You Know that bit in the out-takes of Toy Story 2 when Mrs Potato Head is continually stuffing more and more stuff into Mr Potato Head until his eyes are forced out of his head by Play-Doh? Well Project: Snowblind is Mrs Potato Head. I'm packing your extra pair of shoes and your bullet-time just in case. And your rocket-launcher. And your Mine Gun.
And invisibility, you like invisibility don't you?" Yes dear. And your shotgun, here's your shotgun. And you might have to hack into systems, so here's a system hacking gun. Oh, and you did get invulnerability installed didn't you?" I did it yesterday. Good, well here's your physics kicker gun thing. And here's a sniper rifle, because sometimes sniping is a necessity. And here's the Spider Chow." What's the Spider Chow for? For the Spider droids of course! And here's an augmentation that lets you see better. And here's a riot wall. And here are frag grenades, EMP grenades, gas grenades and some other grenades. And your angry flashing blue eyes just in case. And a Herf EMP Gun..."
Argh! Shut up! I'm just trying to shoot people. Stop giving me guns! Stop giving me new abilities! You gave me something new five minutes ago, I've barely worked out how to use it, I keep on getting my augmentation' key mixed up with my throw grenade' key and l'm confused. So confused. Just let me kill things in the normal way, just for five minutes. Please. You can give me a new weapon then.
Ah. But which way do you want to complete this level? You can go several different ways through the same linear path. You could steal this car with the big shiny gun if you want." Does it make any real difference? No, because as soon as you're killed once you'll just choose the fastest route anyway. I'll have the car then. Fancy a new gun while you're doing it?" Noooo!
Project: Snowblind was conceived before the Deus Ex franchise was pissed against the wall behind Eidos HQ, and its hallmarks remain. The many weapons, the many augmentations, the faux nonlinear nature of its levels - but here it's all distilled into ten hours of blasting. Whereas Deus Ex overwhelmed you pleasantly with its slow-burning depth and complexity, here in compacted visceral form it's gained the remarkable ability of stressing you out. It gives you so much, so quickly that when you should be hiding behind barrels and peppering cyber-punks with bullets, you instead seem to be perpetually sifting through weapons, abilities and taking different paths through levels, always slightly worried that you're not doing what the game really wants from you.
It's a jack-of-all-trades and a master of none, but it remains a good game. And, in fairness, this Mrs Potato Head effect does peter out about halfway through. Specifically marked for praise is some fresh and original level design - whoever came up with the idea of placing a military jail in an opera house and letting you run riot with escapees should be given a medal. Meanwhile, the everchanging nature of gunplay and mission objectives mean that you'll never get bored - even if you will occasionally wish you could just be left alone.
The fact that for all intents and purposes it's set in the Deus Ex universe is also a massive boost. You play as Nathan Frost, a reborn Robocop-styled super soldier in the same vein as JC Denton - even if your vocab consists of a lot more grunting bon-mots on military brotherhood and the continual need to avoid leaving a man behind'. If you're a Deus Ex fan or you finished Invisible War, you should certainly play a few levels of Snowblind - even the way you open cupboards screams: Deus Exin It's definitely part of the same canon - even if it is from an entirely different league.
As a basic shooter though, it's spearmint chewing gum for the eyes and brain - and nice apple-flavoured Bubblicious for the ears, since the sound is noticeably classy. It has none of the moments of destructive joy that Republic Commando provides, but certainly fills ten hours inoffensively with some neat touches and clever design when you're not juggling your weapons and abilities in the corner. The Mrs Potato Head effect (a term I'm in the process of copyrighting) will bring out your angry eyes, this much is true, but the game remains worthy of attention.
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- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP
For Many, Deus Ex remains one of the finest PC games ever - an intoxicating mix of sci-fi conspiracy, RPG, stealth and shooter that forced you to use brains as well as brawn. Unfortunately, developer Ion Storm is now no more, shut down by publisher Eidos after the low-key releases of the Deus Ex sequel Invisible War and Thief: Deadly Shadows, with the respected head honcho Warren Spector moving on to pastures new.
So what has this got to do with Project: Snowblind? Well, the game was originally conceived as a first-person shooter called Deus Ex: Clan Wars; a simpler, more instantly gratifying pumped-up dumber clone of JC Denton -Bubba Denton, if you will. Developer Crystal Dynamics (also busy reshaping the norks of Lara Croft in the new Tomb Raider) has dumped the famous name, but the similarities to Deus Ex are unmistakable.
Snowblind has a futuristic 2065 Hong Kong setting, bio-augmentations, icepick hacking into cameras and bots, primary and secondary objectives, multiple pathways and several other features that give away the origin of the game (see 'Deus Ex Deja Vu', right).
The action is relentless right from the beginning, with none of the usual atmospheric learning curve of Deus Ex, as it hurls you into a chaotic battle between the Liberty Coalition forces and the Republic. The revolution is being led by a twisted general bent on unleashing a Snowblind weapon - a huge EMP blast that disrupts bio-mechanical systems and other electronic devices, temporarily disabling them with static. Your character, Nathan Frost, fights alongside dozens of other Al-controlled soldiers, who cover your back, launch attacks, take over gun turrets and chip in with quips such as Aaaagh! My wife specifically told me not to get shot! Immediately you're struck by the colourful, frenetic pyrotechnics on display - this is no greyed-out, science-fiction dull-a-thon like Minority Report. Neon signs glow above exotic Eastern buildings, missile trails and fiery explosions rain in around you, objects and ragdoll bodies fly, and bullets spark and zing off metal surfaces. This is Blade Runner on fast-forward.
