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Snatcher (Sega CD) artwork

Snatcher (Sega CD) review

"An early success for a director and a genre."

Game director Hideo Kojima is best known for his work on the Metal Gear series, but before its stealth gameplay and Gordion knot-levels of plot complexity, there was Snatcher. At first, the game seems to be but a copycat of various science fiction works. Despite this emulation and other idiosyncracies, Snatcher still succeeds due to its likeable characters and excellent atmosphere.

Kojima's love of cinema is apparent from the opening moments of the game. Protagonist Gillian Seed hunts down the Snatchers, Replicant-esque Terminators, in Christmastime Neo Kobe City, which might as well be Los Angeles 2019 in terms of architecture. He is accompanied by a sensible robot companion named Metal Gear (!) as he investigates murders and uncovers a massive conspiracy. The comparisons to Blade Runner and Terminator are immediate and unavoidable, yet Snatcher has its own original takes on most concepts, in mostly successful fashion. Gillian suffers from the ubiquitous anime disease of amnesia, but this tired trope is made much more interesting by the dying relationship between the well-meaning, awkward Gillian and his estranged, similarly ailed wife. Although not as striking as Blade Runner's world, Neo Kobe is filled with detail, and there is a unique enjoyment to be had for the player exploring the streets himself.

In terms of gameplay, Snatcher is a console equivalent of a point and click adventure. From your first-person perspective, you can move to different areas, talk, look, or investigate things most of the time. This user interface is rough due largely to the fact that you may need to perform some strange combination of your options in order to proceed, but Snatcher tends to inform one's goals well. What really makes Snatcher stand out is in the details. Each area has richly nuanced pixel art and multiple points of interest that can be examined through the menus instead of cursor pixel-hunting. A great many adventure games have paltry flavor text for items in the environment, simply acknowledging a prop's existence intstead of providing any interesting information; Snatcher, however, has respect for the player's time and offers vivd descriptions and humorous observations for even the nonessentials.

Dialogue is brought to life by varied, likeable characters who are all casted surprisingly well to have voiced lines during important events. Despite technical limitations, Snatcher does an admirable attempt at providing some degree of visual movement to accompany the voice acting. The use of audio acting over visuals reminds one of the lost art of the radio drama, adding yet more charm to this unique game. Also strong on the audio front is the music, which fleshes out atmosphere and accents emotional moments. And Snatcher, whilst not the best-written video game by any means (there are even a few big bafflers along the way), has plenty of emotion and heart.

Snatcher is an acquired taste. Most aspects of the writing are great yet other parts -- exposition is awkwardly stringed into conversations at best and dumped on a computer database to be read at worst -- are not so great. The presentation is fantastic on the audio-visual front but impeded by a clunky user-interface. No matter how you look at it, though, Snatcher was a huge step forward for the genre; compare it to the trollish Sierra titles on PC or such lazily designed console titles as Cobra: Space Adventure (another Sega CD game), and it's clear Kojima was years ahead of his time. As if all this wasn't impressive enough for the Sega CD release in 1993, consider the game's existence on Japanese computers years earlier (though the game ended before a real conclusion only to get a real ending in a later weird chibi spinoff game before the CD version for some reason; we lucked out in getting the game late). I can think of few other games that were so ahead of the curve in its genre.

Although Snatcher wasn't a financially successful series, its cult classic status is well-earned. Few other adventure games before and since its release have been so imbued with atmosphere and devoid of the nonsense found in the genre. Its good aspects hold up well even today, and one can appreciate it now almost as much as the lucky few who played upon its initial release.


Follow_Freeman's avatar
Community review by Follow_Freeman (December 25, 2017)

When he isn't in a life-or-death situation, Dr. Freeman enjoys playing a variety of video games. From olden shooters to platformers & action titles: Freeman may be a bit stuck with the games of the past, but he doesn't mind. Some things don't age much.

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