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Second Sight
game: Second Sight
four star
posted by: Chris Martin
publisher: Codemasters
developer: Free Radical
ESRB rating: T (Teen)
date posted: 12:00 AM Wed Feb 23rd, 2005
last revision: 12:00 AM Wed Feb 23rd, 2005

Click to read.Developer Free Radical's Second Sight is a strange beast.  On one hand you have a well-told story, intriguing stealth elements, and effects-heavy graphics, and on the other you have simplistic level design, underpowered psychic powers, and sloppy controls.  And so this review boils down to how to weigh the good against the bad; I just don't want to do that.  I would rather praise Second Sight for what it does right.  The negatives in this case turn out to be far too minor to mar an excellent videogame experience.  Second Sight, though at times imperfect, keeps its interest level and attitude heads above the pack.  But while I had no problem with some of the minor problems, it boils down to how do you weigh the good against the bad?  In the end Second Sight becomes a memorable game experience that you'll either love or hate.

Played from the third person perspective, Second Sight is the story of John Vattic, involving special ops soldiers, psychic powers, and a girl named Jayne.  I don't want to give away too much because the story and presentation in Second Sight are among the big reasons to pick it up, but here it is in a nutshell:  John Vattic awakes strapped to a bed in a hospital and with no memory to speak of.  He finds he has acquired psychic powers - not too strange in videogames, I guess - and begins to mount an escape from the ward.  Soon John begins to have flashbacks, and starts to understand that he was part of a special ops team called WinterICE.  As he makes his way through the flashbacks, he begins to change the present, and finds he can save his old team from certain death.

I'm not spoiling anything vital, you see, because this all happens in the first ten minutes of gameplay.  The story develops and engages you quickly, and it's clear the game's presentation is where most of Free Radical's efforts went.  The menus have an air of mystery about them, and the titles of each level could be chapter headings of a novel.  As the tormented mind of John Vattic begins to remember elements of you past, you'll feel as though you've lived his life.  That is an achievement in itself.

Throughout the course of the game you'll spend your time escaping from insane asylums, assaulting government buildings, and staging attacks in Siberia.  The locales you are taken to are neat, but just don't tax any of the systems Second Sight is on.  Still, it runs at a steady framerate and can be pretty when it wants to.

Second Sight is not terribly graphics heavy, so don't bother picking it up for that.  However, there are surprising special effects that occur with the use of the psychic powers (the screen wobbles and shakes, etc.).  In this way, Second Sight is consistent enough to not bore you with oversimplified levels.  It's easy to play for a while without particularly looking at the levels, until something strange happens and instantly makes you pay closer attention.  The effects are flashy and cool and they grab your interest.

There a number of things that I loved about Second Sight; multiple pathways and the many ways to play the game, for example.  None are more important than the game's level of world detail.  The amount of detail in each little area is astounding and, at times, shocking.  I spent ten minutes watching a computer chatroom between a wife and a soldier.  Sadly, I inadvertently killed the soldier moments before and so the wife's messages were becoming more and more frantic and panicky. Are you coming home soon?? she wrote, and then began flooding the message window with pleas for him to respond, all while my friends and I were sitting there saying, Holy crap, that's frightening.? 

When you die in a flashback you are taken to an interrogation room.  These mysterious events don't seem to follow the story until you get about ten to twelve hours into it (the game is about 15-17 hours long).  In them, there is an ominous voice behind mirrored glass who throws questions at you.  Observe how John reacts.  Watching these, you begin to feel as trapped as John, as tormented as John, and as confused as John.  It's quite cool; I'd even say you should die in each flashback just to see what happens in each death scene.

I believe this game is great if you are a fan of interactive storytelling - it's just good if you're not.  You have to want to find the story in Second Sight, because you can easily glance over it, opting for the quick and dirty run-and-gun-and-mentally-terrorize people method of playing the game, which is not as much fun in my opinion.

That said, most of the time you'll sneak by enemies a la Metal Gear Solid, but while MGS makes getting caught lethal, Second Sight doesn't. You'll have the choice to be stealthy or go commando in many situations, but sometimes you'll be forced into a firefight.  If you are, it's not a big deal, since you can gun most anyone down and come out unscathed. 

