The multiplayer in Splinter Cell: Conviction is all at once similar to other Splinter Cell games and somehow entirely different. A lot of this comes from having a second person to look out for at all times.
During a gameplay demo, game director Patrick Redding explained that players might recognize "echoes" of Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory gameplay. However, the experience is more the result of everything Ubisoft learned from the Splinter Cell series — up to and including that little identity crisis the game suffered between 2007 and 2009. Development on the multiplayer began in that time period, approximately two years ago, and what grew out of it is a story-heavy "prologue" meant to be played by two people cooperatively. From there, the rest of the multiplayer just sort of fell into place.
What Is It?
Splinter Cell: Conviction is a stealth action game starring Sam Fisher, a National Security Agency operative who may or may not be on the lam in this installment. Fisher doesn't figure directly into the main multiplayer mode — but two operatives (one from Fisher's agency and one from its Russian counterpart) engage in about six hours' worth of black ops work that sets up the story Fisher follows in the main campaign.
In total, the game has five multiplayer modes, four of which being separate from the main campaign. You can find out more about Prologue mode by reading on below — but here's what we know about the special "deniable ops" multiplayer modes:
—Hunter is for one to two players to go in and stealth kill everybody they find.
—Infiltration is a "pure" stealth mode for one to two players where the second you're spotted, you lose.
—Last Stand is a survival mode where one to two players have to protect a warhead within a level from a group of AI that want to set it off.
—Face Off throws out co-op and pits two players against both each other and a lot of hostile AI within a level.
What We Saw
I teamed up with Jose Sanchez from Electric Playground on a couple of Xbox 360s for my playthrough of the first Prologue level. I think Jose wound up being the Russian while I played the American. On this mission, we were tasked with getting into some facility or another in Siberia (although we were told the campaign isn't set in Siberia because it'd be "weird" for multiplayer participants to encounter Sam Fisher on their mission) — and making this dude open some sort of door. The whole thing went by in about half an hour for me and Jose — but I think we were doing exceptionally well for noobs.
How Far Along Is It?
Still sort of early days. The framework is there, but there are some kinks to work out like this one crazy bug that doesn't let you complete the mission. Also, they apparently were unaware that a placeholder idle animation had been left in the game — so we were treated to a surprise when we came upon idle Russian guards dancing. I hope you'll write in to Ubisoft and plead with them to leave this in on account of it being hilarious.
What Needs Improvement?
Sonar Goggles Aren't Night Vision Goggles: Jose is willing to bet money that Sam Fisher's trademark night vision goggles with make it into the game, yet. But for now, all anybody has seen (and gets to play with) are these sonar goggles that let you see the gameplay environment I guess the way a dolphin would. I'm not a fan because it turns everything gray. This gives me a false sense of security because when you're in cover, the world is sort of gray — and when you're out of cover, everything is in color. So if I'm wearing my goggles, I sometimes forget that that doesn't mean I'm in cover, and then the Russians shoot at me and oy...
Don't Leave Me!: You do not want to play this game with people who can't communicate. Often times, you'll need to coordinate your assassinations or attacks perfectly or else one player will wind up shot to shit while the other player gets stranded in some distant part of the level. For example, there was a choke point on the map where I was supposed to shoot one guard while Jose grabbed the other guard to make him use his keycard to deactivate a security gate. I kind of shot the security guard he was holding and then went through the gate and shot the other guy — which made a bunch of Russians show up to shoot Jose because I was already long gone by the time they got there. I think if Jose had said something ahead of time, none of that would've happened — but it also would have been nice for there to be some kind of non-verbal communication in the game reminding me not to be a jerk.
Torture Team-Ups: When you get to the guy, you have to beat him up three times to make him cooperate. You can take turns with your partner beating the guy up. This very closely resembles a gang bang and I was pretty uncomfortable — so I let Jose bash the dude's head into a printer and a desk while I watched the door.
END SPOILER WARNING
What Should Stay The Same?
Complex Concepts: Sure, I've played co-op with people before; but always in situations where I knew I could carry them if they turned out to be dead weight. Never have I been in a position where I simply can't do it without my buddy. And I'm not talking about getting a game over screen when they die — I really mean that the level would be too hard to go it alone. In particular, the mark-sharing mechanism really reinforces the buddy system. Jose would run ahead, climb a little half wall (because I guess they can't afford real walls in Russia) and mark a bunch of people walking by. I'd wait in a dark corner down the hall and when the marked men got to me, I could activate the quick assassinate mode and then run down the hallway to join Jose. There is also that revival mechanism, but I consider that standard buddy system gameplay.
Branching Paths: There are points where you have to go a certain way in the mission we were playing on — but every so often there would be open areas that presented options for how to progress. For example, there was one place where we didn't have to shoot anybody at all. Jose could go along the ceiling panels and I could cut right and (using his verbal communication) know when the guard in my area was looking elsewhere so I could book it past him without killing him. I wound up doing it anyway, because I accidentally hit the trigger button instead of the slide-into-cover button, but it's nice to have options.
To The Rescue! There's a cool thing where a bad guy can grab your partner in a choke hold. You've got a limited time to reach him and once you do, you have to make the difficult decision about whether or not to shoot the baddie and risk hitting your partner. Or get your partner to throw an elbow and then shoot the baddie as he's doubled over in pain. Decisions, decisions!
I wish I could've followed the plot more assiduously, but I spent way too much time trying not to die.