Reviewed: November 27, 2004
Released: September 21, 2004
When Second Sight came across my desk for review I couldnít help but think, ďOh great, a Psi-Ops knockoffĒ. I had just finished Midwayís paranormal action title and was pretty sure nothing could touch it, but having just completed Second Sight I can say without hesitation that this game is every bit as worthy to sit on your game shelf right next to Psi-Ops (unless you sort your games alphabetically).
The best way to approach this game is to buy it and pop it in your Xbox without reading the manual, the back of the box, or the rest of this review. That way you can fit right into the personae of John Vattic, the amnesiac hero of our story. The opening movie is basically only a few disjointed images of you on your back on a gurney being wheeled into a top-secret research facility. Your shriveled form wrapped in bandages looks like something from a zombie movie.
When you awaken everything is a fog. You donít know where you are or how you got there but you quickly discover you have some mysterious psychic powers. Your first goal is to get out of the lab and these new powers might just come in handy. Along the way new mental powers will be awakened and a series of flashbacks will fill in the missing parts of your memory. This is topnotch storytelling with gameplay to match.
Second Sight is almost two games in one. When you play in the present you have all these really cool mental powers. At first you have only telekinesis, which is useful for opening doors (from the other side) and flinging monitors and medical equipment around the room. Within five minutes you gain the healing ability and shortly thereafter you gain other useful skills like charm (invisibility) and project (out of body). You also get a powerful psi-blast that will send out a shockwave knocking back enemies.
About 15-20 minutes into the game you experience your first flashback, which takes you back to where everything began including some basic training at military boot camp. Oddly enough, you resemble a certain Gordon Freeman character from another popular game. Additional flashbacks keep the past moving forward in an attempt to catch up with where your present day character is. Itís a very stylish and cinematic presentation that mixes weapons and psychic abilities.
With two styles of combat I was surprised at how uninspired the action got at times. The game is designed with a preference for weapons combat, but that doesnít mean you can go in with mental powers blazing and toast the opposition. The only problem is that the visuals just arenít as rewarding. A big part of this is the rag doll physics that made tossing around soldiers in Psi-Ops, smashing them into the wall and writing your name in their blood just isnít here.
Second Sight nails the physical aspects of movement and combat. If this had been just a regular non-mental powers game it would have worked just as well, probably a bit better. Control is flawless with smooth analog movement. You can vault and climb objects simply by moving into them. You can crouch and stick to walls and even slip around corners while remaining in stealth mode.
Enemy AI is not terribly intelligent, at least in the early levels. The training is a joke, especially the stealth training where you practically have to go up to a guy and tap him on the shoulder to get him to spot you. Even when you head into the field for actual combat the difficulty seldom gets to a level that presents a serious challenge. Only about halfway through the game will you start to feel threatened.
You can approach the game from a variety of styles. You can take the Kill Switch approach and make use of available cover while popping out to cap the enemy or you can rush in and spray and pray. The game is definitely tilted in your favor so you can take a lot of damage before going down. There are only a few instances where the levels or the game design forces you to play a certain way. Itís very open-ended.
Created by Free Radical Design, the makers of TimeSplitters 2, it should come as no surprise that this game features the same great graphics found in that game with a few years of technological improvements. The character design is stylishly unique, almost like a CG comic book but with a surreal touch. The level of detail in the faces and expressions is uncanny.
Animations are excellent, at least for basic movement. While the psychic attacks are all enhanced with flashy special effects, colors, swirls, and particles, they loose a bit in the basic rag doll physics. These meat sacks are just too stiff after I bash them into a wall six or seven times.
The levels are expertly designed and detailed with loads of items that you can fling around. Glass shatters and breaks, floors shine, there is bump mapping, and excellent textured surfaces. There is amazing lighting and shadow effects plus lens flares and fog. I was a bit disappointed that there was not HDTV support, but the game looks remarkable nonetheless.
I have to make special mention of the innovative camera system employed by Second Sight. At any time you can toggle between a 3D camera that you can control just like any action game or with a tap of a button switch to a fixed camera view that takes on the look of Resident Evil. Often you can use this fixed camera to see useful items in a particular scene that you might have otherwise overlooked.
The voice acting is outstanding, both in script and performance. Each and every character is flawlessly voiced by an actor who sounds just like the character looks with perfect emotional responses. Nothing sounds like it was being read into a studio mic.
The mental powers all have a subtle supernatural sizzle to them while weapons sound believable but not overpowering. There is no Dolby Digital mix, which keeps things a bit flat. Some 3D sound would have really opened up the experience. The rest of the audio including environmental and miscellaneous sound effects are all in place and flesh out the sound design.
The music is feature film worthy and blends synthesized atmospheric score and eerie futuristic instrumental sequences to create and set the perfect mood to match the wonderful visuals.
Casual gamers can expect 15-20 hours while dedicated action fans can probably mind-blast their way through Second Sight in 10-12. What would normally be perceived as a short game was instantly forgiven when Codemasters dropped the price to $20 not long after the game released. At this price no Xbox owner should be without a copy of this game.
I had a total blast playing through it once and I look forward to the day when I have enough spare time to go back and play again and try a few things differently. Even though the game design is linear, the way you approach any challenge or combat situation is usually open to interpretation for the gamer. Itís a very flexible system.
Second Sight tries to cover multiple genres and succeeds on nearly every front. You have excellent traditional combat mixed with a bit of stealth. The psychic element is a nice supplement to the weapons and presents some unique puzzle opportunities.
Best of all, Second Sight tells an excellent story and does so with a presentation that borders on interactive cinema. This is a fantastic game at a great price and a must own for any action gamer.