Second Sight marks the second major action-game-with-psychic-powers release this year; the first was Midway's Psi-Ops: The Mindgate Conspiracy. Just because it's not first out of the gate doesn't make Second Sight an also-ran, though. Developer Free Radical has imbued the game with an interesting storyline and satisfying gameplay that blend to create a rewarding experience with its own unique identity. Despite a few rough patches, Second Sight proves to be an entertaining ride while it lasts.
You'll take control of John Vattic, a battered amnesiac that awakens in a medical facility with no clue of how he got there or why he's so banged up. Pretty soon, Vattic figures out he has got an array of nifty psychic powers at his disposal, so he sets out to discover how he ended up in this state and why so many shady characters seem to be after him. The game uses a neat (and effective) narrative device that tells two parallel, intertwined stories. In every other level, you'll flash back six months to Vattic's involvement in Operation Winter Ice, a secret mission to investigate the doings of a crazed scientist in Russia. The way the game feeds you small morsels of the backstory as you play through the events of the present makes for a compelling plot that fosters a genuine desire to find out more about what's going on.
In gameplay terms, Second Sight is essentially a stealth action game with nifty psychic powers included. Vattic can back up against walls and peer around corners; sneak up quietly and knock out an oblivious enemy; or go for a headshot with a tranquilizer pistol to silently eliminate a foe from afar. But then he can also use his telekinesis to fling objects (and enemies) around the room or project an astral version of himself to traverse areas that aren't accessible to his corporeal body. Other powers include a simple healing effect, a psychic attack projectile, and the extremely useful charm, which renders you invisible to enemies (but not security cameras) for a short period. The game does a good job of presenting you with situations where using your mind powers or shooting a bunch of guns are equally viable strategies.
Free Radical has a lot of experience with shooters--TimeSplitters has been its biggest property to date--so it's fitting that the shooting in Second Sight is well-implemented. You'll be able to pick up an assortment of pistols, shotguns, assault rifles, and sniper rifles from enemies, and the game provides a loose auto-targeting system that lets you fine-tune your aim for headshots. There's also a useful sniper-rifle effect that pops up your scope in the lower right corner rather than switching you to a disorienting first-person view. The psychic powers are a lot of fun to use in both puzzle and combat situations, but it's nice that the game lets you fall back on good, solid firearms if that's how you want to play.
What's also fortunate is that, with a few exceptions, you're not hitched too tightly to the stealth yoke. Many times (depending on the mission), you'll be free to shoot up an entire room, then lay low till the alarm ends and you can go on your way. Some levels do require you to be secretive, punishing you with an endless and overwhelming force of enemies if you're caught. But just as often, you'll get to run in with guns (and brain) blazing if you're itching to get your action fix. Having a choice between the two styles of play makes the game more interesting.
There's a little more to do in most of the game's 17 levels than just shoot or mind-zap enemies. Several levels introduce a buddy mechanic that sees you fighting alongside one or more friendly non-player characters, and one of these levels even has you leading around and protecting a member of Winter Ice who has lost her mind. You'll also tap into computers a number of times throughout the game, and Free Radical has devised a simple graphical interface for them that, at the appropriate time, lets you read e-mails, copy files to disk, control doors and security cameras, and even play a couple of bare-bones arcade games. This may sound trivial, but it's far more gratifying than running up to a terminal and just hitting the "use" button. A fair number of the puzzles fall into the old standby "throw a switch" or "take an item from point A to B" categories; however, in this game, the designers often find interesting ways to work your psychic powers into the solutions, which keeps the game fresh.
Second Sight has got some cool ideas, as well as some noticeable shortcomings. In general, things feel a little rough around the edges. The physics model is functional but shoddy; objects will occasionally continue to move indefinitely or pass through walls after you've bumped them; the enemy artificial intelligence isn't extremely bright; at times it's unrealistically easy to evade foes after an alarm has been sounded, while at other times it seems like you've been caught for no reason. None of these problems are glaring enough to detract from the game in a significant way, but together they do lessen its impact.
If you've played any games in the TimeSplitters series, you'll recognize the many stylistic similarities that are present in Second Sight. The character models are chiefly responsible for this, as they feature caricatured, cartoonlike qualities that give them a lot of personality, especially in the many cutscenes. What really brings the characters to life are their expressive facial and bodily animations--they emote really well, with an exaggerated manner that's consistent with their features. You'll get a lot of variety (if not overwhelming detail) in the backdrops, too, as you travel from Dubrensk, Russia to various locales in the United States. The game eschews lots of fancy graphical effects in favor of a clean look, which is pretty similar across all platforms. On the Xbox and GameCube, you'll get a higher frame rate, but one that's not as consistent (that is, the slowdown is more evident). If you want to select a version to play, you should base your choice on whichever system's controller you like the best, since all three look and play more or less the same.
Second Sight is story driven and has a lot of cutscenes, so naturally there's a lot of spoken dialogue. Fortunately, the quality of the acting is reasonably high. Some characters sound more natural or appropriate than others, but overall this is like what you'd hear in the average animated series. The music is quite good in the places where it successfully lends a slightly sinister mood to Vattic's harried quest for the truth. The sound effects are also of a high quality. Whoever came up with the sounds for the psychic powers deserves credit for making them sound convincing, since there's not exactly a frame of reference for what they should sound like.
Second Sight is a respectable single-player adventure that shows Free Radical is capable of making more than just first-person shooters. It's got some flaws and it's not very long or replayable--you'll probably finish it in 12 to 15 hours, without much incentive to go back to the beginning--but it's fun while it lasts.