill as many mercs as possible and destroy any assets they can use.

the spot where enemies would start looking for me -- and I slyly crept away and climbed a pipe, eventually moving along the ceiling, from where I took down the remaining guards.

After planting some C4 on a helicopter in the hanger (now they couldn't possibly use it to chase after me, that's for sure) I was on to sabotage the base's electrical room. The only problem was that it happened to be some 500 yards away, across a large, open and well-lit area. That and oodles of mercs.

How to get there? Taking out any lights was a good first step. I found the game's use of unconventional light sources as obstacles -- like an idling truck's headlights -- to be a clever touch. Shooting out each light was an obvious red flag to the mercs, however, and they stepped up their patrolling, rifles drawn. Tagging them to maintain a rough idea of where they were in relation to my position proved indispensable in this situation, as I slowly moved between crates, stalking lone enemies and taking them down hand-to-hand in order to earn execute markers. It took me three or four attempts to pull off this section in a fashion befitting of a super-spy (y'know, without dying). But once properly executed, my strategy definitely made me feel like a completely badass silent predator.

I eventually made it out of the base alive and headed for DC, but that's a tale for another time. What I do want to talk about now are the weapon stashes located at checkpoints throughout each level. You see, kills (and their levels of stealthiness) rewarded me with points that I could spend not only on new weapons (a primary and secondary can be carried, along with two grenade types) at these stashes, but upgrades to them. These included better stocks (for improved accuracy) and scopes (for additional execute "slots"). Once a weapon is purchased and upgraded, it's always available from a stash -- even in co-op.

It seems like it's been forever in the making, but Splinter Cell: Conviction will finally release next month, and I have to say I'm glad Ubisoft took its time. So far, the game hits on all points and appears to keep this now classic franchise relevant among other modern stealth-action games.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.