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TGS 2009: Hands-on: Splinter Cell Conviction

Let's make one thing clear: Splinter Cell: Conviction is more difficult than you think. When the game's "mark and execute" feature was revealed -- a feature that allows players to target and automatically take enemies out -- some players assumed the game would be a cakewalk. Beyond being one of the more difficult titles I personally had hands-on time with, Splinter Cell: Conviction leads the pack as one of the most impressive titles at TGS 2009.

Our meeting with Ubisoft began with producer Alexandre Parizeau walking us through a never-before-seen section of the game before handing us the controller. Taking place "about three-quarters of the way" through the final product, this is the first piece of the real game Ubisoft has ever shown. The E3 2009 demo was developed specifically to showcase Sam's new abilities, but doesn't appear as it did in the final game.

This mission's setting: Washington, DC. After living a life on the run, Sam is captured by Third Echelon and brought home. But now, it appears Sam is back on board with his former employers. Whether his return was made voluntarily, forcefully or due to a patriotic sense of duty is unclear. Parizeau and Co. want to keep a few things hidden in the shadows.

Gallery: Splinter Cell: Conviction (TGS 2009) | 13 Photos

While the original gameplay demo helped develop the personal storyline of the game -- Sam Fisher is on the hunt for the man who caused his daughter's death -- a greater conspiracy and global threat exists. A series of EMP Bombs threaten the Capitol City, and it's up to Sam to abort the danger.

As promised, Sam's goggles have returned. Sam's specs now function more like sonar, allowing him to see (and mark) enemies through walls. Fellow Joystiq staffer Ludwig Kietzmann asked the obvious question, "Did you play Batman: Arkham Asylum?" They did. Sam's cover system has also seen an upgrade, allowing him to move between shielded points by pointing to a new location and tapping a button. It's quick, it's simple and more importantly, it's silent.

Each of the room's I encountered were filled with enemies. If increasing tension was a goal for Conviction, Ubisoft Montreal looks to be delivering on that promise. There were two important mechanics at play: The new "Mark and Execute" feature and interrogations.

Mark and Execute seems easy, but players must first get within grasp of an enemy and initiate hand-to-hand combat (pressing X goes for a quick kill, holding the button allows Sam to use an enemy as a human shield). Once an enemy has been taken out, all marked hostiles in the vicinity of Sam's selected weapon will meet similar fates after a press of the Y button.

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Interrogations are a returning concept in Conviction, but work differently than in previous Splinter Cell titles. As Sam holds an enemy hostage, the pair automatically exchange dialog. Once all of the necessary information has been extracted, and the hostile has been beaten and bloodied, Sam will dispose of the enemy in a unique way. According to Parizeau, this particular encounter always ends the same way -- with Sam sticking a knife through the reluctant informant's hand.

The first time I attempted a run through the demo ... frankly, it was embarrassing. At one point I thought returning star Michael Ironside would waltz into the room, slap the controller out of my hand and yell at me for making Fisher look so bad. Thankfully, I was able to play the demo again and ultimately saved Sam's (and my) reputation. Oh, and if you can execute all of Sam's abilities gracefully, you will feel like a badass. There's definitely a learning curve, but it seems manageable even in my brief exposure to a fairly complex demo.

Conviction lands on the Xbox 360 and PC exclusively on February 23, 2010 in North America and February 26, 2010. If Ubisoft Montreal can execute an operation as flawlessly as Fisher, Conviction could be one of the best action titles on the Xbox 360.

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