Visceral. It's a word that's overused in game reviews, slapped into descriptions of any game that involves kicking people in the teeth or stamping on their goolies.
It's become so pervasive that EA even renamed one of its tediously monikered regional studios to Visceral Games, adding even more ammo to the argument that it should be placed on the OXM list of banned words. Right next to 'gameplay'.
The problem is, it's also a word that lends itself so beautifully to Sam Fisher's new, gritty combat technique. Fisher's crunching hand-to-hand takedowns are something to behold - this is a man who, rather than lamping someone in the face, smashes their teeth in by punching them with his gun. All this accompanied by audio that sounds like someone stamping on a lettuce.
If you don't wince the first time Sam incapacitates a bad guy by repeatedly jabbing them in the windpipe with the business end of a Beretta, we reckon you're probably a robot.
This outrageously brutal method of eliminating enemies flows into the feature that genuinely revolutionises the way the Splinter Cell series plays.
Each time you pull off a takedown you unlock one-time access to the Mark and Execute option, which allows you to tag two or more enemies with RB and then automatically headshot them by hitting Y. As a result, if you can concentrate your stealthy efforts on picking off just one member of the enemy forces, you'll be rewarded with the ability to mop up a further three or so in very stylish fashion.
At a very basic level, you'll play this strategy in sequence - performing the takedown, tagging further enemies, then hitting Y. Once you get into Fisher's head, though, you can perform manoeuvres that would have Seagal hanging up his ponytail. Our favourite is tagging four enemies, performing one of the Death From Above takedowns on a fifth and then instantly hitting Y to take out an entire room full of enemies in a couple of seconds. If there's one thing better than taking people out stealthily, it's doing it with lightning efficiency. Much like Batman: Arkham Asylum, Splinter Cell Conviction does a great job of making you feel like an utter badass.
That's the core formula that you'll be employing for the majority of Conviction's relatively short single-player campaign. Sam's quest to discover who killed his daughter only clocks in at around six hours, which is disappointing given how long we've waited for another instalment in the series. Over the course of that time Ubisoft Montreal flirts with variety, with mixed results. Highlights include one scene where you're chasing an assassin through crowded areas, which works brilliantly as a break from silent snooping.
There's also the odd moment where you must remain completely undetected, which is a neat nod to how hardcore the series used to be.
Unfortunately there are also mis-steps like one particularly tedious flashback sequence, which demonstrates that if you strip away the interesting stealth mechanics and options for strategic play, what you're left with is a limp cover shooter. That it ends with a whack-a-mole defence sequence as you await extraction makes it all the more snooze-inducing.
Moments like this mean the campaign seems to lose inspiration as it hurtles towards its conclusion. Rather than large areas that offer a variety of strategic options (which are where the game excels), Sam is funnelled into corridors littered with cover and rammed with enemies. Obviously it's necessary to make the game tougher as you approach the finale, but we're sure there are better ways to do it than that.