However, just minutes into the conflict, you're badly injured by a bomb blast while rescuing a fallen comrade, and in a sequence nicked from RoboCop, are given a multi-billion dollar refit with the latest technological modifications - bionic legs, electronic eyesight, mechanical buttocks - the whole works. However, rather than being able to use everything to play with at once like a spoilt child on Christmas morning, the bio-mods are dribbled out over the course of the game through upgrades and hacks.
Nathan Frost sets out on his 11 missions with a vision enhancement that enables him to see people's heat signatures through walls, but he soon gets hold of Ballistic Shield for protection, and Reflex Boost, which is basically a slo-mo capability for dodging bullets and taking out multiple bad guys. Another favourite bio-mod is Cloak, which gives you invisibility - perfect for stealthily avoiding security cameras, and sneaking up behind enemies to kill them at point-blank range. You have limited bio-energy for running these super-sub-routines (which depletes a little too quickly for my liking) that can be recharged with pick-ups, but you don't get the opportunity to completely customise your character to suit your favoured style of play, as you can with the RPG-friendly Deus Ex titles.
Project: Snowblind also has a neat collection of gadgets that you can collect and use in the field, with the most important being the icepick, a hacking device that you can use to assume control of computers, gun turrets, cameras and best of all, bots. In one sequence, a rather large metal walking machine was lurching towards me, intent on ripping me a new augmentation, but with one sharp shot from the icepick, I was instantly in control.
Switching to a view screen from inside the bot, I could stomp around as well as operate the machine's machine gun and rocket launcher, making mincemeat of a troop of soldiers with a hail of hot lead and a devastating volley of explosives -although you have to be careful, as your body is still vulnerable while your mind is occupied.
Other useful knick-knacks include the usual frag grenades and flash bombs, an excellent portable electronic shield that folds out when you throw it, plus another familiar hangover from Deus Ex - spider bots - which when used, will scuttle after the nearest enemy and zap them, before following you around and making cute noises like a disturbing insect AIBO pet.
What packs the biggest punch, though, is Snowblind's weapons. There's a truly great collection of justice-givers in the armoury, each with a very special alternative-fire: a basic pistol can also fire missiles: a carbine rifle can shoot grenades that skim like stones before exploding: a shotgun that can pump out sticky bombs that attach to surfaces and detonate. Even the humble sniper rifle has a neural virus that when launched at an enemy, causes them to 'go a bit mental' and start firing on their squad-mates, while you watch through the sights safely from a distance with an evil grin plastered on your face.
Snowblind even has a gravity gun. Just when you thought that Half-Life 2 and the new Doom expansion were the only games around with this essential new weapon, it turns out that Crystal Dynamics had one up its sleeve all along - except it's called a Kinetic Kicker, and it's in no way as sophisticated or successful as Gordon Freeman's. Yet, if all that beautiful destructive chaos isn't enough, you can always put down your weaponry and knock seven bells out of foes with a hefty bio-powered punch, or climb into one of the game's numerous vehicles, such as a jeep or tank, and just run them down.
Unfortunately you don't get the wide-open levels prevalent in Far Cry (Snowblind has most definitely been developed with lowly consoles in mind), but there are enough Far Eastern-flavoured maps ranging from a glamorous opera house converted into a prison, a cultural palace and a Buddhist temple. Each has multiple routes and pathways through the level, and while you don't have as much freedom as in JC Denton's world, you can still opt to sneak through an air conditioning duct and hack into a gun turret, rather than storming in like a SWAT team with behavioural problems.
Snowblind also keeps the adrenaline pumping through Nathan Frost's glowing blue veins by moving effortlessly between sections where you're a lone soldier, to full-scale battles involving you and a dozen squad-mates. There are eight multiplayer maps available for both LAN and online play too, and all the different modes and maps can be customised at your leisure.
Yes, there are a few obvious annoyances - save rooms instead of checkpoints or quick saves, the icepick hacking tool being mixed in with the weapons (not good in the heat of a firefight) and the general console-centric feel. While Snowblind doesn't have the sophistication or depth of the Deus Ex universe, it certainly has more immediate satisfaction and excitement in the run-and gun stakes - you won't be scrabbling around looking in rubbish skips desperate for ammo like some down-and-out assassin.
Deus Ex: Invisible War was a decent game, but for me, the options of being a full-on action hero were always too limited. And the weapons sucked. Project: Snowblind has the potential to be what Aliens was to Alien - alternatively it could be what Batman & Robin was to Batman. You'll have to hack into database or wait until next month for the definitive verdict.
DEUS EX was one of our favourite games ever, still is in fact. And if it had been handled properly we think it could have been one of the biggest cash cows in the industry. Today it's been devalued to the extent that Project: Snowblind, originally slated to be set in the Deus Ex universe, is seen to have a better chance on its own merits.
The only remaining point of comparison now is that you play as super-soldier Nathan Frost, complete with implanted augmentations that enable you to exploit superpowers like slowing down time, turning invisible and passing through the eye of a needle. (OK, we made one of those up. Slowing down time indeed...)
These same powers provide the only bits of non-linearity in an otherwise fast-paced traditional shooter, so why are we so intrigued? A couple of reasons: first, it's being developed by Crystal Dynamics, the team responsible for the sometimes excellent Legacy of Kain/Soul Reaver games, as well as the next Tomb Raider. Second, we've seen it running and it's showing a level of competence we weren't fully expecting, with innovative dual-fire weapons that could prove especially interesting in multiplayer. Expect the likes of shotguns that also lay sticky bombs (hilarious when attached to enemies) and flamethrowers that dish up mines that attack when an enemy comes into proximity. You can combine weapons for extra effect and there's also a full range of vehicles you can control.
It might not ooze the class of F.E.A.R. or the visual pull of anything powered by the soon-to-be-unleashed Unreal Engine 3.0, but it's still one to watch.