The psychically powered adventure Second Sight was released last September on the three major consoles, and now it's hitting the PC with the same story and gameplay, better graphics, and a budget-minded price. Developer Free Radical is more famously known for twitchy first-person shooters than involved action adventure games, but the team has imbued this one 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 who 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 useful 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 Vattic 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 until 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.
Second Sight has been mapped surprisingly well to the PC's keyboard-and-mouse control scheme. Auto-targeting is as easy as holding the right mouse button and flicking the mouse between targets, and once an enemy has been targeted, you can slide the crosshair up toward the enemy's head for a quick kill. You can scroll through your weapons and psychic powers quickly with a mousewheel, and it's easy to maneuver Vattic with the WASD key configuration. The camera is mouse-controlled and has a habit of hitting walls, which can temporarily skew your perspective, but for the most part it's easy to get used to and works out nicely.
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 of the console TimeSplitters games, 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 now even cleaner on the PC. In addition to the higher resolution and frame rate that you'll get on modern PC hardware, the textures and special effects look sharper, helping the game stay more or less consistent with contemporary PC games even though it started out on consoles.
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. Better yet, the game is available on the PC for only $20, which we think is a pretty fair price for a weekend's worth of solid action.