I only get to try one of its four missions, set in a Cold War bunker deep underneath Moscow, but even in the space of that it's hugely apparent that you'd never tackle it in quite the same way twice. Multiple routes, multiple opportunity to leap betwixt frying pan and fire and, as will likely be one of Conviction's major talking points (Sam manages some especially gruesome human rights violations in single-player), multiple ways to brutally torture people for information.
On top of the prologue are the Deniable Ops missions, a collection of multiplayer mini-games using a clutch of maps recycled from the single-player and co-op, plus two new ones entirely. Hunter mode's a straight elimination game, the two of you using brains and bloodshed to clear a zone of all its enemies as quickly as possible.
Alternatively, there's the stealth-off of Infiltration, wherein you're both trying to get through the area without being spotted - Reading describes this as a throwback to classic Splinter Cell, and a nod to the series' long-term fans.
It's much-needed, to be honest - largely speaking, Conviction is a long way away from the precision stealth of its predecessors, with Sam-Jack, Archer and Kestrel are much more akin to the pantherlike Batman of Arkham Asylum than to traditional, frail Sam. To producer Patrick Reading's mind, Conviction is "evolving what we think of as stealth action gameplay" - but some more veteran players are likely to accuse it of doing quite the opposite.
It's not been a good year for classic (for lack of a better word) stealth, as there's been a general industry movement to more accessible sneaking, featuring characters who kill from the darkness but don't crumple like a wet paper bag when they're shot in the face. While it'd be a stretch to call anything about Conviction realistic, Infiltration is very much game over if you're spotted. As a polar opposite, there's Last Stand - wherein the pair of you are besieged by waves of gun-toting nutters and endeavour to survive for as long as possible.
If you're one of those frowning souls who feels co-op is the coward's approach to multiplayer, you'll want Face Off mode. Essentially, it's deathmatch between the two players, but it also throws perma-angry AI enemies into the mix. An adept and sadistic spy can use his arsenal of future-gadgets to lure these brawny chaps into hunting and attacking his opponent. "It's a chance for the two players to pit themselves against each other to see who really is the biggest predator on the block," says Reading. "It becomes a really interesting, strategic type of game even while you're hunting down your fellow player."
Across all of this, there's - wouldja Adam and Eve it - an unlock/experience points metagame. For some it'll sweeten what's already a tantalising deal, but for others (hello!) it seems faddish and unnecessary, a distraction from the game's inherent challenges.
It's called, awkwardly, Persistent Elite Creation, and it'll win you kit upgrades and visual customisation tweakery. There's only so many bells and whistles you can stick onto a man who dresses in black so he can hide in the dark, so it'll be fun to see what they come up with for that. "We had a strategic goal to keep people playing the game, to have a reason to fire it up weeks or months later," explains Reading.
So, it's far from a tokenistic multiplayer mode, and probably instrumental to making Conviction a seriously impressive rival to BioShock 2, Mass Effect 2 et al for our February and March affections. And again, after all that Modern Warfare 2 hoo-hah, it'll be nice to play a game about being Americans and Russians slapping on rather than stabbing each other in the back for a change. Not quite Red Heat: The Game, but we can only hope.
Splinter Cell: Conviction is out for PC and Xbox 360 on 26th February 2010.