Developer: Free Radical Design
Release Date: September 21, 2004
Sometimes, two games come out that are so similar that you cannot review one without comparing it to the other. Such is the case with Second Sight; its gameplay mechanics are so similar to Psi Ops, but it doesn't quite measure up. Let me break down for you what this game did right and where this game failed in many of the areas in which Psi Ops did so well.
While it's no KOTOR, Second Sight certainly has one of the best stories that I have ever seen. You play the role of John Vattic, and surprise, surprise, you wake up in a hospital with no memory of where or who you are. Pretty standard fare so far, but this is where the similarities to other amnesia stories end. As you explore the hospital, bits and pieces of your memory start to come back to you, and a recollection of a government cover-up begins to pan out. Once you get the first taste of the story, you are hooked and won't want to put down the controller, which can be both good and bad. If you have a long afternoon to play, you may find that you can beat the game in one sitting. This game is beatable in six hours on your first try and shouldn't take you any more than nine, even for a novice. With the myriad of great games that are available this holiday season, any game that only lasts 6-9 hours should have been released at a bargain price.
If the gameplay had been top-notch, the length of the game might have been forgiven, but unfortunately, it's mediocre at best. One of the things that made Psi Ops so enjoyable was the use of psychic powers to toss your foes about like a sack of potatoes or take control of their minds to make them leap to their deaths. While you can do this in Second Sight, your psi power bar drains so fast and the enemies require such an immense beating before they die that it is easier – and often required – to use your guns. This is true for the majority of the game. You will use weaponry far more often than psi powers, which defeats one of the key gameplay features. This also doesn't make much sense in context of the story; you are not a soldier or police officer, and you only have the most basic of weaponry training, so why would you rely on guns so frequently? Another problem that presents itself is the stealth elements of the game. On many occasions, you are put in a situation where it is obvious that they want you to use stealth to get by. There are two reasons why this stealth element should have been removed from the game. The first problem is that the stealth elements are just plain boring. The novelty of using powers is what sets this game apart from every other 3rd person shooter. When you try and break that action and throw in some underdeveloped stealth gameplay, players will get frustrated and simply try and blast their way through these areas, avoiding stealth altogether. The second problem is that you can do what I just mentioned and simply use brute force to blast your way through these "stealthy" areas.
All in all, the gameplay is just not satisfying. Your powers are so expensive in terms of energy use that they must be used sparingly, forcing you to use weapons. This really takes away anything that had separated it from other games of the genre. The stealth elements are underdeveloped and unnecessary, and your movement speed isn't great enough to help keep the action intense so most of the action takes place while hiding behind various objects. If you get caught out in the open, you had better be a good shot because otherwise, you will most likely not make it to cover.
The graphics are an area that can go either way, depending on personal tastes. They certainly aren't bad by any stretch of the imagination, but they are even close to the best Xbox has to offer. One thing is for sure though this game has a unique flavor. If you have seen Timesplitters 2, you already know the look. The characters have elements of reality, but their features are exaggerated. This allows for some very expressive facial animation, probably more so than most games out there. You really get a sense of musculature under the skin in the cheek area and the jaw moves much more naturally than your typical game character. The rag doll physics also help sell the characters when you are throwing them about the room, but after they die, you may notice weird effects, like they roll over to die in a certain position. There are also some clipping issues where you can throw people partly through walls, which isn't a major detraction, but it could have been addressed. Level design is done well with a variety of environments and little unnecessary backtracking. You get to experience diverse locales such as hospitals, sewers, and the Artic. Some of the effects are also quite nice, like the bullet trail effect and the glass shattering. The psi effects are some of the best in the game and really look great.
The audio department also does a solid job. The atmospheric music intensifies at key moments to heighten the tension. There is a good deal of voice acting in the game both during play and in cutscenes. Luckily, the actors do a good job of delivering the personality each of the characters display. Sound effects are great, especially the psi power effects, which manage to create sounds unique to the game which convincingly represent what a psi power might actually sound like. It's as if the developers might have actually heard them somewhere before.
In the end, it's a shame that the gameplay had to be so shallow because the story is so great. In a game about psychic powers, you really should be able to use them more often. Once you have to use weapons to get through the majority of the game, it defeats the purpose of having the abilities in the first place. If only they could have combined Second Sights awesome story and Psi Ops' fast-paced, action-oriented gameplay, we would have been in for an amazing game. As it stands, it's worth playing just to get the story, but don't expect to be blown away by the gameplay.
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