In the beginning
While playing Second Sight, the latest entry in the burgeoning trend of mind games, I noticed one thing and pondered another. First, I noticed that I hadn't been so enthralled by the narrative of a supposed "action" game in months. And second, I wondered what took developers so long to incorporate psychic abilities into video games? To be fair, certain games have done it before, but never like this.
The Jedi Knight series has dibs on force powers and every RPG in history lays claim to magical abilities. Admittedly, some of these abilities overlap, like the lighting powers in Jedi Knight and lightning bolt spells in RPGs. What differentiates Second Sight from these other games is the way it takes superpowers and weaves them into the overall narrative of the game.
Take a seat, it's story time
Of course, I don't want to spoil anything. In terms of story, Second Sight kicks Psi Ops square in the nuts and makes fun of its mom. It's one of Second Sight's strongest selling points. You'll play an amnesiac by the name of John Vattic. After an absurdly long coma, John wakes up bloodied and bandaged in a government building. Without a clue as to where he is or even who he is, John slowly discovers that his mind brims with all manners of psychic coolness. He can move things by thought alone, heal himself with brain power and even project himself out of his body.
Unfortunately, John awakens from his coma without so much as a decent pair of pants. You'll spend the next 15 or so hours sneaking through an insane asylum, breaking into government buildings and storming a base in the frozen wasteland of Syberia. You'll uncover sinister plots, square off against twisted government officials and expose a heinous plot. Remove a few thousand bullets, throw in a few FBI agents and you have yourself the makings of a pretty decent X-Files episode.
Use the force
and a .45 pistol.
It's one of the most frequently asked questions in history: what super power would you want given the choice? It's a great question. And for good reason: everyone wants superpowers. Ask your neighbor, the paranoid lady across the street, even your priest, and they'll all say the same thing: everyone wants superpowers. Any why not? The entertainment industry dangles the concept in front of the consumer psyche through movies, books, and more specifically, video games. Recently, game developers have opted for a more scientific approach to the phenomenon.
Midway released the psychically charged Psi Ops: The Mindgate Conspiracy back in June, and now Codemaster's will unleash Second Sight. It is understood that gamers will compare the two. Lets' face it: they sound similar. Both feature amnesiac protagonists rippling with brainpower, and both follow non-linear story structures composed of several flashback tutorial sequences.
But we'll get to all of that a little later. For now, we'll stick to cerebral stuff. I'd like to describe in detail every single ability you can aqcuire, but I won't. Discovering new powers makes up a large part of the experience, so I'll remain a tad vague. I will say there are five main abilities, each of which evolves over the course of the game. Second Sight reveals two of the most useful abilities, healing and telekinesis, within the first three levels. Where telekinesis comes in handy to open doors and flip switches, the inclusion of a healing ability makes little sense.
Let me explain. Second Sight is not a hard game. Even without the healing ability, it wouldn't be too hard to get through for the average gamer. The game's lack of difficulty stems from two things: a near instantaneous re-filling of your psychic-power gauge whenever it's used, and the fact that you can absorb precisely 18 pounds of bullets before kissing pavement. To test this fact, I ran toward four armed guards and slapped them to death. See, this shouldn't happen. I should have hit the floor way before I even got close to them. I should have been reduced to bloody hamburger. Sure, it's a video game, but four dudes simultaneously emptied their clips into my face. And it's not just a problem early on. I felt damn near invincible for half of the game.
Perhaps the biggest problem in Second Sight is the game's over reliance on ho-hum pistols and machine guns. Seriously folks, the game gives you the ability to choke people in mid-air. That's serious Darth Vader sh_t. And you definitely never need to use it. You can use the ability whenever you want, but it just never feels as cool as it should.
More importantly, the game seems structured for gunfights. Guns should supplement the psychic abilities, not the other way around. Plus, using some of your powers lacks that special "Holy crap, I just melted some dude's brain with my mind!" factor. When you're slamming some poor fool into a wall, the game engine should convey a sense of weight and motion, but it doesn't. Levitating a soda can feels the same as levitating fully armed guard with a weight a problem.
