Second Sight

Review by Old Rooster
January 2005

Within the next few weeks, PC owners will be able to enjoy one of the more intriguing titles to be released for all three consoles this season. The publisher is to be commended for not only creating a PC version, but also dropping the price of its console releases to $19.99 very shortly after introduction. Second Sight is a "sleeper hit," and one of the best values on the shelves today, whichever version you choose. Let's take a look.

"Why Can't I Remember Anything?" —John Vattic

"The pain ... the unbearable pain ... my head is about to explode ... I'm Vattic, John Vattic ... the light is too bright ... it's burning ... where am I? What has happened? What have they done to me? Why can't I remember?"

Poor John. He sounds a bit like me when I wake up in the morning. But our hero, John Vattic, has a quite different level of problem than this Old Rooster ever experiences (well, except once, when the wife was particularly upset). He's strapped down, in a hospital-type setting, and overhears attendants saying some quite dreadful things about him—as in, "Be careful with that one," and "He's a psycho killer." As John's head begins to clear, his straps break mysteriously loose and, after wandering around his room a bit, he discovers an ability—telekinesis—allowing him to unlock his door as well as throw some furniture around the attached office.

Second Sight, which some might call a shooter but I would view more as an action/adventure, weaves a very involving and inventive tale of an amnesiac rediscovering himself. In doing so, John realizes he has been subjected to traumatic surgery and experimentation, finds he has incredible powers, becomes aware of the urgency to get out of his imprisonment, and has flashbacks that become all too real, even to the extent of affecting his present situation!

"I've Got to Get out of Here" —John

Second Sight is controlled from a third-person, over-the-shoulder perspective. On my Cube, I found movement smooth and responsive, but with some problems in the way of camera placement difficulty. Two difficulty levels are offered, normal and challenging. Subtitles are available, a boon to our hearing-impaired friends. Save points, automatically activated, are not as plentiful as I would like. A first-person view can be triggered, used mostly for easier room panning and peeking around corners.

As John experiences an "attack," his health diminishes. This can be replenished by using a first-aid kit, finding a friendly medic, or, most dramatically, employing psi power! As John (you, the player) moves though the game and self-discovery, not only are prosaic weapons found, but also a range of psi powers are sequentially remembered, just in time for best use. These include:

  • Telekinesis—Move an object by "focusing thoughts." This attribute grows in strength from shifting a desktop PC to the floor to heaving a person out of a window.
  • Pulse—Project a nasty ball of energy at an opponent. This is very consuming of your own health.
  • Charm—Essentially an invisibility cloak.
  • Projection—Leaving the body to possess and control the body of another (cf. a wonderful old game: Messiah).

Of course, as you may imagine, using these powers can sap John's energy, and he will often need a quiet place to recover without exposing himself as a target during that vulnerable time. Once everything is opened and available to John, the repertoire of weapons and powers can be accessed with the pause button, which opens a menu. This also gives John access to map views, computer terminals, and his PDA, sometimes a vital source of information.

If this begins to sound a bit complex, it is, at least for a while. Second Sight has a running tutorial that eases you into the weaving threads of the storyline as well as the psi abilities and character control. However, in spite of this, I found the learning curve rather high, with it taking about two hours for me to feel really comfortable with the rhythm and flow of managing the game. A couple of times, I was ready to throw in the towel, but what kept me going was the story and wondering "what's around the next corner?" I'm very glad I persevered.

Not many games offer a "Morality Rating." Early on, John has a classic choice of sneaking or shooting (cf. Metal Gear Solid and Splinter Cell), with this alternative commonly offered throughout the game. Indeed, frequently you'll have a choice of stealth, gunplay, or inventive use of psi powers to accomplish your objectives. You don't always have to kill the guards; you can sneak around them. This option and subsequent "rating" doesn't seem to affect the script or outcome one way or the other, but it is interesting.

What does seem to affect the script, though, and is absolutely fascinating, is the use of a flashback approach to the recovery of John's memory. Reminiscent of Shadow of Destiny (but without alternate endings), about half of the evolving story—how John got to his current status and what happens next—is not only told but played in the past, in essence a dual narrative. This past gives us a character without much of his current power, but also offers decisions and choices that not only reveal the present but affect and even change it! Once that control learning curve is overcome, the 17 levels open in atmospheric and suspenseful fashion.

Being particularly concerned about "spoiler" comments, there are some significant aspects of the game, especially related to story flow and twists, that I'm not referencing here. I don't want to spoil your fun of discovery!

"What and Where Is this Place?" —John

The developers of Second Sight also created TimeSplitters 2, with the graphic engine clearly being an update of that fine effort. Shooter fans will be pleased by the impact of shots and, especially, the special effects associated with psi powers. Character modeling is well done, with good facial animations. The environment is generally interactive—throwing those PCs around with telekinesis can be quite satisfying, and less expensive than doing it in real life. Locations, ranging from a Vermont asylum to New York City to the icefields of Siberia, look detailed and realistic.

It's the terrific script and voice acting, though, that lift Second Sight well beyond the realm of a "gimmicky shooter," which had been my initial impression. You care about John and want to help him somehow clear his mind and resolve his gut-wrenching dilemma. The language (Teen rating) can be rough, but it is what you'd expect within the context of the game. Background musical themes are well-done and appropriate to the settings. Sound effects are dead-on, sometimes literally!

Uncover Your Past ... Face Your Future

Second Sight brings us one of the best console game stories of the year. It's beautifully scripted and acted, with twists and turns that will leave you guessing, surprised, and desirous of playing to the next step. Even though the game may be viewed from one perspective as a sneaker/shooter, it also offers the unique gameplay option of solving puzzles and progressing by using creative psi abilities. Although camera/control problems, targeting difficulties, learning curve, and insufficient save points bring my rating down a bit, I still would highly recommend Second Sight to any action gaming fan willing to venture beyond the ordinary.

What I Liked About the Game

  • Story, scripting and acting are top-notch;
  • The choice of multiple tactics is fun;
  • Using psi abilities is creative and entertaining;
  • The graphic engine is excellent.

Reservations I Had About the Game

  • The learning curve was high, at least for me;
  • Controls can sometimes be imprecise;
  • Infrequent save points require long periods of play and related repetition when killed during a level. The End

The Verdict

The Lowdown

Developer: Free Radical Design
Publisher: Codemasters
Release Date: September 2004 (to be released for PC on February 15, 2005)

Available for: PlayStation 2 Game Cube Xbox Windows

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System Requirements

Windows XP/2000
DirectX 9.0c
Pentium III or Athlon at 1GHz (Pentium 4 at 2GHz or AthlonXP 2000+ recommended)
256 MB RAM (512 MB recommended)
Supported graphics card: ATi Radeon 8500, 9000, 9100, 9200, 9500, 9600, 9700, 9800, X600, X800; nVidia GeForce 3 Ti200/Ti500, GeForce4 MX420/ MX440, Ti4200/ Ti4600, GeForce FX5200/ FX5600/ FX5700/ FX5800/ FX5900/FX5950, GeForce 6800GT. Not compatible with all integrated sound/graphics solutions (including laptops).
DirectX 9 compatible sound card
8x CD-ROM drive (32x recommended)
1 GB freee hard disk space

Where to Find It

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