Reviewed: April 5, 2005
Released: February 22, 2005
I remember watching an early demo of Project: Snowblind last year at E3 and couldnít help but thinking it was going to be just another Deus Ex knockoff. After all, it featured a nano-enhanced soldier with a host of futuristic augments, a small arsenal of military grade weaponry, and a plausible near-future environment and gripping storyline, plus it was coming from Eidos.
Well Crystal Dynamics had a new vision in mind with Project: Snowblind; one very different than Ion Stormís Deus Ex and this groundbreaking first-person shooter might just be one of the best action titles you can play this year. It definitely has a few nuances of Deus Ex but it is totally infused with all the action of Halo 2 and when the gameplay kicks in you are on for a thrill ride of epic proportions.
Players assume the role of Nathan Frost, a new recruit for the Liberty Coalition, an international peacekeeping force that has been sent to Hong Kong to help quell some civil unrest. During the intense opening level a surprise attack is launched upon your location and Frost is mortally wounded and must be rushed into experimental surgery.
Once he recovers from the procedure, Frost is reborn as the future of war Ė a literal one-man army capable of wielding some incredible weapons and abilities that surpass that of the average soldiers on the battlefield. After a military coup leaves him stranded in hostile territory, cut off from command with only a handful of men, Frost must stop the militiaís secret weapon that threatens to plunge the world into darkness.
Project: Snowblind features a robust single-player campaign that takes you through linear style missions set in a futuristic (2065) setting. The levels are full of enemies requiring you to make the most out of your bio-enhancements as well as a truckload of military weaponry. Weapons are rooted in real-world designs with realistic interpretations of what might happen in the next 60 years. Then you have some obvious futuristic designs like the HERF gun for example. Itís basically like an electrical version of a flamethrower except it can chain lighting attacks between multiple enemies at once, which is great if you have a cluster of enemy soldiers all grouped together. The Flechette gun fires a burst of high-energy rounds which ricochet off the environment, allowing you to bank shots around corners or ceilings.
Each weapon grants the player a more fantastic alternate fire, each vastly different that the weaponís Primary Fire and they really help to change the overall gameplay experience. Perhaps the best example of alternate fire is the one for the Flechette. Its alternate fire spits out a swarm of Attack Drones that are capable of searching out enemies and neutralizing them on their own Ė this is fantastic when youíre pinned down by hordes of enemies at once. Fire off the Attack Drones and let them search out and kill some of the enemies while you focus your attention on a different group. The enemy AI will respond to these Attack Drones as enemies, often causing panic and if you are lucky, theyíll create a cross-fire and kill each other.
Frostís Augmentations, are nearly as powerful as the weapons he wields, and serve to enhance the gameplay by giving you an unprecedented ability to make decisions on how to approach most any situation in the game Youíll get Ballistic Shielding which absorbs damage for you, Cloaking, which renders you invisible, Reflex Boost which slows time down significantly for the enemies, but leaves you at near-full speed and Electrical Storm, that creates a sentient bolt of lightning that seeks and destroys any hostiles in your immediate vicinity.
One of the important aspects of the Augmentations is that they are used in conjunction with the weapons Ė not instead of. Youíll gain Enhanced Vision, which lets you see through walls and is especially useful when combined with the Rail Laser, a gun that shoots through solid objects.
You also have a group of AI-controlled soldiers to fight alongside with you, but rather than having the responsibility of controlling them or even keeping them alive, they are more for ambience and to keep the battlefields alive with gunfire and com chatter.
Enemy AI is tough but not terribly smart. They have an uncanny ability of homing in on your exactly location and when you open fire they do a respectable job of ducking, rolling, and seeking any nearby cover. They really force you to explore your creative options for dispatching them.
The campaign is comprised of multiple mission types ranging from Total War to Solo Battle and objective-based Infiltration missions. Total War missions are incredibly hectic with dozens of enemies and allies engaged in intense combat. Solo Battle missions are lone wolf missions where you leave your AI allies behind and rely on your own abilities to achieve the mission objective.
The Infiltration missions are probably my favorite, mainly because they reminded me of past FPS and action games Iíve played. In these missions youíll be going in alone with a defined objective, but in addition to fighting the enemy you will also be challenged with bypassing security systems, trip wires, cameras, auto turrets, sentry bots, security bots, combat bots, etc. These missions require a lot more strategy than reflexes and rely much more on augmentations than pure firepower.
