Second Sight (GameCube) review
"Second Sightís sudden release was a bit of a surprise really. Not even the few expectant forum gamers (having already waded their way through Psi-Ops) would have foreseen this third-person action-adventure being released at the beginning of September (UK release) without any real hype whatsoever since it was first unveiled just a few short months ago. A surprise indeed, but a generally pleasant one to boot. "
Second Sightís sudden release was a bit of a surprise really. Not even the few expectant forum gamers (having already waded their way through Psi-Ops) would have foreseen this third-person action-adventure being released at the beginning of September (UK release) without any real hype whatsoever since it was first unveiled just a few short months ago. A surprise indeed, but a generally pleasant one to boot.
You play John Vattic, a dangerous psychic who wakes to find himself incarcerated, pumped full of drugs and missing most of his memory. For once, binge-drinking isnít to blame and when John wakes, he can hear the voices of nervous security guards as heís stretchered to his containment cell before passing out under the heavy influence of the drugs. They sound scared. They should be.
Youíll very quickly realise that you have the ability to manipulate objects through telekinesis powers. The left shoulder button allows you to lock onto various objects and holding the right trigger lets you manipulate your selected object. You can use the C-stick to focus your telekinesis powers onto particular objects. Itís a system that works reasonably well but can be a bit fiddly at first and it isnít the most responsive control system either. However, youíll find that your thumbs adapt relatively quickly to this system. Use your telekinetic skills on the lock of your cell and, as if by magic, it opens. Huzzah! In the few following rooms after your escape from brief claustrophobic incarceration, there are plenty of objects for you to use to try out your newly-discovered telekinetic abilities. You can levitate waste-paper baskets, rattle PC monitors and even throw barrels across entire rooms. These sections act almost like a do-it-yourself tutorial, allowing you to mess about with your powers until you feel comfortable with the controls.
After a few minutes of experimenting, youíre introduced to John Vatticís second psychic power Ė healing. Itís here that youíre introduced to the gameís two important meters Ė health and psi-energy. As long as you have psi-energy, you can use your psychic abilities. Once you run out, youíll be unable to use any until the meter recharges to the top Ė so youíll have to learn to be quite conservative with your use of psi-energy. Psi-energy recharges constantly, so youíll be able to heal at almost any point. As long as you find some cover and wait for your psychic energy to recharge, youíll be able to tend to those wounds - just be sure not to overdo it.
Once John has learned these all-important skills, youíre given a short level as a brief introduction to using these abilities in practical situations. It works well, for the most part, easing you into the gameplay slowly. The gameís slow start is perfect for conveying how John Vattic is trying to adapt to the situation and get a grip on reality. However, it may be a bit too slow as nearly a third of the game is spent inside the same mental facility that John wakes up in and much of this is spent getting to grips with Johnís variety of psychic powers. This may be too gradual an introduction and will no-doubt be off-putting for the impatient gamer, but it can be easily overcome by the more patient among you.
In this short introductory level, you should use your telekinetic ability to manipulate scenery for use as cover from relentless gunfire. Following this short level, youíll have your first flashback. These are designed to explain, in short bursts, how you came to be captured and imprisoned in the medical institution. In these flashbacks, youíll learn that John Vattic was a doctor assigned to a special mission in Siberia to investigate a scientist suspected of being involved in some illegal experiments. Spooky. Before you leave on this assignment though, youíll have to go through an obstacle course to familiarise yourself with the gameís most basic controls. Youíll have to perfect stealthing and shooting techniques which will really help you in both of the gameís timelines as this game is heavily based on stealthy action rather than brainless gun action. After this brief tutorial youíre whisked back to the medical facility where you regain control of John Vattic in the Ďpresentí.
