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Project: Snowblind

We guide Frosty the Snowblind man through the first half of his chilly sci-fi adventures in the PS2 version of Crystal Dynamics' shooter.

Dark blue icons of video game controllers on a light blue background
Image credit: Eurogamer

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As promising as Snowblind has looked and sounded over the past nine months or so, you'd have to be Timmy Mallet after a particularly severe Tartrazine overdose on the sunniest day of the year not to be slightly suspicious at the presence of another videogame prefixed with the word 'Project'. Eden, Gotham, Zero, Rub, X, Nomads, Entropia, Earth, Justice have all Projected upon us, and now it's Snowblind's turn to join the merry throng. But even though most of those have served the Project word just fine, we'll just settle for Snowblind, thanks.

Originally conceived as a more action-oriented spin-off of the Deus Ex series, it was evident fairly early on that Snowblind had more than enough going for it to stand on its on biomechanically augmented two feet without the aid of a franchise name that - commercially at least - hasn't set the charts on fire perhaps as much as the critical reverence would have us believe.

Project: push the PS2

And as such, although Snowblind is a far more conventionally linear sci-fi action shooter, it succeeds by giving the player far more experimental opportunity than most through a pleasingly diverse selection of weapons and tactics, while keeping the overall task at hand manageable and focussed. Having perhaps the best technology the PS2 has seen in the FPS genre doesn't hurt its cause, either. But more about that later.

Kicking off on August 23rd, 2065 in Kowloon, Hong Kong, you take command of 2nd Lieutenant Nathan Frost, defending an architecturally stunning courtyard from wave after wave of hostiles intent on destabilising the region and spreading terror across the world. It's pretty standard FPS fare at this stage: a range of powerful weapons, gun emplacements, grenades, a radar screen displaying friendlies, enemies and your next waypoint, comrades barking orders. You've seen it before, but the level of technical achievement going on somehow makes the spectacle very impressive and enjoyable. How they're doing all this on a PS2 is something fellow developers will be puzzling over very soon.

But gameplay wise, this is nothing more than a ruse. A false start. After what appears to be a successful mission, a giant missile falls from the sky and blows the whole regiment to smithereens in a massive blue EMP burst that leaves no chance of escape. With Frost and co. apparently dead, that would appear to be that. We expected the inevitable reload menu. But it was just the beginning (he said with his best Movie Man voice). "You are the future of war, the future of man". (How could you not say that sentence without your best manly deep, cigarette-ravaged voice?).

Project: nick the best ideas from Half-Life

The game then cuts to Frost's defocused, semiconscious perspective, lying prostrate on a stretcher being wheeled into what appears to be a hospital ward for emergency treatment, while medical staff chatter relentlessly above him. It's all very reminiscent of the Half-Life way of doing things, giving the player a few degrees of head movement in either direction to allow you to watch the blurred world whirl around you while chattering colleagues spout soothing words to maintain a stimulus. An exceptionally stylish intro, it has to be noted.

From there it's clear that Frost has been given a second chance as some sort of biomechanically enhanced super soldier. Implanted with a series of Augmentations, you've been told that it'll take a while for all of them to come online, paving the way for a conveniently delayed upgrade system that kicks in as the game progresses through 11 levels of sci-fi shooting mayhem.

After a few minutes of (more Half-Life-inspired) corridor wandering, chatting to the odd scientist and fellow soldier, you grab the game's basic weapons, the Pistol and Carbine, along with a pseudo Gravity Gun, the Kinetic Kicker (hold R1 to push objects, R2 to pull), and after hacking into the security system with the Ice Pick you march straight back into frontline action.

Project: do all the dirty work

From thereon through most of the first few levels you're acting as the lynchpin for a squad of soldiers, doing the dirty work of deactivating security systems, destroying giant EMP cannons, providing suppressing fire and generally kicking enormous amounts of arse, ducking and diving through shattered buildings, crawling through ventilation ducts, and all the things we've come to expect from this increasingly saturated genre.

But just when Snowblind appears to be in grave danger of being A.N Other shooter, another augmentation comes online to offer you another way of playing the game. To begin with, these aren't especially inspiring, but soon ramp up. Vision lets you see through walls, so blundering into the line of fire is never a problem if you're low on health, Reflex Boost is Snowblind's Bullet Time, Ballistic Shielding makes you immune to enemy fire, while Cloaking makes you invisible. But all of these augmentations (selectable via the D-pad, and turned on or off with triangle) drain your limited reserves of biomechanical energy and will switch off as soon as this runs out. You can, however, recharge it with the numerous pickups littering each level. Health works in the same way, while mid-level save stations give you the opportunity to record your progress as and when you see fit. But even if you do get well and truly owned, each level also provides a second chance in the form of a Nanoboost, which enables you to carry on even when you've been killed. Pleasingly, it's not the kind of frustrating game which forces you repeat vast sections arbitrarily. It wants you to keep playing, but could also be accused of being slightly on the easy side - in less than three hours we'd already romped through the opening six levels.

But there appears to be plenty of promise of the game offering much more than the opening few levels suggest. By the sixth level, things were really starting to kick off, with Frost now able to commandeer vehicles and dodge the gunfire at high speed, or jack into the combat robots and turn them against the enemy. Occasionally the game suggests a more stealthy approach, but it's really up to you how you go about it, and so far the wealth of possibilities have been the most appealing aspect. Sure, you can sneak around hacking all the cameras and turning off the sentry guns and trip wires off, but the point is you don't have to. It just makes things more challenging that way.

Project: tool me up like the hardest mofo that ever lived

With the arrival of Spider Bot grenades that creep around looking for something to blow up, and Riot Wall grenades that provide a huge blast shield, Snowblind is a game that's starting to deliver on some of its promise for us after a slow-ish start. We have to admit, we're big fans of anything that makes the enemies look like mugs [oi -Mugs], and we're especially happy to note just how well they lurch back when killed. Always a winner.

Visually, there's never any doubt that it has what it takes, and seems to push the PS2 for fun with a dazzling firework display of very impressive visual effects. Our favourite (and most annoying) is the way the enemy Spider Bots screw up your sight, or the wobbly gloss effect of Cloaking, or the wonderful heat and particle effects that surround you at every turn, or the individual bullet holes every shot leaves. There are too many to mention, in truth, and Crystal Dynamics have really pushed what the humble PS2 can do beyond expectations with little in the way of compromise. Sure, there may be no 16:9 mode, but there's also no slowdown, and in general the amount of variety on show kicks the likes of Killzone so far into touch you'll wonder why anyone got worked up about it in the first place.

But with the most important half of the single-player game yet to come, and the 16-player multiplayer mode (complete with DM, CTF and voice over IP) also figuring large in our thoughts, the jury's still out on Snowblind. Whether it can develop into a must-have, we'll let you know just prior to the game's release on 4th March.

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