Halo fans will enjoy a modest selection of vehicles in both single and multiplayer modes. In single player you can drive the Phoenix (small car), Hydra (combat buggy) and the Ogre (a 12 foot walker). You can also control friendly and enemy bots and navigate them through the environments: sentry bots, combat bots, security bots, military bots and the spider bot. The Hydra and the Titan (tank) can be used by two players simultaneously in multiplayer with one person driving while the other shoots. This definitely takes some coordination.
Crystal Dynamics has not skimped on the multiplayer component, and Project: Snowblind features a substantial online experience with up to 16 players using System Link or Xbox Live. All of the advanced Live features are supported including voice chat, stats, clans, friends lists, etc.
Multiplayer gaming is designed around classes so you need a well-organized group of players willing to work as a team and fill all required roles. You pick a specific class: grunt, heavy, sniper, scout, agent or berserker, and based on the class you choose, you get a specific loadout. Each loadout has a specific set of weapons, demolitions and an augmentation. This becomes important based on what mode you might be playing and the most effective teams have a balanced set of classes. The clan that stays and plays together can becoming a most formidable force on Xbox Live.
Project: Snowblind delivers all the expected multiplayer modes: Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Capture the Flag (and the variant, Fast Flag Capture), Hunter, Assault, Tactical Assault, Demolition and itís variant. One of the most unique and certainly the most fun mode is Hunter, which is basically a King-of-the-Hill mode where players are vying for control of the Hunter Token. Once in your possession you have access to all weapons, abilities and demolitions available PLUS you are cloaked the entire time you have the token. Of course, the Hunterís location is displayed on everyoneís radar, so while you may be cloaked, everyone has a good idea where you are.
You can further tweak the online modes with rule modifiers. A good example of one of these is Arms Race that allows you to gain the loadout of whatever class you kill. This is a cumulative modifier, so you can keep stacking on loadouts the more you kill and the longer you stay alive.
The visuals in Project: Snowblind are impressive, even by todayís increased standards of FPS gaming. The levels are modest in size and even a bit linear by some standards but you never feel constrained or even guided. Itís all hidden very well by the excellent scripted events and gameplay. By keeping the size manageable they designers were able to pack in some great details and fantastic special effects.
The weapons all look great with excellent reload and fire animation and resulting fire effects. Smoke, fire, and explosions are frequent and huge and the particle system will blow your mind. Nathanís special abilities all feature cool visual effects.
The entire game seems to have been treated with a haze process that keeps things soft, almost like a dream state. I was surprised there was no progressive scan or widescreen support, so the game looked slightly distorted on my HDTV. To that end, the PS2 and Xbox versions are nearly identical in quality with the PC version being the clear winner in graphics clarity and resolution.
The world of Project: Snowblind is a loud one. With the rare exception of those few stealth missions the game is alive with the sound of shouting soldiers, incessant gunfire, and thunderous explosions. The rich Dolby Digital mix did a great job of surrounding me in these effects and pounding my subwoofer into submission.
The techno-style music is much like a movie score, rising to the occasion for battles and thematic elements then slipping into the background when itís not terribly important. It certainly enhanced much of the combat and had me on the edge of my seat during the stealthier missions.
The voice acting is above average but wonít be winning any awards. Itís downright mild in comparison to other battlefield games of late, but at least the language is tame enough that parents wonít mind their kids playing this game.
Most gamers will manage to wrap up the single-player game in 12-15 hours and there isnít too much incentive to replay the story anytime soon. But the massive multiplayer component is likely to keep you coming back to Project: Snowblind for months to come.
With itís great support for all the advanced features of Xbox Live, Clans are already springing up and the fight is on to see who can dominate this intense action game. Personally, Iím having a lot more fun playing Project: Snowblind online that I did with Halo 2. The class-based gameplay and varied assortment of weapons and augmentations just blows the genre wide open.
Project: Snowblind is definitely going to appeal to anyone who is a fan of cyber-punk stories like Bladerunner and especially the previous two Deux Ex games. Snowblind skips the role-playing aspects of those titles and concentrates and pure unadulterated action with enough firepower to blow this disc out of your Xbox.
The single-player campaign is substantial enough for a rental for the casually curious, but anyone with Xbox Live needs to make this an immediate and permanent addition to their game library. You might just like it better than Halo 2 - I did.