Gamers heading over to the Ubisoft booth at PAX East are getting a chance to play the 'Hunter' co-operative multiplayer mode of Splinter Cell: Conviction for the first time and under the watchful eye of a Frag Doll Cadette, I began a mission to infiltrate an underground train yard and eliminate a terrorist cell that had holed up there.
Hunter is just one of the multiplayer modes in Conviction, and serves as a prelude to the games main story, but Ubisoft is keeping the details of the story firmly under wraps, so exactly how much backstory is contained within it isn't entirely clear. You can only play Hunter with an actual human partner though, so it's safe bet that you won't miss anything vital if you don't get to play it.
The goal in Hunter is pretty simple; as either Archer or Russian agent Kestrel you must eliminate all the terrorists in the level, but it's a lot more complicated than just running in a shooting everyone. As you'd expect, stealth is key to success, and getting spotting will actually increase the number of terrorists you have to fight as the terrorists call in reinforcements, so what starts off as a mission to eliminate ten guys can very quickly become twenty guys if you aren't careful. Luckily, the first wave of reinforcements seems to be the only wave, so you won't find yourself in a situation where you're facing a ridiculous number of enemies.
As well as the usual features you'd expect in a co-op game - you can heal your partner if they get taken down, for example - melee kills will award you markers you can use to tag enemies so you and your partner can co-ordinate your assault. Best of all, these markers allow you to perform execution style kills on your targets, or on your partner's targets if they can't take the shot themselves.
I will admit that it took me a few tries to really get into Hunter, but a big part of that was being unfamiliar with the controls, and once I had gotten more used to what button did what, the game really took off for me. It feels more forgiving than the stealth games I've played in the past, which I liked, but more hardcore stealth fans might not enjoy it quite so much.
The level I got to play - Yastreb Complex - was packed full of cover to hide behind and was actually a lot of fun. I don't think I got quite the full experience; chunky headphones, a noisy hall and a partner I'd never met before wasn't exactly the ideal co-op set up; but with a decent partner from my friends list I can see Conviction turning into a major time sink.
Splinter Cell Conviction is released on Xbox 360 on April 13th.