From then on, the gameís levels are split between the past and the present. At the end of each level (when John gets a flashback), youíll be taken to the alternate timeline for the next section. Except, you donít merely play out what happens in the past, you change it. It sounds odd but it is true. At the end of the third level, John finds the patient records of a deceased woman who he once fought alongside Ė cue flashback. After saving her from certain death in the past-timeline mission, John regains consciousness in the present only to find that sheís now alive and well in another medical institution. Here is where the story really comes into its own. The intrigue of conspiracy behind Johnís incarceration makes Second Sight such an incredibly absorbing game to play. The way in which the plot develops through the interweaving timelines is instantly captivating. Free Radicalís pseudo-cartoony character models, mixed with some moody lighting, darkly atmospheric visuals and excellent voice-acting, manage to truly immerse the player into an eerie world of conspiracy and strangeness. Free Radicalís love of the absurd adds a great deal to the atmosphere at every turn. Cut-scenes tend to disrupt the flow of the action in some games, but Second Sightís cut-scenes are a joy to experience. The cut-scenes have been delivered with outstanding vitality and convey emotion in an exquisitely vivid manner. The gameís character models manage to convey so much more personality than if they had been as realistic as possible. You can see every expression or movement in brilliant detail and, after a while, youíll come to care about the gameís characters Ė something of an achievement in a game such as this. Second Sightís story is by far the most joyous thing about this game because itís instantly compelling and thoroughly absorbing.
Now, this may be hypocritical of me to praise the inspired storyline and then turn around and criticise it for being too linear, but I feel that something should be mentioned about how it has marvellous potential as a plot to become even greater. I previously stated that you could change the present (or future, depending on how you look at it), except you canít Ė not really anyway. In your first Ďproperí flashback mission, you have to keep a female member of your squad alive. If you keep her alive, she (in the present) changes from being Ďkilled in actioní to being alive. You must be wondering what happens if you let her die, right? Well, you fail the mission and have to restart. I know, for a story to be interesting, it requires structure and linearity, but I get the feeling that this was a missed opportunity on Free Radicalís behalf. Had they exploited the possibilities of plotline diversity, it could well have become a cult classic and it certainly would have revolutionised the way plots are developed in epic adventures of this mould. With such vast possible combinations of level outcomes, it would take months to play each different timeline through to the end. As it is however, Second Sightís story is brilliantly compelling, totally absorbing and the well-portrayed characters add an emotional weight to a bleak yet somehow believable plot. It is therefore unfortunate that it that it doesnít last that long, with the gameís plot developing over a meagre 17 levels Ė meaning you should see everything the game has to offer in just a few long sittings. Maybe the fact that I wanted so much more from the storyline reflects the astounding quality already presented in its intricacy. It just left me ravenous for more epic storytelling.
If the gameplay was of the standard of the inspired storyline, then Second Sight might well have been one of the best games of 2004, but Iím afraid I have to sit on the fence where gameplay is concerned. For everything Free Radical have integrated cleverly into the gameplay, there seems to be something theyíve done (or not done) to negate its brilliance. The action is mostly stealth-based and John will have to use combinations of physical and psychic abilities to duck behind cover, draw away guards and really make them look like fools as you sneak past them and occasionally use your array of primitive weaponry and extra-terrestrial manipulations. The truth is, the guards donít need Johnís help to look like fools because they are idiots. The AI is mostly abysmal which is surprising for a game so heavily reliant on stealthy action. On several occasions, Iíve been able to walk straight into a guardís line of vision only to be totally ignored. On one occasion I watched on as a group of 8 guards completely ignored me for a whole 15 seconds before reacting, despite the fact that I was standing less than 10 feet away powering up a Psi-blast. Itís very odd as the Artificial Intelligence is not only poor, itís inconsistent. At times, the guards will act as they should, but they often stand around like McDonalds workers on turbo-depressants.
Some aspects of the game seem quite primitive as well. If the alarm is raised, guards spawn infinitely so you can never just gun down a few guards and ask questions later. Enemies will just flood your occupied room until your rather inevitable death. However, dash out of the room unceremoniously and run down an empty corridor and suddenly, everything will have returned to normal. Those magically respawning guards will have disappeared in an instant and any remaining guards will act as if oblivious to the previously occurring events. They donít act any more cautiously or seek out anything that looks suspicious. In fact, they donít seem to change their state of awareness in any way whatsoever. Considering that half of Free Radicalís development team worked on such classics as Perfect Dark and Goldeneye, many of these criminally inept aspects are a massive oversight on their part. These faults can be terribly discouraging and could well ruin the experience for those unwilling to stick with the game and ignore these rather obvious faults.
