What do you do after investing millions of dollars into developing a follow-up to one of the most critically lauded games of all time – only to have the game’s license holders pull out of the project? If you’re publishers Eidos Interactive, you change the name, jot down a new storyline, and keep on trucking. Project: Snowblind, formerly known as Deus Ex: Clan Wars, poses the eternal question: Can a first-person shooter, deprived of its primary selling point, muster itself significantly enough to stand on its own amid a sea of gargantuan competitors? Short answer – No. But while Snowblind might not hit the pinnacle of the gaming charts, Crystal Dynamics’ run-and-gun-and-blast-lightning-from-your-fingertips shooter successfully manages to carve its name as a competent – if somewhat familiar – videogame.
It goes like this: you put the game in the disc tray, watch the opening cinematic sequence, then BLAM! Bullets whiz by your face almost immediately. If there’s one thing Snowblind blindly succeeds in, it’s communicating the immediacy of its combat. In the story department, however, you get the distinct feeling there just wasn’t enough time to flesh it all out. Thrust into a flimsy conflict between the Hong Kong Republic and a ?coalition of peacekeepers’ that suspiciously resemble American armed forces, the player assumes the role of Nathan Frost as he narrowly escapes death in a vicious attack. Brought back from near-death and outfitted with billion-dollar biotechnology, Frost awakes to find himself a cyborg. Conveniently equipped with computer targeting aids, a nifty GPS-style navigation beacon that’s brilliant in its simplistic execution, and computer-enhanced abilities such as night-vision, reflex boost (slo-mo), and a ballistics shield. Basically, cross Robocop with Predator and throw the result into the Vietnam war, and you’ve got Project: Snowblind.
The familiar mechanics of Deus Ex cast a shadow over everything Snowblind does, but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, Snowblind’s simplified handling of the complex Deus Ex library of abilities may be more successful than the actual sequel, which received a mixed reaction on consoles. While unintuitive at first, if you invest a modest amount of time with the controls, the heavily used white and black buttons and d-pad soon become manageable for the game’s purposes. As for the rest of the controls, the analogue sticks are used for movement and looking, with ?A’ jumping, ?B’ crouching, ?X’ reloading and ?Y’ activating biomechanical powers. The white button brings up the previously used primary weapon – in a nod to Halo’s two-weapon setup – with the black button using whatever grenade/item is selected. The Xbox’s ?little d-pad that could’ is milked for functionality, with left cycling through biotech powers, right cycling through grenades and items, and up and down sifting through the game’s impressive selection of weaponry.
Speaking of the weapons, there are 10 of them, and they do their jobs well. You can play it traditional with the shotgun, rifle-like carbine, pistol, rocket launcher and sniper rifle, or mix it up with the Flechette, electromagnetic H.E.R.F. gun, mine gun, or portable rail laser. There are even a few non-weapon armaments, like the interesting but criminally under used Kinetic Kicker that pulls or pushes objects (almost always crates) toward or away from you. Keeping its Deus Ex origins in mind, there’s also the Ice Pick, a universal hacking device used to wreak havoc on the Republic’s security systems and sentry bots.
Project: Snowblind is no slouch in terms of items either. There are frag, flashbang and gas grenades, as well as EMP and Spider (launches a small attack drone) grenades, plus the Riot Wall, an innovative single-use portable device that throws up a shielding wall. Waiting to receive your brutal treatment are wave upon wave of fairly generic soldiers and various mechanized attackers, the latter of which can be ?ice-picked’ for your reverse-engineering pleasure.
Besides jacking into enemy robots ala Metal Arms, you can also jump into the manned Ogre mech’, as well as APC vehicles and civilian cars. Rounding out Project: Snowblind’s feature set are the biotech powers such as night-vision and cloaking. Curiously, while more powerful weaponry is gradually introduced into gameplay at appropriate times, Frost randomly finds himself endowed with more advanced powers after, say, arbitrarily punching a door during a cut-scene. As inconsistencies go, it’s nothing major, but it does strain the game’s credibility story-wise.
After stumbling for a while and adjusting to the control pad workout Project: Snowblind puts you through, gameplay becomes enjoyable, if not occasionally strange. The throwaway war plotline quickly dissolves into gibberish that exists only to break up short spurts of shooting; a real shame considering the threads of decent storytelling that emerge in the game’s cut-scenes, particularly Frost’s initial ?upgrading’ sequence. Having the computerized HUD spit out the name and rank of your teammates when targeted helps foster a real sense of shared identity with fellow soldiers but, although they back you admirably, your squad-mates quickly become nameless bodies following your path of destruction. Enemies aren’t much better off for the most part, with questionable A.I. making stealth segments quite awkward. One Republic grunt considerately stood in a doorway while I slowly took shots at his face with a pistol, finally felling him along with a confused look (on my face, not his).
Project: Snowblind feels a little raw in this respect, like a steak ordered ?medium’ but served up as ?rare’. The game obviously wants the player to make use of the biotech powers since they’re a main feature, yet there are never pivotal instances where using them is vital to advancement. Also, taxing puzzles can be blasted through or ice-picked around, and there always seems to be an alternative that doesn’t require biotech powers. The deficiencies in level design seem to be Snowblind’s biggest fault, as the average gamer will have no problem speeding through its 11 missions. It really is a shame, since the missions have genuine variety in environmental design and art aesthetic; but, ultimately, they’re simply too short. In keeping with the environments, the rest of the graphics are similarly well done. Players will probably feel a familiar reminiscence of Halo 2, and the efficient use of the famed lazy-eyed battle blur featured in Full Spectrum Warrior does wonders to enhance Snowblind’s war-torn cityscapes.
Admittedly, if the player has the imagination, then the game has the goods. Mixing and matching different abilities will garner deserved reward: one encounter had me activating the cloak to sneak past a sentry bot and enemy soldiers patrolling a bridge. Creeping to a safe spot, I whipped out the Ice Pick and hacked into the sentry, turning it against the soldiers before walking it off the bridge to a messy end. Completely free of opposition, I breezed, self-satisfied, across the bridge into the game’s next encounter.
If the best way to play Project: Snowblind is with the human mind in mind, it’s a good thing the developers included full Xbox Live support. The interesting class-based multiplayer offers a different flavor from main competitor Halo 2, adding its own touches with a respectable list of gameplay modes. Successful play requires a new level of proficiency outside of that set in the campaign mode, giving players much more replay value after finishing the brief single-player experience. This is a point worth noting seeing as you’re unlikely to return to the single player campaign – this reviewer clocked in completion after around 8 hours.
Then again, if the variety and solid execution of Snowblind draws you in, replaying the single-player mode could provide a reasonable amount of extended play. Whether you love it, hate it, or love to hate it, one thing must be conceded – Project: Snowblind may not be the finest shooter on the block, but it’s certainly an adept, competent entry into the already crowded FPS market.