Pick up the pace for latest 'Splinter Cell' game

If you read the newspaper, you know domestic terrorism is "in" again. And since video games mirror our scared lives, "Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Conviction" feeds into the whole domestic terrorism fear factory.

Once again, you portray Sam Fisher, the aging, undercover government agent. You go rogue from your U.S. agency, because your daughter, presumed dead, may or may not be alive. Can you find and save her?

The people who took her are slimy Americans, a group of nefarious evildoers who are bent on uprising against America and -- I won't spoil more plot twists.

If you're familiar with "Splinter Cell" games, you know "Cells" are unlike normal shooters. They are not Schwarzenegger free-for-alls where you barge into a room, slay dozens of people per minute, and barely get nicked yourself.

Nope. In "Splinter Cell" games, you can be killed by just a bullet or two, coming from any of a horde of fearless minions. You must hunt very carefully against them and nemeses, or they will lay you flat, my brothers, oh yes they will.

Here, Sam moves quicker and more fluidly than in earlier "Splinter Cells." That makes this 10-hour or so sequel an improvement and a game-changer for the "Splinter Cell" series.

No longer does Sam ploddingly crawl through buildings, courtyard shadows and other locales. This time, Sam moves "Bourne Identity" fast, racing safely away from a crime scene faster than you can say, "That's not where I parked my car."

And you can now peek under doorways to electronically target villains inside rooms, before you storm in and whisk them into the Great Hereafter.

But you can no longer carry around corpses (of guys you kill) and hide them in shadows. Some gamers are bummed about that. I'm fine with it. Carrying dead bodies is a drag.

"Conviction" most reminds me of the fun old "Hitman" series. You shinny up building walls, sneak in windows, creep behind gun-toting bad guys, kill them, and try to silently spy your way through missions.

If you get sick of the solo mission, or beat it, you can play cooperative mode with a buddy, or you can play one-on-one face-offs in online multiplayer (which does not have the usual 16-person battles).

What's bad: Some moments are so convoluted, you may want to break the game disk in half. I got stuck for two hours trying to kill just four dummies, while also trying to avoid laser beams moving through a building's security system. Sound simple? It ain't.

And at times, bad guys' bullets are more overpowering than your CIA-ish bullets. That's absurd.

Look, game, what do you not understand about me shooting a guy in the face three times without killing him? And shouldn't three back-blasts from a shotgun do a man in?

Not to mention, every time I shoot a guy in the crotch, he remains standing up and shooting at me. Uhhh, hellooo game, does crotch-shot-standing seem like a highly likely scenario to you? Because it doesn't to me.

("Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Conviction" by Ubisoft retails for $60 for Xbox 360 and PC -- Plays fun. Looks great. Very challenging. Rated "M" for blood, drug reference, intense violence, sexual themes and strong language. Three and one-half stars out of four.)

Contact Doug Elfman at delfman@reviewjournal.com. He blogs at reviewjournal.com/elfman.