With our Tokyo backlog clearing it's time to hand in our review of Free Radical's shooter. Did it make the grade?
PS2, Xbox, GCN
Free Radical Design
I'm dispensing with the usual clever-clever introduction so I can blurt it out before it escapes through my ears: Second Sight is a lovely surprise. Free Radical, developers of the critically adored TimeSplitters series, have taken the fundamentals of their opus into a third person perspective, attached a Metal Gear Solid play mechanic and wrapped it all up in a story as compelling as it is purposeful. Oh, and you have Psychic powers, too - but you already knew that, didn't you? Didn't you?! GET OUT OF MY BRAIN!
The game starts with you assuming the role of John Vattic, a man who shares not only a likeness with Half Life's Gordon Freeman (only evident after the first level, I might add), but the very same disposition for finding himself smothered by the intricate web of conspiracy. After awaking in a medical facility a little worse for wear, Vattic discovers that it's not only a scattered memory he's been lumbered with, as he breaks free from his shackles by using the power of his mind. From here, you lead Vattic to his escape from incarceration and further down the line, to the truth of his past. Does it all sound a bit hackneyed, perhaps? You'd be forgiven for thinking as much, but for every cliché Free Radical Design exploits in this game, it makes up for it by exploiting them with all the mastery of a Zen-charged architect.
With Psychic powers. Even though the amnesia/special powers combo has been done before - possibly a million times - Free Radical Design goes a step further by lovingly putting everything into context: it's during those first moments of play that Free Radical demonstrates the level of interactivity in Second Sight, as the whole environment becomes a playing field for your psychic abilities. Monitors, dustbins, keypads, chairs - all commonplace items - all at your mercy. It's this empowerment to move anything you want that lends credence to an otherwise dubious scenario, which in turn provides a real and honest incentive to progress beyond the confines of your cell. Once you're done tinkering with the contents of your room and wander outside, you're presented with a golden opportunity to use your telekinesis on people.
As fun as suspending chubby security guards in the air is, it dawns on you moments after that your psychic powers are going to afford you an almost unparalleled level of interactive freedom. For instance, on one level I see a gun. Said gun is locked away in a holding area that I don't have authority to access. What do I do? Were this any other game, I'd walk away assuming the glass is magically unbreakable but in Second Sight, I lock on to the gun and pull it towards me. It breaks through the glass. For once, I've overcome the stupid boundaries set by a million other games. Not only is this level of interactivity welcome, it's highly commendable given the quality of the implementation.
Well done! You've become acquainted with powers that only Uri Geller and a select number of Spoon benders are imbued with! Beyond telekinesis, you're also gifted powers like astral projection, healing and charm, but as you'll notice, you're also unarmed (at least conventionally) and in enemy territory, so you'll almost certainly want to take advantage of every opportunity afforded to you, be they stealth or weaponry. Fortunately for you, Vattic's first flashback comes in the form of his military training, which is essentially this games tutorial. Here you'll learn how to shoot weapons, get familiar with stealth tactics and become acquainted with the team at the centre of your flashbacks. Yes, we're all well aware of how dull tutorials are, but think about how well Halo implemented its tutorial and how it felt in keeping with the storyline: same deal here and just as good.
Once you've regained the memories of your training, it all takes a turn for the Metal Gear Solid. When armed with a conventional firearm, you'll find yourself sneaking around corridors and putting your back to the wall before locking onto a target and blowing them to pieces with your handgun. Should you wish to avoid confrontation, you can even go as far as locking yourself in a cupboard - surely the homage is cemented with that one sentiment? It's a solid effort and despite incorporating some fiddly Timesplitters-esque targeting, is wholly functional - if not outright fun.
Except that isn't where it ends. Like Metal Gear Solid, Second Sight boasts a dramatic storyline, one that gives context to your objectives. Unlike Metal Gear, Second Sight carries this off with a great deal more care, as cut scenes avoid the trap of running long and becoming a movie unto themselves. Add to this the interesting past/future twist and you'll be relieved to know that Free Radical has done a cracking job with incorporating narrative into the game.
Second Sight, though frequently brilliant, is still blighted by a few niggling problems. Given the power and scale of your psychic abilities, it wouldn't do to have a preset number of enemies in any given environment - you'd take them all out far too easily. Free Radical's solution to this problem is to introduce respawning enemies, a contentious decision that might appear somewhat lazy amidst the quality of the title. In all honesty, this problem isn't so pronounced when you realise that the only other conceivable solution would be to tone down the psychic abilities, but with all the effort pumped into this title, you would've thought Free Radical would find a happy medium between the two extremes.
The other, more pronounced difficulty with second sight is the stealth. Whereas the likes of Splinter Cell and Metal Gear hinge on this play mechanic, Second Sight's implementation is similar to that of Io Interactive's Hitman series: the amount of trial and error required to find the best route is far from entertaining and when coupled with the respawning enemies, makes stealth a frustrating approach to gameplay. But these problems alone aren't enough to diminish Second Sight.