Don't look twice.
Imagine yourself waking up and trying to stretch" but your arms are strapped to the bed! Your eyes snap open and are greeted by the grim green walls of a hospital recovery room. You hopelessly try to piece together some explanation from the clues in the room, when suddenly you discover another patient lying beside you; a woman, who looks like she's in pretty bad shape. Before you can reach her, the room is stormed by idiot goons with guns. You dispatch them quickly and return to her side, only to find weird psychic children in her place! Nooooo!
Welcome to your new life in Codemasters' Second Sight for the PS2. Developed by Free Radical Design (famous for the Timesplitters series), Second Sight is essentially Psi Ops with some serious design flaws and a trippy plot.
For the first third of the game, Second Sight's story is compelling and engaging. You are John Vattic, and you wake up in a hospital you don't remember checking into. After stumbling about, you discover that you have all kinds of strange psychic powers. As you explore the facility in search of answers, you experience flashbacks to events that took place six months prior.
Indeed, the whole time you're playing Second Sight, you're in the midst of three separate plot strands at once. In one strand you're playing as a post-op Vattic as he tries to figure out what's happening inside his pesky brain. In another strand you're playing as Vattic the psychiatrist, who has been enlisted to investigate the paranormal experiments of a Russian mystic at a remote Siberian base. And during the "Game Over' cutscenes that pop up whenever you die, you come closer and closer to meeting the game's antagonist, Hansen.
As the game plays out, the various threads twist and turn up to the point of climax, which I certainly won't give away, but as you can see, Second Sight's plot is cleverly constructed. Unfortunately, the game loses its emotional center by taking the focus away from your post-surgery relationship with Jane Wylde and placing it on your eventual confrontation with Hansen. The episodes in Second Sight that deal with Jane and John attempting to help each other cope with their mutual lack of identity in a hostile world are excellent, but in a weak turn of events, Jane gets kidnapped and essentially disappears from the plot. Even though Second Sight effectively incorporates plot elements into the gameplay, the loss of the romantic element is fatal; without it the plot quickly becomes tedious and predictable.
The plot's entropy ultimately spells doom for Second Sight, because the gameplay mechanics are extremely flawed. It borrows liberally from Psi Ops by featuring both psychic power and gunplay, which, when taken together, turn you into an unstoppable wrecking ball.
The psychic abilities are useful both in combat and to solve many of the game's simple door-opening puzzles. Psi-Blast is a silent, lethal ranged attack perfect for assassinations. Charm will render you invisible for the length of your psi meter, letting you sneak up on bad guys or scoot right past them. You can use Remote Viewing to scout areas and Possess enemies, a vastly overpowered ability that lets you kill all of a level's enemies in silence. You also get Telekinesis, but unlike Psi Ops, it only lets you throw things forward, and getting thrown doesn't seem to hurt enemies much at all. It's mostly useless.
But Vattic's Healing power definitely isn't. That's right - you can psychically convert psi power to health. In one sitting, you can probably restore 80% of your life-bar, and then run back into battle. Since your psi meter recharges, you essentially have a limitless supply of health.
To really get through the game, though, you'll have to whip out your enormously effective munitions and shoot the hell out of everyone. Assault rifles, sniper rifles, pistols, SMGs and shotguns deal out the pain. The control is actually pretty cool thanks to an intuitive aiming and targeting system, which allows you to highlight enemies and switch targets at the twitch of the right stick. Sniping is also done well. Pressing L2 brings up a circle representing the view through your scope, and as a result you can nail enemy snipers while keeping track of everything going on around you. Free Radical definitely scores a head-shot with this nifty little bit of innovation.
But things fall right off track again when you consider the atrocious A.I. Enemies will take cover behind boxes while shooting at you, but they'll almost never leave their positions to pursue you if you run away. The human shield move is ridiculously overpowered " you can grab any bad guy and every other enemy will just stand there and let you shoot them rather than fire anywhere near one of their compadres. Wimps.
However, such tactics are never necessary since you're almost impervious to bullets. Shotguns hurt, but otherwise you can take about seventy-five rounds to the chest and keep on tickin'. While the game tries to explain this by claiming you have some sort of passive psychic shield, the fact is that you can do tons of damage, take almost no damage, and heal anytime you want, turning most of Second Sight into an unbalanced breeze.
In order to compensate for this, Free Radical has implemented an insane alarm feature. Throughout the entire game, if you are spotted, an alarm will sound and endless swarms of enemies will pour into your area. So you slaughter for a bit, hide, heal, wait for the alarm to end, and then head back out. In some episodes you can trip a half-dozen alarms before figuring out what you need to do, which makes for a lot of sitting around and waiting.
Playing Second Sight simply isn't very enjoyable. The gunplay is done well, but when you get to the tougher enemies you'll want something more, and it isn't there. Out of your two offensive psychic abilities, one is worthless and the other is inefficient. Without guns, you're basically impotent, turning the game into more of a repetitive fragfest than it should be.
What the game lacks in fun, though, it makes up for in looks. The character faces are wonderfully animated and many of the levels look incredible. The sanitarium, in particular, has great ambient effects with spooky music and gothic architecture. The game engine runs really smoothly and the voice acting is usually pretty good. Too bad the game doesn't play as well as it looks.
It's almost unfortunate that the first couple hours of Second Sight are really good. You won't care that the action is too easy or that the A.I. is dumber than Teddy Ruxpin because the plot is good and the characters are interesting. But by hour six or so, the plot loses its mystery and the gameplay holes become increasingly frustrating. You'll probably have a better time with your other psychic friends.