Everything you may have heard is true: The main co-op mode (either online or local / split-screen play, with a human partner or A.I.) is a prequel to the events of the game and doesn't star series staple Sam Fisher. Instead, the estimated 5- to 6-hour campaign focuses on two wetworks operatives -- one American, one Russian -- who must work together to recover stolen nuclear warheads before they're sold on the black market.
The game will also feature co-op play in what are being called "deniable ops" -- more conventional intrusion missions and the like -- as well as a player-vs-player-vs-CPU "duel" mode. What I played was part of the the prequel campaign: an admittedly brief but eye-opening mission set in Moscow's fortified metro system. You can watch a walkthrough video of the section I played above. Read on after the break for my thoughts.
I dove straight into the mission, playing alongside one of the multiplayer testers from developer Ubisoft Montreal. Immediately, I was impressed by the game's looks, along with the fluidity and relative simplicity of its controls: a button to toggle crouch, one to pop into cover and context-sensitive prompts when required. The only thing that took a little adjusting to was marking enemies using the "execute tokens" displayed in the lower-right of the screen. Even that came fairly easily, though, once we'd managed to blow a huge hole through this secret compound's wall. (Not exactly stealthy.)
Immediately, I was impressed by the game's looks, along with the fluidity and relative simplicity of its controls.
Sneaking on into the next area, I managed to spot a surveillance camera before it spotted us. This was my first chance to use one of my agent's gadgets, which he has access to since he haven't gone "off the grid" like Fisher (in the main campaign). I activated a handheld EMP that blew out not only the camera, but all of the lights in the corridor. Next, I snuck up on a lone guard and took him as a human shield while my buddy silenced another. I snapped my hostage's neck and moved on to a room of offices and cubicles.
Here, one of us stuck to the shadows (there's no more light meter for indicating when you're hidden -- the image simply becomes desaturated), shooting out lights, while the other moved along the tops of office walks, tagging guards for another dual execute success.
The next area was perfect for trying out another gadget: sonar goggles. Rather than take on the guards surrounding our target's office directly, I climbed up into the false ceiling and crept along silently, sending out sonar pings to display a 3D map of the room (and enemies) below. I made a silly mistake and was grabbed by a guard, who started to choke out my agent. Luckily, my partner had a clear shot and took him down as I quickly broke the guard's grip and ducked. It was a total action-movie moment.
Once we'd stormed our target's office, it was time to interrogate him. I ran his face in a paper shredder and dented in a safe door with his head before he agreed to open a biometric-secured door for us. Multiplayer director Patrick Redding, who was standing by during the demo, was quick to say, "No," when asked if it was possible to accidentally kill an enemy during interrogation sequences.
So I pushed the important guy I'd just roughed up towards the biometric lock I needed his retina for, while our partner kept a lookout for more guards. Before I could get the door open, the guy put me in yet another choke hold and pulled a gun, threatening to shoot me. The camera panned to show the standoff, then the screen went black, before the sound of a gunshot was heard, followed by our mission support character radioing to ask what the hell had just happened.
As you can tell, the demo wasn't very long. But it was very, very solid -- and quite fun. That Splinter Cell: Conviction will include a substantial co-op campaign that plays this well, in addition to Sam Fisher's story of revenge, is incredibly exciting; we just hope the situations and objectives will continue to be engaging enough to keep us on our toes and still uttering "wows" until the credits roll.