We tend to stop writing about games when you start playing them. We cover the announcement, we write previews and reviews, but by the time you unwrap a new game we've moved on. Still Playing is our bid to address that. Every Monday and Friday, staff and contributors go into detail on the games they've been playing in their spare time. Here, Tont Coles explains how two friends with markedly different playstyles keep him coming back to Splinter Cell: Conviction.
Sitting in the shadows as the shy co-star to a somewhat over-dramatised story mode, Splinter Cell Conviction's Deniable Ops is an underrated entry in the series' illustrious multiplayer lineage. Playable solo or in co-op, its suite of eleven maps provide a marvellous playground for the consummate ghost-run professional, the balls-out heavy weapons bastard and every other black ops fetishist in between.
Deniable Ops adds a small list of quirks and subversions to the story mode’s default rules (reinforcements doubling enemy numbers, for instance) and fills the typically gritty locales with challenges that create a delightful mix of fluid volatility and predictable procedure. There are four play modes, but only one has any real appeal for me and my regular co-op partners: Hunter, which is a straight up enemy elimination. Played alone, it provides a fine set of rehearsal halls for terribly ruthless and efficient baddie slaughter in embassies, military bunkers and shipping crate mazes.
Once I’d been through each level on each difficulty (which took some time), my playstyle switched into exploring the boundaries of safety and assurance that each level provided, while marvelling at the breadth of options available for an observant or imaginative player to clear the same map in different ways. More than two years after release, Deniable Ops keeps on enticing me back to brush up for ultimate badass runs and, sometimes, to simply toy with the AI from a new-found hanging point.
But single player Deniable Ops is a mere training college for the more consistently enjoyable split-screen co-op. With a team of two, Hunter can become a thoroughly rewarding exercise in co-ordinated precision and military professionalism, or a glorious romp in AI provocation and abuse. I’m lucky enough to have two friends who are into co-op Hunter, and one of them knows the game just as well as I do (and plays with the same perfectionist zeal). We’ve been working up to a no-detections, no-evidence run – where even shooting out a lightbulb is considered a unforgivable breach of the stealthy professional code.
Another other friend, who’s recent forays into military multiplayer have taken the form of hardcore, HUD-less Call Of Duty, has the disadvantage of much less Splinter Cell experience and a fondness for firing lots of bullets at once, rather than one every ten minutes. However, there’s reward to be had with sloppier, more chaotic runs, even if it boils down to the knowledgeable player (me) clearing up after the newbie’s mistakes.
Naturally, there’s an optimal weapon set for both approaches, and for everyone to have the right tools both profiles need to have been through the story mode. However, it’s a worthwhile investment just to get your mitts on a scoped, suppressed MP5 sub-machine gun, and the only pistol that can rack up four tags for executions, meaning a team can take down eight enemies at once – a necessity in a couple of set-piece rooms.
With my less experienced friend, I’ve recently worked out a lovely subversion for Conviction’s signature tag/execute mechanic that sees me press forward as a spotter, marking enemies for my friend to silently snipe from some hidden corner. I crawl along some ceiling pipe or other (pro tip: always look for the pipe), create a bit of fuss and then tag and announce whoever comes along, knowing those tags will dependably disappear a few seconds later in a hail of three-round bursts. We often end up crestfallen that enemies don’t spawn infinitely when a particularly sweet combination of spotter post and sniper hole is found. This kind of co-op, in wilful ignorance of more helpful, formal game features, creates a thrillingly raw, uncanned analogue version of the fancy execution animations that the maps often seem to demand – and is profoundly more satisfying for it.
It entertains me greatly that the approaches of both of my friends are setting the path for two types of perfect run. One will be within the game’s lines and an exquisite expression of adherence to its rules, whereas the other will be improvisational and transgressive, but both provide the sense of a job well done. That both approaches are possible is a testament to the balanced, emergent ruleset that Deniable Ops provides. The entire mode would work fantastically in the form of an episodic spin-off. I know at least three people who’d happily invest.