Players take the role of a futuristic super soldier to battle the forces of an oppressive regime in this original cross-platform shooter by Eidos' mainstay studio Crystal Dynamics. Set about 60 years in the future, the game follows the heavily armed adventures of Lt. Nathan Frost, who began as just another infantry soldier in the internationally sponsored Liberty Coalition. When a battlefield explosion nearly kills him, Frost's body is rebuilt through a highly experimental procedure. He survives, and comes away stronger, faster, and better than before, enhanced with the potential for a number of superhuman powers and abilities. He is soon sent back into action, where he can put these special augmentations to good use.
Initially conceived as a new game set in the Deus Ex universe, Project: Snowblind was developed to combine the frontline, first-person action brought out in contemporary World War II-based shooters with the non-linear setting of a science fiction adventure. The game eventually developed an identity all its own, however, and plays out in a near-future setting where a wide variety of imaginative weapons may be mastered, and a selection of high-tech vehicles are available for both transportation and assault runs. The single-player game spans 11 multi-part missions set in 16 different locations, including repurposed theaters, abandoned temples, and a large, urban wasteland. A number of online multiplayer modes are supported for Internet-connected gamers.
"What the heck just happened?" It's a question you'll probably ask a lot during Project: Snowblind, not because the game is confusing but because it's a rollercoaster of fast futuristic combat. You'll find a lot of similarities to the Deus Ex universe in this game about a soldier with cybernetic augmentations who hacks lots of security terminals, and other bits will remind you countless other sci-fi and military shooters. But you don't have to be daringly original to be good. Project: Snowblind shows how the right combination of existing ideas, coupled with superb pacing, can make for an exciting shooter.
Project: Snowblind takes a cue from the James Bond films and starts off with an explosive set piece, leaving most of the exposition for later. You're Nathan Frost, a soldier in a futuristic peace-keeping coalition that's trying to stop evil Republic forces from dragging the world into total chaos. You step off your transport chopper into a coalition base in China. Just then, enemy attack helicopters swoop in and starting raining down a hail of missiles. Everything goes to hell in a heartbeat as enemy troops burst into the compound, followed by fearsome combat droids.
This intro sequence does double duty, drawing you into the game world and acting as a tutorial. It's a credit to developer Crystal Dynamics that the intro never drags, even though the game pauses a number of times to explain how things work. In fact, the pacing is so tight that even though you do in fact have time to breathe, it sure doesn't feel like it. Instead you get one big action-packed adrenaline rush.
That rush comes to an abrupt halt when the enemy drops a bomb into your base courtyard, slamming you into a statue and turning your bones to jelly. Thank goodness this is the future, where medical technology is just as advanced as the weaponry. Coalition medics decide to give you the Six Million Dollar Man treatment, saving you from an early funeral by turning you into a cybernetic super-soldier. You get bionic augmentations that let you see through walls, cloak yourself from enemy view, engage a bullet-time slowdown to outmaneuver foes, erect a force field, and more. Of course, these only work for a limited time, and enemy EMP weapons can also render you "snowblind," turning the screen to static and reducing your bio-energy. "Snowblind" also refers to the Republic plot to detonate EMP weapons in major cities and return the world to the dark ages.
And that's a plot you're going to have to stop, working your way through a series of firefight and stealth missions to do it. That division isn't as clear cut as the game's manual would lead you to believe because there's plenty of action in the stealth missions, and if you do set off alarms, you can always just blast your way out of trouble with few problems, avoiding the annoying tedium where you have to keep restarting a level twenty times because some guard was mysteriously alerted to your presence.
The level goals will be familiar to any shooter fan: lead a squad of troops across a rubble-strewn war zone, shut down turrets firing on your men, sneak into the enemy computer center, free the prisoners, etc. All standard fare, but it works. Project: Snowblind's model pacing keeps the action flowing, with just enough down time to give you a tiny breather before the next encounter. Thanks to super-smooth level design and deft handling of scripted events, you don't have to waste time wandering the same level over and over in search of some obscure door or a hidden trigger for the next event. Everything is clear and totally intuitive, and for added measure, your HUD has a useful minimap and an optional set of 3D icons that show the exact direction of your next objective. Even the load times between levels are far shorter than most games these days, so you go from action to more action without boring waits.
There's actually a downside to game's fast pace. Things happen so quickly that the action can overwhelm any sense of storytelling. If you stop to think, you start to ask, "Why should I care about this Nathan Frost guy I play? Who the heck are these generic enemies I mow down before I can even good a good look at them?" Maybe it's just as well; when Project: Snowblind does slow to try and answer such things, it usually loosens its grip on you. The story just isn't interesting or memorable, nor are the interchangeable characters.
The exciting sense of momentum comes with another cost: the levels are quite linear, both in their physical layout and the order in which you complete objectives. But Project: Snowblind compensates for that by giving you tons of tactical choices. You gain access to one weapon after another, and you can carry as many as you want. You get to blast Republic troops with a pistol, carbine, rocket launcher, mine launcher, flechette gun, sniper rifle and more. Each has a secondary fire mode, too, so you almost need to take notes to remember what every gun can do. If that weren't enough, you get a bevy of grenades: frag, EMP, flashbang, poison gas, and even mini combat droids. And then there's a deployable riot shield and a gravity gun (one of the game's few missteps since it calls to mind Half-Life 2's innovative weapon without giving you the same wealth of memorable uses for it).
If you want to be devious instead of simply rushing into the fray and mowing down baddies with a shotgun, you can employ your augmentations to sneak right under their noses. You can also hack security systems to shut off alarms and turn defense turrets against the enemy. You can co-opt vehicles, too. It's a kick to steal a car and simply run over enemies, or take a Republic mech for a stroll, blasting bad guys to dust as they scurry around helplessly.
Project: Snowblind offers up nine class-based multiplayer modes, too. As with the single-player game, these modes (deathmatch, CTF, plant a bomb, etc.) don't really innovate, but they feature fun maps and take good advantage of the game's cool gadgets and vehicles. We found it easy to connect to servers, though lag could be a problem.
Project: Snowblind tends to be well balanced, offering challenges without much frustration. That's doubly important since the game uses a limited save point system. It would be nice if every game let players choose when they want to save; not everyone has the time or desire for lengthy, uninterrupted sessions. But at least Project: Snowblind offers a reasonable number of well-spaced fixed and optional save points (the latter in the forms of safe rooms you can revisit at will). Save point spacing and balancing only suffer a bit near the end of the game, where things can get frustratingly tough at times.
Another letdown with Project: Snowblind is its presentation. The visuals and audio are certainly competent, but other than a few cool visual effects, little of the design really stands out. The weapons, vehicles, and characters look and sound like they could have come from any old sci-fi setting. There's just not much character to it.
But that's not so bad. In this age when many developers spend most of their budgets on bells and whistles or licensed rock songs while forgetting the gameplay, Crystal Dynamics does it right by putting solid-as-a-rock gameplay first. Project: Snowblind may not break new ground, but it offers a superb sense of flow and pacing, exciting combat, and a treasure trove of weapons and gadgets. That's a formula for fun.
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