Hidden Gem Reviews: Second Sight
Title: SECOND SIGHT
Platform: XBOX, PS2, GAMECUBE, PC
Genre: 3RD PERSON ACTION/STEALTH
Developer: FREE RADICAL DESIGN
Second Sight is a single player 3rd person action game with stealth elements from the same folks who brought us the legendary FPS series TimeSplitters. It is largely unknown because of the poor and unfortunate timing of its initial release. Second Sight landed in September of 2004, around the same time as a similar game which sadly overshadowed it – Psi-Ops: The Mindgate Conspiracy (another hidden gem) and perhaps less so – Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow, a superior stealth sequel in an already well established and popular series.
Second Sight began life as Free Radicals very first game, around the time of Second Sight’s inception Sony was hard at work on their next console over in Japan, the PlayStation 2. When Sony announced the PS2 was to be delayed, Free Radical saw an opportunity to create an early multiplayer title for Sony’s second console, one that was less story intensive. This resulted in Second Sight being put on hold and the creation of the TimeSplitters series which kickstarted one of the best-loved FPS series to date.
It does make me wonder what could have been if Second Sight was Free Radicals sole focus in these early days. Second Sight may have gained more exposure by predating those other titles that had greatly overshadowed it, which may have resulted in several sequels by now. Another cause of Second Sight’s delayed release was the sudden departure of its original publisher very late in its development, eventually, it would be British publisher and developer Codemasters who would enthusiastically get on board.
Also, Second Sight had a somewhat troubled development, the Free Radical development team had become well versed in the creation of first-person shooters with two TimeSplitters games under their belt, and as their first 3rd person action game, Second Sight was somewhat of a gradual protracted learning process. All these delays meant that Second Sight got little exposure before release, despite Codemasters best efforts to promote the game.
Story and Setting
Second Sight’s narrative is one of it’s finer aspects, its intriguing story was co-written by TimeSplitters creator and Free Radical Design co-founder David Doak, who also wrote the story for N64 classic GoldenEye007 and co-designed its spiritual successor Perfect Dark.
So, with a desire to not spoil anything for you, the story goes as forth – The player takes on the role of Dr. John Vattic in a story with dual timelines, both from the viewpoint of the fine doctor. These are flashback stages with a healthy scientific skeptic Vattic, and another starring a not so healthy Vattic who ironically discovers he possesses awesome psychic powers.
In the game’s opening chapter, a bandaged and bruised Vattic awakes in a secure recovery room in an unknown facility. Suffering memory loss he escapes his confines following a shocking discovery, he can perform Telekinesis.
His escape does not go unnoticed, soon the entire building is on high alert and Vattic has to utilise his newfound power to defeat, outwit and avoid those who wish to hinder his escape and later find some answers as to how he obtained or who gave him these powers and why?
Second Sight’s gameplay is a nice blend of 3rd person all out shooting action and stealth missions where Vattic wields psychic powers to defeat enemies and navigate locations like research facilities, psychiatric hospitals or a mysterious village in Syberia (or should that be “Psyberia”?)
The 3rd person shooting missions function a lot like your standard cover shooter, with the ability to freely aim or lock on and cycle through near or distant targets which makes you look like an epic sharpshooter when you equip a sniper rifle. Overall, the shooting mechanics are well designed, easy to control, and fun. While locked on the player can gently move the aiming reticle making those finely tuned headshots all the sweeter.
While shooting is good and basic controls are fine I can’t say the same for Second Sight’s camera controls. Players have the option to switch between a freely controlled 360-degree camera or fixed perspective, in some areas, one can be better than the other but both come with their issues. Fixed perspective by its very nature is limiting and creates blind spots, the alternative is more versatile yet can feel floaty and awkward to control especially in smaller confines. Of course, the camera annoyingly gets trapped around a corner or a door.
Another relatively minor issue I can point to in this otherwise solid game is the way in which the player has to select their psychic power of choice. It bothers me a little that although the human mind can function almost instantaneously (at least for some of us), Vattic still has to scroll through his arsenal of psychic powers one by one to select the one that is deemed suitable for the given scenario. I think a series of different button combinations would be more instantaneous and therefore realistic here, once again this is by no means a game-breaking issue.
Like almost all games, the player gains powers as they progress, these include telekinesis, electrokinesis, mind control, astral projection, even self-healing and illusions like invisibility. Part of the fun of Second Sight is unlocking these super duper mind powers and experimenting with all the ways you can manipulate your environment and screw with your enemies. Powers are unlocked in scenes when Vattic encounters an unsurpassable obstacle or he finds himself in peril. For example, Invisibility is unlocked in a scene when Vattic is cornered by an approaching guard with nowhere else to hide.
Level designs are varied and provide many opportunities to utilise these different powers to see what works, though it can be quite tricky at times to utilise these powers effectively and you may find yourself bumbling through certain sections while getting shot from all angles until you can hide somewhere, the level of alarm reduces and you can try again. Though on my 2nd and 3rd playthroughs, I found myself more capable of navigating certain areas with a lot more success.
Speaking of navigating, there is something so wonderful about the animation of Vattic or anyone under the player’s control. As characters trot along their movements are smooth, quite realistic and it’s generally fun to control them, this is quite a small thing yet it compliments a game that is already fun to play where controls are pretty solid. That is if you disregard the comical stairway animations (pump those crazy legs!)
One of my favourite albeit minor touches found in Second Sight are the occasional and immersive moments when Vattic interacts with a computer and responds in real time to the many things that appear on the screen. This adds to the immersion and stealth feel of the game and is something that I would love to see more of in other stealth games such as Splinter Cell. The pause menu functions a similar way, resembling a PDA with a movable mouse icon with applications and folders representing game information and options.
Visuals and Audio
The art style of Second Sight continues that unique signature TimeSplitters look. Cutscenes are entertaining and watchable with solid voice acting, levels have nice details and overall the game has a top-notch presentation. Facial animations are particularly impressive.
Second Sight’s soundtrack is composed by another of the TimeSplitters team, Graeme Norgate, who like David Doak is a founder of Free Radical Design. It’s well composed cinematic sci-fi soundtrack fits the overall feel and look of the game.
My only significant criticism of Second Sight is its difficulty, I have previously mentioned that it can be tricky navigating certain obstacles and areas slickly and coolly that which a game like this would demand. This certainly can be a challenge as you may frequently trip alarms or bump into guards. Yet this isn’t so much a hurdle as Vattic gains the ability to self-heal very early on, and even without this, he can virtually drink bullets. Not only that, as with all games that involve powers, usage is restricted by a gauge, yet Vattic’s psychic power gauge replenishes perhaps just a little too quickly.
- THE GOOD
- Dark, Deep and Intriguing story
- Psychic powers + Ragdolls = LOL
- Multiple abilities offer alternate solutions to puzzles, obstacles and missions
- Varied locations and missions
- A solid blend of all out action and stealth based missions
- Smooth animations with that classic TimeSplitters visual style
- Team TimeSplitters nail 3rd person shooting too
- THE BAD
- It’s no Splinter Cell
Those looking for an A+ stealth title should look elsewhere. For fans of the TimeSplitters series and those looking for a fun 3rd person action game with a great story to tell, Second Sight may be one that you overlooked.