Blinded by the fight.
Without inspiration, some of the greatest wonders of the modern world would never have seen the light of day. Over 20 kinds of Doritos, drinkable yogurt, and hot dogs with built-in cheese filling would merely be tantalizing snack dreams instead of delectable geek realities.
However, inspiration can become quite unsavory when used improperly. Obviously, developer Crystal Dynamics was heavily inspired by games past and future when they created Eidos’ latest first-person shooter, Project: Snowblind. From Deus Ex to Halo, it’s clear this game has tapped some of the best and brightest sources available.
But did they tap them well? Yes and no. Though Snowblind is reminiscent of terrific fragfests and holds up adequately, it winds up losing its own identity along the way thanks to some bland graphics and generally tepid design.
The year is 2065 and in a shocking sci-fi twist, we are at war. You play Nathan Frost, a common soldier among the ranks of the Liberty Coalition who is mortally wounded from a battlefield explosion. After undergoing an experimental surgical procedure, Nathan becomes a bio-engineered super soldier, a glorified, bipedal can-opener. As a weapons-grade powerhouse, Nathan is sent behind enemy lines to help take down a vague, ominous regime.
The story is laid out almost entirely through lackluster in-engine cut-scenes. These crop up so abruptly that they manage to take away from any sense of immersion in the game world, plucking you out of the action in a blink just to serve up more boring plot. While the dev guys were busy tapping games for ideas, you’d think some cool scripted events would have turned up.
But grabbing Snowblind for the story is like buying a console for all the shiny buttons; frantic, frenzied shootouts are the game’s true forte. You will embark on two types of missions: firefights entailing all out warfare and stealth missions where you must infiltrate key enemy areas and compounds before attacking the objective. The latter aren’t great – the graphics are just too darn murky and muddy to warrant a sly, sneaky approach to anything. Thank the FPS gods there is little penalty for charging in and ditching the stealth altogether.
And that’s what you’ll spend most of your time doing – barging through linear level after linear level eradicating anything dumb enough to move in your direction. You’ll receive a nice complement of classic weapons and items, including a standard rifle, all sorts of grenades (EMP, frag, flash, gas etc.), a groovy electromagnetic gun, dual-use shotgun and a really cool item called a Riot Wall. This little handheld device unfolds into a temporary barrier that provides cover anywhere on the battlefield. Pretty slick. The inclusion of a few controllable vehicles is a nice thought, but doesn’t add much to the experience.
In addition to his skill with normal firearms and explosives, Nathan can equip, enhance and utilize specialized bio-augmentations (can you say Deus Ex?). Supposedly, these were hardwired into his body, granting Nathan abilities well beyond human limits. However, the downside is that Nathan is completely vulnerable to EMP charges (Electro Magnetic Pulse), which can disrupt onboard electronics, rendering him effectively Snowblind. Aha!
Some of the augmentations are pretty impressive. Players can trigger enhanced vision to see enemies and mines through walls. There’s the self-explanatory cloak, which lights you up in a neat warped aura ala Predator. Reflex boost is Snowblind‘s version of Bullet-Time, slowing down time to let you do your best Keanu impersonation. Less enthralling augmentations include the Electrical Storm (discharges a high-voltage jolt in front of you) and the Ballistic Shield.
The augmentations are balanced well; you can only use one at a time and triggering it depletes your bio-energy meter. Unfortunately, you’ll receive all your augmentations fairly early in the game, effectively ruining the joy of gradual discovery.
But when you pool together the weapons, items and augs, you get a good variety of ways to deal with the seemingly endless waves of bad guys. While Snowblind‘s single-player doesn’t re-invent anything, it’s still decent fun playing with all the groovy gadgets.
Nathan can also hack into systems to take over cameras and robot drones. However, this is one of those flawed Deus Ex inspirations. Hacking is sometimes needed to proceed on to the next area, so it’s impossible to fail. Once you access the terminal with your Ice Pick device, you’re as good as in. Even compared to Splinter Cell‘s basic lock-picking seen back in 2002, this one doesn’t pass muster.
Poorly implementing features found in other games isn’t Snowblind‘s only major setback; one look at the graphics engine proves that. The game is visually unclear, featuring lifeless textures and overly soft edges, resulting in a blurred, sort of underwater visual effect. Simply making out the enemies over great distances takes keen eyesight indeed.
All is not entirely, lost, though. For a game bereft of ragdoll physics, Snowblind kicks out some great death animations. Enemies will believably fly through the air, slump over in a heap of bullet-riddled flesh, fall over ledges and much more. It helps give the action some kinetic punch and almost keeps the endless slaughter fresh.
Once you’ve completed the relatively short 10 hour campaign, you will find there’s still a lot of game left in this puppy online. Supporting up to 16 players, Snowblind features a good assortment of solo and team-based modes. Perhaps the most interesting of the bunch is Hunter, an uber powerful cloaked soldier who hunts down all other players. You have to kill the Hunter to become him, leading to some interesting play mechanics. The regular team games stand up to be counted – Team Deathmatch, two types of CTF and Assault (destroy opposing team’s generator). You’ll also find a Counter-Strike clone called Demolition, which is easily the best of the bunch.
But sadly, Project: Snowblind is not. It seems content simply toying with features found in other first-person shooters and doesn’t really go the distance with any of them. The result is a decent if predictable shooter saved by a beefy online component. It might be inspired, but that doesn’t make it inspirational.