Reviewed: March 21, 2005
Released: February 22, 2005
Compared to the competition, the PS2 has never really been a console known for its first person shooter (FPS) games. Don’t get me wrong, the PS2 has had it’s share of great FPS titles in the past including the Red Faction, TimeSplitters, 007 James Bond, and Medal of Honor lineages, and even commendable ports of PC mainstays Half Life, Deus Ex, Unreal Championship and most recently, Call of Duty.
In general though, FPS’s call for a massive amount of processing power to pump out the sharp visuals, precise collision detection, and intelligent enemy AI required to make a quality experience. Compared to the likes of the Xbox, which was all but tailored for the FPS gamer - superior electronic performance, sharper visuals, FPS-tailored controllers, Xbox Live and a vast library of FPS titles – the underpowered PS2 has a difficult time keeping up the pace with the competition. Side-by-side comparisons of the ported titles are almost shocking in their disparity, and only prove the fact that FPS’s generally play better on Microsoft’s big green box.
For these reason, it is especially exciting to report that Eidos’s latest release – a FPS entitled Project: Snowblind – features some of the finest performance, most precise controls and slickest visuals of any FPS to hit Sony’s console yet. Add in the exhilarating single player story and impressive online play, and you have the perfect prescription for the PlayStation’s FPS-starved youth.
For those of you who know your FPS titles, I could make this a really short review with the following statement:
Project: Snowblind is the Deus Ex 2 that Deus Ex 2 should have been and the Red Faction 2 that Red Faction 2 should have been. In fact, it’s so much like those two titles, it could easily be dubbed Deus Faction 3 and fans of either game would be equally pleased with the results.
This really should not come as a surprise to anyone who has followed Project: Snowblind from its early days – back when it was slated to be a more action-oriented, less anal-RPG romp in the Deus Ex universe – in fact, for a time it was originally named Deus Ex: Clan Wars. Any “Deus Ex” ties were subsequently dropped from the title after the lackluster sales of the PC/Xbox releases of both Thief: Deadly Shadows and Deus Ex 2: Invisible War all but put an end to Warren Spector’s Ion Storm Studios. Eidos picked up the ball, and the result of which is a game that while not as deep or free as, is tons more exciting than any Deus Ex game before it.
And I also make mention of Red Faction, which after four years still stands as my absolute favorite FPS of all time. Released at the PS2 launch, Red Faction featured some of best graphics and highest framerates to ever have been seen on the consoles at that time, and with a kick-ass storyline, killer weaponry and the famed “GeoMod” technology – which allowed, even required, you to blast your way through the near-fully destructible environments on your way to freeing Mr. Parker and his miner pals from their oppressive rulers – Red Faction was the total package.
Therefore it was a real shame when the sequel, which was hyped heavily for its revolutionary dual-wielding weaponry and new advancements in the GeoMod technology, emerged as a soulless trudge through cookie cutter environs and enemies. THQ realized that they needed another angle and for some reason began bragging about the “full multiplayer experience” which featured split screen-only gameplay. In a world where PS2 Online and Xbox Live were already well-established services, a split screen-only offering was laughable at best.
It was refreshing then to find that Project: Snowblind takes all of the best character building nanotechnology augmentations of Deus Ex, mixes it up with the killer gameplay and action of the original Red Faction, wraps it all in a great storyline, garnishes it with beautiful graphics and sound, and throws in a killer online set for dessert and serves it all up to us nearly hiccup-free on the PS2.
The story follows the life of Nathan Frost – a Special Forces recruit who joins the service in the honor of his older brother, also a Special Forces soldier who recently perished at the hands of the common enemy – and invading force run by a diabolical leader hell-bent on taking over the world. Nathan is determined to avenge his brother’s death, and his first deployment finds him assigned to police the eerily calm, yet unstable heart of Hong Kong. Nathan and his fellow recruits arrive at the makeshift headquarters and are in the midst receiving their big pep talk, when alarms go off and the walls suddenly come crashing down.
A brief obligatory training mission ensues – fending off wave after wave of attacking foes. Within minutes, most of the necessary control mechanics and weapons have been introduced and learned. Once the immediate attack is quelled, and the recruits begin cheering in victory. Nathan scans the courtyard and spies a lone wounded recruit lying in the path of an oncoming enemy missile. He rushes to the recruit’s aid – but there is not enough time. The scene ends abruptly with an explosion, and our hero giving his own life in an attempt to save his fellow man.
Cut to a hospital scene – Nathan’s body is being rushed though hospital corridors to a surgical room. Apparently his bodily damage is just right to label him a “Scarecrow” and qualify him for advanced neurosurgery involving nanotechnology augmentations and a whole body rebuild, resulting in a very expensive super-soldier of sorts. After a few minutes learning the ins and outs of his new nanotechnology augmentations, Nathan is thrust back into the war – and the action begins.
For the most part, Snowblind is from the run-and-gun school of FPS, but with some cleverly integrated duck-and-cover stealth elements and surprisingly solid vehicular and Mech-based combat. Nathan is able to carry a full loadout of weapons, an old-school convention no doubt, but definitely a bit different from the current trend in FPS’s which (since Halo) have only been allowing two or three maximum weapons and requiring changeouts. Weapons are selectable using the D-pad’s up and down, while right and left are used for selecting augmentations and grenades.
