Developer: Crystal Dynamics
Release Date: March 17, 2005
Project: Snowblind, once upon a time, was going to be the third Deus Ex game, a multiplayer FPS called Clan Wars. Sometime between then and now, it was retooled to stand on its own, although in singleplayer mode, it wears its lineage on its sleeve. Until I found out its background, I thought Snowblind was a style-bite of epic proportions.
Instead, it's a sort of Deus Ex lite, with a small amount of those games' feel, but it's got a bad case of cross-platform FPS syndrome. The graphics are often a bit murky, and many of the best parts of its gameplay aren't taken far enough.
The singleplayer mode is set in 2065 China, which is being held by an insane general. You're Nathan Frost, a lieutenant in the international coalition force that's fighting to recapture Hong Kong. After a combat operation goes poorly, Frost winds up as the test subject for an experimental nanomachine operation, which turns him into a powerful cyborg soldier. He is also shiny.
Frost's job is to dismantle the enemy Republic troops over the course of eighteen stages, using a combination of stealth, firepower, and high-tech tricks to outwit, evade, and destroy anything in his path. If you're hoping to play as a superhuman warrior, you're a bit out of luck; sadly, aside from your admittedly cool nanotech enhancements, Frost only remembers he's a superhuman warrior during cutscenes.
Unlike Deus Ex: Invisible War, Frost can carry an epically ludicrous amount of hardware around with him. At any given time, you can expect to be carrying eight to ten weapons with ammunition, each of which has an alternate fire mode that might as well be another gun entirely; several types of grenades; short-lived force field "riot walls"; and a couple of nanoboosts, which are essentially extra lives.
Your biggest enemy in Project: Snowblind isn't the Republic. It's option paralysis. They've given you a ton of ways to dispatch your opponents.
Ostensibly, one of the game's hooks is that you have multiple ways to approach any given problem. Stealth is always an option, as there are almost always plenty of sneaky ways to infiltrate an area and you'll eventually get a cloaking device. A frontal assault also works, whether you hang back and play sniper or turn on ballistic shielding and storm the area with shotgun in hand.
This is ordinarily a good thing, but the way Snowblind is set up, you're sort of a dabbler in each of these approaches. Frost is great at straightforward combat, but stealth? Not so much; if you try it, you'll find your silent weapons are pretty weak and your enemies have an aggravating knack for always figuring out where you are. Since there's no real penalty for going on the attack and there's ammo everywhere, you might as well blow everything up.
To be fair, that's a relatively mild complaint. Project: Snowblind's not a bad game, but a lot of its features feel like mild quirks that were added to a balls-out action game just for the sheer hell of it. You can drive vehicles around, but they're hard to steer and tend to make you a target; you can hack enemy robots or security systems with a handy gadget the game calls an "icepick," but you'll often find the computer panel you need well after you've already destroyed all the relevant machinery.
On the other hand, you can use the shotgun to stick bombs to people, generate your own small force of taser-wielding spiderbots, utterly ignore a mounted turret by kicking on ballistic shielding, or use the icepick to turn the enemy's robots against them. For every missed opportunity in Project: Snowblind, it must be said there's some excellent action to compensate.
I just wish I could see it a little better. Project: Snowblind's graphics are best described as "murky," with distant figures blending in to drab environments. The rest of its presentation is top-notch (Snowblind is essentially a science-fiction military drama, and a decent one at that), but it may take you a few levels before you can reliably pick enemies out of the ground clutter.
Most of the same criticisms apply to Snowblind's extensive online multiplayer modes, which take the same kind of gameplay and set it in a wide variety of truly vast arenas. You can select eight game types, both team-based and deathmatch, and pick from five character classes, each of which is equipped with two trademark weapons and one of Frost's biomods.
The class system's nice and adds a degree of strategy to the game – I always hated dying in other FPSes and getting stuck with the lousy starting weapon again – but it's nowhere near balanced. The Agent, for instance, has the best weapon from singleplayer, a laser railgun that shoots through walls, while Scouts have to make do with a shotgun and Grunts are saddled with the ineffective carbine. Snipers and Berserkers aren't as overpowered as the Agent, but assuming an equal division of skills, they will mow through Scouts and Grunts. Most games I've played ban the Agent entirely, turning the game into a weirdly quiet bout of multiplayer Sniper Scope.
Project: Snowblind isn't bad, honestly. It just isn't as good as other offerings in its genre, and it offers occasional, frustrating glimpses of a much better game. If there's a sequel waiting in the wings, I'd like to see more biomods, a more specialized protagonist (if you can't have a Deus Ex-style customization system, then perhaps multiple main characters would work), and some seriously tweaked character classes.