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Platform

Playstation 2

 

Genre

Action

 

Publisher

Codemasters

 

Developer

Free Radical

 

ESRB

T (Teen)

 

Released

Q4 2004

 

 

- Well-executed blend of action and stealth

- Excellent plot, with expressive characters and quality voice acting

- Fun psychic powers

- Quality music

 

 

- Clumsy auto-aiming

- Some camera issues

- A bit glitchy

 

 

Review: Psi-Ops - The Mindgate Conspiracy (PS2)

Review: BloodRayne 2 (XB)

Review: Batman Vengeance (XB)

 

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Second Sight

Score: 8.1 / 10

 

Regular guy John Vattic wakes up in a laboratory with a shaved head, a broken body and the mysterious ability to use telekinetic powers. The first question is: what are you doing here? The second is: what the hell happened to you? The third is: how the hell are you able to pick up people and throw them with your  mind? In one of the finest combinations of action and stealth to come out of the gameworks, Free Radical brings us Second Sight, a departure from their usual agenda of first person shooters.

 

second sight          second sight

 

As John slowly comes to grips with his psychic powers, he slowly begins to remember bits of the events that have led up to his sorry condition. Flashing back six months prior, we see Vattic as a mostly normal guy, with a bit of a Gordan Freeman-esque “action nerd” attitude. He has been assigned as an advisor to a military team who is investigating some suspicious experiments in the north pole. Naturally, things go haywire and Vattic ends up going from consultant to commando.  The levels constantly switch between the present day and the events of six months ago, so slowly the pieces of the plot come together in one big picture. With these revelations, more of Vattic’s psychic powers open for him. And therein lies the game’s soul.

 

While many games try to straddle the line between action and the stealth, few do it as well as Second Sight. Unlike so many other games where you are reasonably defenseless against hordes of enemies, you have a standard assortment of weaponry at your disposal, in addition to your newfound psychic abilities. You can lift objects – including people – and toss them around, slamming them into walls or into other bad guys. Not in a machine gun mood? Just lift up that bad guy and toss them off that bridge or out a window. Is some jerk taking cover behind that stack of boxes? Use your mind to swipe those out of the way and allow you a nice clean shot to the head. Alternatively, if you’ve got a companion (and many times you will, as you’ll need to escort your compatriots through some levels), just levitate your enemy and suspend them in midair as they get riddled with bullets holes from your friends’ rifles.

 

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It’s not all hunting and killing though. Most situations can be dealt with by being sneaky, and naturally, the psychic powers factor largely into this. Turning yourself invisible is quite handy for gallivanting right beneath a guard’s nose. Or, you create a psychic projection so you can explore separate from your corporeal body – which also has the handy side effect of allowing you to possess guards. For a bit of fun, take over a bad guy, have them shoot one of the guards in the face, then watch as the resulting chaos lets you slowly turn all of your enemies on 

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themselves. One of the handiest skills lets you heal yourself – so in spite of the sparse checkpoints; you can always revitalize yourself, as long as you can find a quiet spot amidst a firefight. Any of these skills can be used to augment your sneaking or your killing, and since your psychic power revitalizes automatically and quickly, you have permission to use these skills liberally.

 

While the option to go in fighting or take it sneaky is nice, certain elements of the game aren’t as refined as it could be, and that is mostly chalked up to the auto-aiming mechanism. Shooting enemies is a pretty easy task, as you simply hold down the L2 button to target them, and the R2 button to fire. Targeting enemies to use your psychic powers works pretty much the same way. Pushing the right analog stick right or left allows you to switch between targets, while pressing up and down allows for a little manual aiming, so you can pull off some nice head shots of you've got a steady hand. Unfortunately, you'll often to have to adjust your targets manually, since the computer doesn't always pick the one you want – it defaults to whatever is most directly in front of your character, instead of what might be causing the most danger. So instead of picking up that guard three feet next to Vattic, you'll pick up that useless barrel down the hallway. You have complete manual aiming functions in first person mode, but since you can’t move like this (à la Metal Gear Solid 2), it's far too clunky to ever use effectively. Perhaps just a manual aiming option would have helped things out a bit.

 

But it’s more than just the aiming that contributes to the clunkiness. In a move that is excellent in concept but iffy in execution, Second Sight lets you pick from two camera options: an automatic one that gives a fixed view of whatever room you're in, and an automatic one that trails behind Vattic and is completely user controlled. While giving a choice between cameras is an excellent idea and more games should take notice, it still comes off as rather clumsy. The fixed camera angles are poorly chosen and rarely of any use, and the player camera has a tendency to get stuck on walls, giving you a view you don’t need.

 

Unfortunately, the game is also a bit on the glitchy side. The physics sometimes get a little messed up, especially when you’re able to stick bad guys right through solid objects. At the end of one of the levels, enemies were shooting at me straight through walls. And make sure you don’t have a second PS2 controller plugged in, because it’ll cause the voices and sound effects to drop out.

 

second sight          second sight

 

While the gameplay hits some small snags, there’s a terrific plot in Second Sight that really makes it all worthwhile. Amnesiac protagonists are hardly a novel concept, but the writing and characters are so well done that it’s hard to peg it as too clichéd. The in-game cinemas help too. Extremely stylized and with incredible facial animations, Free Radical clearly knows what they're doing to create expressive characters. And unlike so many video game studios these days, they also know how to hire good voice actors. The music, too, is excellent – quiet and moody when it needs to be, intense with the action flares up. Both the graphics and sound are quite reminiscent of Timesplitters 2, so fans of Free Radical’s previous works will have a lot to like.

 

It’s pretty unfortunate that Second Sight came out so close to Midway’s Psi-Ops, another game that focuses heavily on telekinesis. Psi-Ops is mostly an action game, and it makes overall better use of the psychic abilities – they’re easier to control and just more fun to play around with – but Second Sight is a much deeper experience, with smarter level design, greater gameplay variety, and far superior story telling.

 

Within a period of three weeks, Second Sight dropped to $20, seemingly due to slow sales. It's really too bad – the game is easily worth full price, and it’s a steal at the current one. Despite some unpolished spots, Second Sight is easily one of the best balances of stealth and action, combined with a nifty gimmick and an excellent plot.

 

- Kurt Kalata

(November 11, 2004)

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