The gameplay is fairly linear, but much like its Deus Ex brethren there are multiple ways to get from point A to point B. Not necessarily multiple pathways mind you, more like multiple methods; whether you like to be the heavy gunner, the silent sniper, the sneaky non-lethal, the Mech assaulter, or even the drunken driver, you can do it all in Project: Snowblind. And the best part is, the controls are so tight and intuitive overall, whatever method you choose will run as smooth as butter.
The controls in Project: Snowblind are some of the best yet seen in an FPS – now get ready for this Xbox fanboys – on any console. I am not kidding. I wouldn’t have believed it myself, had I not actually played through the game. As a bit of an Xbox snob myself, I was utterly shocked at how well Project: Snowblind felt with the Dualshock controller.
I mean, we all know the Dualshock is the best controller for platformers, sports, extreme sports and racing games – genres where the PS2 really shines or where the Dualshock’s unmatchable rumble feature is showcased – but the Dualshock lacks the fine precision and realistic triggers of the Xbox Controller-S, which was tailored for the FPS experience. But you wouldn’t know the difference with Project: Snowblind, because the response, rumble feedback, and precision are all top-notch, and really do an amazing job of pulling you into the experience.
Probably the only knock would be that since you spend so much time nursing the dual analogs and shoulder buttons, once you realize you need to change things up, you are sure to find yourself fumbling a bit as you try to remember which directions of the D-pad to press to cycle augmentations, cycle weapons, and/or cycle grenades, or what face buttons bring up the scope or change your stance. If you’ve played 007 Nightfire – you’ll find it a similar experience.
The single player game clocks in just shy of ten hours – but a very satisfying time is there to be had. And once you wrap up the single player, there is a whole other world of online waiting for you. While maybe not as fluid or user friendly as what we have seen over on Xbox Live, Project: Snowblind’s PS2 Online presence is quite astonishing. True, there may not be much innovation to the bevy of available game types – but simply the fact that it runs fairly smooth over a relatively unstable network (sorry Sony, but Microsoft’s got you beat online) is a testament to great development. Factor in the integration of the single player’s combat vehicles – meaning at most any point, you can hop aboard a vacant mech and toast your online opponents – and you have an online FPS unlike any other on the PS2.
Just a note that the online competition is good – and I mean really good. In fact, you might as well erase any thought of ever being the top-ranking champion and just expect to have your ass handed to you on a platter every time you log on. I’m far from an online superstar in any game, but the online competition in Project: Snowblind as every bit as good as in Halo 2 – maybe even better, because the crowd is a bit more select and dedicated on Project: Snowblind than it is in the mass-hysteria world of Halo 2.
One thing I would like to mention – in getting online, I was required to download a 500kb patch to make the game play online. I’m not sure what the patch entailed, but this is the first time I have been required to do so on the PS2.
PS2 fanboys rejoice – many sources agree that Project: Snowblind actually looks better on the PS2 that it does on the Xbox. And I wouldn’t be surprised, because Project: Snowblind looks absolutely incredible. Hands-down some of the best graphics yet to appear on the PS2, and for the little box to be cranking them out at such a solid framerate is truly astounding. In all ten hours of gameplay – I may have noticed a bit of slowdown here and there, but never was there even a moment of outright chugging – which is apparently a concern over on the Xbox.
With spectacular lighting, impressive character modeling, and incredible environmental effects – including some mild GeoMod-type environmental destruction – Project: Snowblind looks like an absolute champ on the PS2. I normally would make some comment like “for the PS2, it can’t get any better than this” but knowing the work that Project: Snowblind’s developer Crystal Dynamics and Eidos have done with their previous Soul Reaver titles (even the original PlayStation version still holds up well), those guys can always squeeze a bit more juice from an old console.
Not surprisingly, the sound quality is every bit as good as the visuals. From the atmospheric orchestrations to the realistic sound effects, from the believable gunfire to the top-not (albeit a bit overly-dramatic) voiceovers, Project: Snowblind is an aurally impressive game.
The directional sound did not come across on my standard stereo television, and sometimes turning your head from an NPC, or stepping one step too far away in conversation would render their voices silent. I know that the entire world has home theater systems except me, but I would have appreciated the ability to turn this off and get full volume voice from any angle or distance.
Over a year ago, I could not have cared less whether or not a game had an online mode – now that I have broadband in the home, the presence of a robust online mode is a necessity in order to sell me on a game. It worked for Call of Duty, and now it’s working for Project: Snowblind. Online modes exponentially increase the value of a game, because they offer unlimited playability to any single player game.
Now people may complain that Project: Snowblind is too short, but in my book the ten-hour play time clocks in just fine. I don’t like to be weighed down with a heavy 30+ hours of gameplay – especially when there’s a great online mode sitting just a menu away.
The online play makes this already impressive game a solid must-buy. While not as solid as what the Xbox gamers get for their online dollar – the freebie offerings modes here are quite respectable and really push the game into the “unlimited value” realm of gaming.
For the true PS2 FPS fanatic, I don’t know why you don’t have this game already. If there is any respectable reason, it’s that you are anxiously awaiting the release of TimeSplitters: Future Perfec. And that’s really the biggest challenge that Project: Snowblind is facing – poor timing. Being the new guy on the block, Project: Snowblind might have a difficult time facing down the newest addition to cult classic TimeSplitters series, and I don’t see any direct or indirect ties to Deus Ex really helping it out much.
But my job is to review the game, and in my opinion it is well worth the price of admission. Project: Snowblind is one cool game.