Master self-control and master the universe
If that were the case, you won't be mastering universes in Second Sight for the first half hour or so. The game offers three different control options: one involving manual camera control, a free-look mode and a fixed camera. The manual control option grants the freedom to view your surroundings, but isn't without flaws. As has become standard in third-person games, the camera will sometimes get wedged behind door or become blocked by an enemy or wall. It won't happen often, but expect a few shots to the ass during the course of the game from the lack of solid camera angles. Also, the camera feels a little floaty in general. You'll spend the first level just getting the hang of it.
Once you do, the game controls well. You'll need to master each control option if you want to make it through the game taking as little damage as possible. During sequences where stealth is the play of choice, switching to the fixed camera grants a better view of enemies as they patrol the surround area. This way, you can snake through desks and other obstacles unnoticed. The first-person camera feels near useless.
I can't remember a single instance where progressing through the game called for the exclusive use of the first-person view. The game automatically switches to first-person when needed, like when crawling through pipes, but never gives a reason to use the camera otherwise. Technically, a player can beat the game never using the fixed camera or first-person camera, but it would make the experience a little tougher.
Fortunately, control of telepathic abilities and weapons is simple. Having said that, the system could have been implemented better. The main concern is the way Seconf Sight forces you to select weapons and powers. Instead of using different control combinations for abilities and weapons, you'll need to cycle through each option using menu. Opening the menu pauses the game, affecting the overall flow of the action. While there's a good chance players may welcome the short break to choose abilities at their leisure, the game's general lack of difficulty turns any break in the action into a bad thing. At the top of the list of control issues sits the execution of the telekinesis ability. Instead of just moving crosshairs over a target then activating the power as in Psi Ops, you'll need to cycle through numerous highlighted targets. See, once you select the telekinesis ability from the menu and prepare to use it, the game highlights everything you can move. This includes chairs, barrels hostiles, anything the game engine allows you to pick up and toss.
Problem being, you'll sometimes find yourself wanting to mind-fry an enemy on your left only to have a stapler highlighted to your right. Moving the cursor from one target to another costs you precious seconds. Seconds during which an enemy can pump your organs full of searing lead.
While controlling telekinesis is a slight pain in the ass, using weapons makes for a far more intuitive experience. Good thing too, as Second Sight features more heated gunfights than a stack of Clint Eastwood flicks. You'll constantly duck behind walls and crates whilst exchanging hailstorms of bullets. Very cool, indeed. The game handles targeting through an automatic lock-on system.
The system works well and still allows for manual adjustment of the target reticule. After all, what's a modern action game without the beauty of head shots? Still, the system could use a little work. The reticule won't always fix itself on the closest enemy, for example.
Weapons should come second, not first. Psychic powers should always be front and center, with handguns and sniper rifles merely supplementing your wicked-cool mind powers. Unfortunately, that's just not the case here, and it really hurts the overall experience.
You sure have a purty mouth
Graphically, Second Sight conjures the same kind of style seen in the TimeSplitter series. Characters have that strangely cool, funkified look to them. Doctors and scientists in the game look like vampire crack-heads while the good guys look bland, yet saintly. Each psychic ability looks great and adds a good deal of pizzazz to an already stylish game.
Each environment looks different and each feature destructible environments. You can only hide behind a fence or wall for so long before chunks of concrete or wood start flying. Character models look like typical TimeSplitters fare, and that is in no way a bad thing.
During normal movement such as running and walking, character animation looks believable and smooth. As soon as you start levitating people, things take a more comical turn. Dead bodies move as though made of cotton. It only worsens when you throw someone across the room and they happen to land on a desk or other obstruction. They'll often land with their legs pointing toward the heavens.
It's not really a complaint, but if you're really digging the somber attitude of the game, it may break up your suspension of disbelief. Aside from a slightly funky physics engine, Second Sight boasts nifty visuals all-around. Textures could be a little sharper and more detailed, but they generally look pretty good. The game engine employs various effects like glare, shadows and lighting throughout each level.
Matching the quality and style of the visuals, the music in Second Sight sounds like something written by Mark Snow, composer of the eerie tunes in the X-Files.
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