You'll have the choice of guns or psychic abilities at your disposal, so choose your weapon.  While the guns deal with enemies faster than you mental powers, they put you more in harms way.  John's psychic powers take longer to dispatch enemies and don't appear to work quite as well? but they're damn cool.  It's a shame that the psychic powers come second in Second Sight.  Still, I found myself using them more than the guns simply because the guns aren't finesse.  The guns aren't only that?well?the guns are drab; there I said it.  Lifting people off the ground with telekinesis or possessing soldiers with projection is freaking great.  Still, I wish the powers had precedence over the generic weapons in terms of game design, which makes the guns more effective. 

I am relieved to find great music in Second Sight.  I am relieved, more specifically, that the music is some of the most engrossing and beautiful compositions I have heard in a long while.  Not quite John Williams, but not far from, the musical score is deep and mysterious and keeps you immersed when you are killing (or stunning) angry soldiers.  The game didn't slump with sound effects and voice acting either; if it would have the experience would have been greatly damaged.

Like I said, there are problems with Second Sight that I can't fail to mention.  For one the controls are iffy: while SpecOps (another psychic power game)  used a crosshair system to target people, Second Sight uses a lock-on system that doesn't feel as responsive.   Also, using the sniper rifle to zoom is almost non-existent since Second Sight locks on and zooms for you, all you have to do is adjust for a headshot.  What you're looking at is presented through a small circular scope to the right of your character.  Getting off a wall from stealth mode to run mode isn't as quick as I hoped, and sometimes John will aim at the completely wrong guy.  You'll die frequently without any misdoings on your part.

To abate the death count, Free Radical has given you the ability to withstand multiple clips of bullets.  No, this isn't because of any psychic power, but merely because bullets seem to affect you as much as if they were rubber.  Why Free Radical?  Why!?  If I get shot about five times I should go down for the count.  That's it!  But instead, I'll be running around getting shot like crazy and only sustaining a scratch.  The healing ability only seems more ludicrous, allowing you to heal as quickly as your psychic bar can refill.  This is annoying because the gameplay flaws could have been simplified by just making the game harder, forcing you to take cover, to work with your squad, and to avoid contact with enemies altogether.  Instead John is somewhat of a superman. 

Given this, the game isn't terribly hard.  I died a few times, but that happened mostly when I was still unfamiliar with the controls.  Sometimes you'll do the old trial-and-error method of finding out how to deal with a given situation, and that leads to a few untimely deaths as well.

One of the more interesting things Second Sight allows you to do is play the game non-violently.  You have a dart gun that puts people to sleep, allowing you to sneak on by.  The problem with this is the dart gun isn't terribly useful - 2 shots to down one person - and most situations force you to pull out a lethal weapon or end up restarting a level.  After you've beaten the game there is no real replay value to speak of, except some mini games and the joy of doing it again on a more challenging difficulty.  If you're looking for a multiplayer game with lots of replay value, look elsewhere.  Second Sight is all about the single player.

The Bottomline:

Second Sight is the quintessential B? game.  It's enjoyable and overall well done, but its problems keep it from being the game I wished it were.  Still, even with my reservations, I can safely say Second Sight is one of the more enjoyable multi-platform releases in a while.  It's a story-driven game that will give hours of pleasure if you're willing to devote some time and patience to the experience.  I realize that younger audiences might be intrigued by the ability to have psychic powers, but Second Sight is not for children.  Though rated Teen, it's a violent game.  I was a little startled at the things psychic powers let you do (like smash people's heads into brick walls until they die).  You can even do this to some innocent people.  Still, at other times I was happy to get rid of the annoying AI characters.  Strange. 

On the whole I enjoyed Second Sight and will likely play it again on challenging.  It's just one of those games that kept me intrigued up to the end, and it did enough things right to warrant a purchase.  I realize it will turn many gamers off simply because of its lack of multiplayer, but Second Sight deserves a second look.
Rent it for the action.  Buy it for the story.

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