Publisher: Eidos Interactive
Developer: Crystal Dynamics
Release Date: February 23, 2005
Project: Snowblind comes at a time of year that is usually largely devoid of releases of any caliber, in a genre that is largely devoid of creativity or innovation. That’s not to say that Project: Snowblind is going to single-handedly redefine what is considered creative or innovative in itself, as the preview build we received had portions that would point either way, but rather that it really has the spotlight largely on itself alone which is both a blessing and a curse.
In Project: Snowblind you play as Nathan Frost, a soldier in the Liberty Coalition Army who starting off has a really bad day involving himself, large bombs going off right next to him, and the massive injuries that result from such things. As Nathan fades in and out of consciousness as medical staff frantically work on him he learns that simply saving his life isn’t the only goal the staff has in mind. Upon awakening he finds that he has become the newest inductee into a project centered on creating cybernetic soldiers and has quite a few tricks up his sleeve that he didn’t possess before. If you are thinking that Project: Snowblind sounds a lot like a Deus Ex title, you’re not far off; the game originally started life as a title set in the Deus Ex universe called Deus Ex: Clan Wars. However, the game has radically changed since then, becoming less of a Deus Ex style game in favor of something slightly different.
The gameplay in Project: Snowblind is still directly comparable to that of Deus Ex in that you have your run-and-gun portions, your stealthy portions, and the whole cyberpunk aspect, but where Deus Ex was more RPG-centric Project: Snowblind simplifies things a bit. The gunplay is a largely solid affair of using your head and the right weapon for the job, which range from carbines and sniper rifles to silenced pistols and shotguns. There are also a variety of grenades to use, such as frags, flashbangs, portable riot shields, and EMP grenades which not only work well on electronic devices but also wreak havoc on your cybernetic systems if you are too close to the detonation, enveloping the screen in the “snowblind effect” which looks a lot like white noise.
The stealthy portions of the game are a good idea in concept but are currently in a bit of an unpolished state. Unarmored targets can take up to three pistol shots to the head, which can be a bit of a problem when usually after the first shot the enemy will begin to run to the nearest alarm terminal. When enemies are unaware of your presence a punch to their back will usually kill them, but getting close enough to do so can be difficult earlier on in the game. Making the stealthy aspect of the game significantly easier is the ability to cloak later on in the storyline, which only last for a short while but allows you to slip right through even the most well defended patrol routes.
Finally, there’s the cyberpunk aspect that has been alluded to, and there are two main things that are covered under the term. Nathan has a full suite of augmentations allowing him to fight harder and smarter than your average soldier, from night vision that allows you to even see enemies through walls, to speeding up your reflexes to be able to dance around bullets, to being able to just shrug off bullets altogether thanks to ballistic shielding. Using your augmentations drains your bio-energy reserves so they still have to be used strategically but there are often numerous opportunities to regain your bio-energy to the point that you can normally freely use your augmentations without too much worry. Hacking into things is also a fundamental tactic that the player can use, which can do everything from utilizing and disabling camera feeds, setting turrets to fire on your enemies instead of yourself, and a variety of other small tasks. However, actually hacking the terminals and other devices is a simple matter of a button press, making it feel a bit too easy.
Project: Snowblind sports a pretty decent graphics engine that looks pretty good considering how it is being used on three platforms (PC, Xbox, PS2). The character models look detailed and the textures sharp, even when viewed up close, though the animations for the various characters can look a bit rough here and there. The level design is really pretty good and though the game is largely your typical corridor shooter it does well to mask it from the negative side effects associated with the term; you won’t find corridor after corridor populated by nothing other than boxes and bad guys. The textures of in-game objects look a bit fuzzy when viewed up close, which is probably a bit more critical than most players will even notice. All of the HUD elements are crammed into the two top corners of the screen, which doesn’t really obstruct your view but rather may take a bit getting used to as it differs from how much games cram most of the HUD into the bottom areas.
Even with the stealth and hacking gameplay elements Project: Snowblind remains largely a traditional first-person shooter. Unlike Deus Ex stealth is not always an option but rather seems to take place only in specific levels and hacking doesn’t really take place all too often, leaving Project: Snowblind to literally stick to its guns. Based off of the preview build we received Project: Snowblind looks like at the very least it will turn out to be a decent addition to the genre, though it also seems that the whole cyberpunk theme really isn’t ridden to its full potential to really give the title that extra “Oomph”. Look for more on Project: Snowblind as it is released later this month.