Splinter Cell: Conviction; or, How Not to Write a Story.

5 May

Yet another old blog post, this one from May 2010.

I didn’t read too much information about Splinter Cell: Conviction before playing it. I also didn’t watch a lot of videos. The bit I knew really intrigued me: Sam learned his daughter’s death might not have been an accident, and he heard some names floating around. The interrogation bit in the demo certainly led me to believe he was on a personal mission of vengeance. Right or wrong, he was going to get the information he needed, the way he needed to get it. The premise was instantly thought-provoking. With a story like that, there are multiple ways to go about exploring themes, such as moral ambiguity, blind rage and the consequences of it, and learning to let go and move on with your life. As you can probably guess by the title of this post, the kind folks at Ubisoft decided to shit all over themselves.

So, it turns out his daughter is still alive, and she’s initially being used as a bargaining chip to make Sam do some dirty work. Really? Because what that translated to was this game being just like every other Splinter Cell game ever made. The personal side of the story was totally squashed in favor of bland spy fiction theatrics, and that really made me mad. I was all ready to learn more about Sam’s life beyond Third Echelon; maybe find out what his marriage was like or get to interact with a part of him that I’ve never seen before. Nope. “Hey, Sam, I know where your daughter is. But before you can reunite with her, go slink around breaking necks and figure out this conspiracy involving an attempted assassination of the President and EMP weapons smuggling with your former company.” Ugh. Again, I ask, really? Sam’s daughter goes from the center of his suffering to the backdrop for some boring crap about the president wanting to shut down Third Echelon. Since Lambert died, the new director apparently decided to take the spy group down a shadier path, and he wasn’t very happy about the prospects of being out of a job. So he starts smuggling weapons into the country and conspires to kill the president and install the vice president as their lackey. Basically. Oh, and apparently Lambert told Sam that his daughter was dead so that he would have the resolve to be a better Splinter Cell.

Getting bored yet? I am, and I’m having to use the brain power to write about this vapid shit. I can only imagine what the leisurely activity of reading it is making you feel. Anyways, Grimmsdotter knew the whole time, I guess, and decided to tell Sam about it so that he would help her take down the new Third Echelon director. OK, I’m done explaining. Who cares? I didn’t, and I don’t expect anyone else to, either. I only saw Sam’s daughter, like, twice during the entire game. I’m telling you, she doesn’t matter in the plot. Ubisoft could have replaced “they killed my daughter” with “they strangled my dog” and it would have had the same emotional impact to me. If it was the dog, there would at least be that heart-warming moment where Sam would have to bend over to pick up the puppy and be vociferously licked all over his face, while everyone looks at them, smiling and hugging as flowers bloom in the background and PETA guns down the bad guy in cold-blood. There could be the whole juxtaposition thing, with classical music playing while slow motion blood spray is going all over the place, slightly out of focus. What I got, instead, was the daughter “story”, and my impatience with it almost sent me into an aimless, murderous rampage. What a fucking waste of time and effort.

It’s really too bad, because there are elements in the game that do hearken back to the story that could have been. For whatever reason, the things that really worked, such as a flashback of robbers entering Sam’s house as he’s putting his daughter to bed; or a flashback to Iraq involving Sam and a war buddy, end up being one-shot deals in terms of the narrative structure. Overall, the game is nothing more than every Splinter Cell objective you’ve ever had to get through in the past. Why? Why did it have to be this way? Did they really want the story to be uninteresting and overly-elaborate? If they didn’t, well, someone needs to ask Ubisoft if they can tell the difference between their ass and a hole in the ground.

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