The gameplay isnít all bad though. There are some neat touches which show real promise but despite some clever implementation, they donít tend to be balanced enough to make them truly special. John Vatticís incredible powers are maybe a bit too powerful. Theyíre awe-inspiringly satisfying to both watch and use as the screens warps and objects fly at your touch. But some, like Johnís charm ability (which makes him invisible to the human eye, but not to cameras) are a bit too powerful and you can keep using them for longer than you should be able to. The charm ability is overly powerful and you can dash through entire sets of rooms without fazing the guards in any way. It seems to negate the need for any sort of true stealthiness and some stealth skills often seem pointless. Luckily, to compensate this, the charm ability canít be used while in the eyesight of guards. Guards operating cameras wonít be fooled by your antics either. If you should foolishly use your charm ability in a blatant manner, the screen will warp and flicker with tremendous cinematic effect and visual flair. Youíll then be forced to wait until your psi-power is fully re-charged before youíre able to use your psychic abilities to rescue John from an otherwise fatal situation.
Despite the linear storyline, Second Sight incorporates a satisfying degree of freedom. Some levels have multiple routes and entire sections can be tackled in any way you see fit. Should you choose the sneaky route and weave in and out of scenery? Or should you find some decent cover and pick off guards one-by-one with a rifle? It can be truly exhilarating to dash in and out of cover, using your combined weapon and telekinetic skills to take out guards and manipulate scenery to your advantage before delivering a lethal Psi-blast. Alternatively, you could use Johnís excellent projection skill to possess guards and use them to take out other guards or just generally turn enemies against each other. Johnís wealth of psychic abilities are never less than satisfying.
Level complexity is also an aspect in which Second Sight excels. Distracting enemies, taking out cameras, passing obstacles (such as locked doors, laser barriers and so on) and gunning down guards are the order of the day. These tasks arenít dissimilar to that of any other stealthy action-adventure, but John Vatticís incredible extraordinary powers add an extra depth and sense of satisfaction to these otherwise mundane chores. By using Johnís telekinesis on a clock, you can make a security guard think his shiftís over thereby leaving you to pass without need for any kind of confrontation. Clever, no? Also, taking out a camera isnít necessarily as easy as youíd think. Should you make the decision to take the camera out by shooting it, the security camera operator might become a bit suspicious. If you manage to take control of a security camera, make sure you donít control it in a suspicious manner. Despite the majority of the AI being poor, they wonít ignore a camera thatís acting oddly and may investigate the camera control room. This can intelligently be used to your advantage as a way of distracting guards. The actual game camera has been well thought out as well. Youíre given 3 camera angles (free-flying, static and first-person) to choose from and a tap of the Y-button will allow you to cycle through them at will. Itís an excellent system that allows great freedom and the ability to plan moves ahead. These are but a few examples of Free Radicalís intelligent conceptual designs at work. They are superb examples of imagination, practicality and excellent craftsmanship, but they do make you wonder why so much of the game has been handled so shabbily. It really is a shame that so many of the gameís other aspects didnít receive as much attention as these.
The fine melody upon which Second Sight is structured is, at its core, exquisite, but the accompaniment is less so and can ruin the brilliant ideas on show. To all purposes, Second Sight is a conceptual masterpiece, but the execution is, at times, dreadful. Impatient gamers and those put off by core faults are unlikely to be able to cope with some of Second Sightís gameplay-mechanic disfigurements. However, if you manage to ignore the gameplay faults, the draw of the story and brilliance of some of Second Sightís great concepts will become irrepressible. If only the dynamics to which the gameís innovations were conceived matched that of the rest of the game. Second Sight comes across more as a game of great potential than great ability, which is a real shame considering some of the gameís inventive qualities. I would suggest you play it at least once, if only to experience the intensely absorbing story.
Community review by ceredig (November 18, 2004)
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