Project: Snowblind Preview
Crystal Dynamics' futuristic shooter will put you in the shoes of cybersoldier Nathan Frost as he fights in war-torn Hong Kong.
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Over the years, first-person shooters have grown in complexity from simple run-and-gun killfests to fully developed adventures replete with cinematic elements, environmental interaction, and useful secondary abilities. Knocking down an endless line of targets no longer cuts it for the discerning shooter fan, yet a well-designed shooting model is essential to any good FPS. It's fortunate, then, that Eidos and Crystal Dynamics' upcoming shooter Project: Snowblind has both a solid, accessible action core and a huge number of peripheral abilities to use against your enemies. We've spent some time with a work-in-progress build of the game, which is scheduled to ship in late February, and so far have been left with a favorable impression.
In Project: Snowblind, you'll take control of Nathan Frost, a second lieutenant in the Liberty Coalition Army. Frost and his comrades are dispatched to Hong Kong, where a brutal war against a marauding general and his evil republic is being waged. In the game's brief introductory mission, you'll take part in a raging battle against invading enemy forces set inside ancient temple grounds. Just when the dust seems to have settled, an unexpected enemy bomb ruins Frost's day by nearly killing him, and the game cuts to a cinematic sequence from Frost's perspective as he fades in and out of consciousness while doctors work to save his life inside a military hospital.
As it turns out, the doctors were doing more to Frost than simply trying to resuscitate him. When you come to, your heads-up display has some new elements, which is your first clue that the military has made Frost the prototype model for a new form of technologically augmented supersoldier. As you roam around the base, you'll quickly be introduced to the initial abilities you've been granted, but Coalition Command wastes no time putting Frost and his new toys to the test by sending him out on his first mission. You'll have time to get a feel for the basic controls and interface in the hospital, but you'll have to learn how to best use your various combat and secondary abilities under fire.
The core of the game's action revolves around shooting, and Snowblind puts a sizable futuristic arsenal at your disposal. You'll begin with the standard assortment of an assault rifle, a pistol, a shotgun, and so on, and you'll soon pick up a rocket launcher to use against armored targets. Each weapon has an alternate fire mode--you can charge the pistol for a more powerful shot, fire a grenade from the assault rifle's launcher, or shoot sticky bombs from the shotgun. Later on in the game, you'll start to find more-advanced weaponry, like the flechette gun, which shoots a rapid-fire particle stream, or the HERF gun, which you can use to zap multiple enemies. The alternate fire modes for some of the later guns are pretty imaginative--for example, the flechette's alternate fire sends out a flurry of drones that will actually chase down unsuspecting soldiers, which can make for a fairly comical effect.
You'll also have a range of secondary equipment to aid you in battle. The "icepick" looks like a small pistol but actually fires a spike that can interface with computers and some robots. Once you've successfully hit a target with the icepick, you can switch to a hacking interface that lets you disable automated security, open doors, or whatever the case may be. You'll even be able to overload or take control of some robots with this hacking ability. With the kinetic kicker, you can exploit the game's physics system with the ability to push and pull loose objects in the world. This comes in handy for grabbing items, like health and bioenergy power-ups, that are too far away for you to get to physically.
A number of other combat items will come in handy throughout combat. The deployable riot wall is an energy shield that you can toss down in any unobstructed area to create some temporary cover against enemy fire. The spiderbot is a small mobile robot with heavy firepower that can help you out when you're up against too many foes. Finally, you'll have an assortment of grenades at your disposal, from standard frag and flashbang grenades to an EMP grenade that'll knock out nearby electronics.
Of course, Frost wouldn't be much of a supersoldier if he had to rely entirely on external equipment to fight against the overwhelming odds of the Republic. Fortunately, he has some nifty special abilities built right into his internal hardware. Read about those next.
Tricks up Your Sleeve
When you first come to in the hospital, the doctors will tell you about your first augmentation, enhanced vision. This mod serves two purposes: It acts as standard night vision to allow you to see your surroundings better, and it also paints enemies a bright yellow color, which makes them much easier to target (and it even works through walls). The doctors tell you that not all your systems could be brought online, though, and you'll begin to pick up more advanced abilities as you continue on through the game. Soon afterward you'll pick up "reflex boost," which is a slow-motion effect that gives you more time to react to enemy attacks and deliver strikes of your own. Naturally, the use of these abilities is governed by your store of bioenergy, which replenishes slowly when no ability is being used.
Some of your abilities will be geared toward all-out combat, such as the ballistic shield, which absorbs damage from enemy attacks, but drains your bioenergy slowly over time and also draws on that energy in larger chunks when you're hit. As for offensive abilities, the electrical storm ability fires an electrical charge that you can use to fry an enemy right in front of you. Not all of Snowblind's missions will have you throwing the full brunt of your firepower at the enemy, though--in some levels, you'll be tasked with infiltrating the enemy position stealthily, and being discovered will make your life a whole lot more difficult. In those situations, the cloak ability will come in handy, since it lets you move around while invisible to enemy soldiers. You'll have to do so quietly, though, since using a weapon will disengage the cloak and leave you open to attack.
In the post-Halo age, most first-person shooters attempt to create both a cohesive single-player experience and a strong, varied multiplayer mode, and Project: Snowblind won't disappoint in this department. The game will support up to 16 players on both the PS2 and the Xbox, and it'll offer a lot more than a re-creation of the campaign mode with more players thrown in. Snowblind's multiplayer gives you a number of classes, such as grunt, sniper, and scout, and the class you choose will determine your starting weapons loadout. The expected deathmatch and team deathmatch modes are here, of course, along with capture the flag and a variant called fast CTF that will allow you to score even if your own flag isn't in its place.
A number of other modes will be available in the multiplayer mode as well, such as hunter, which is a sort of "kill the man with the ball" game in which the guy with the ball just happens to be invisible and have all available abilities equipped. The quick demolition mode drops a bomb somewhere on the map and has both teams vying to drop it in the other's base to score. Finally, assault mode has you trying to destroy the other team's generator inside its base, while tactical assault adds an extra layer of complexity by requiring you to hack a network of control nodes to bring down the generator's shields before you can damage it. Needless to say, multiplayer fans ought to have plenty of gameplay to chew on if they decide to take Snowblind online.
Snowblind is using a custom engine developed by Crystal Dynamics, and the game is coming together with strong graphics and a consistently gritty, futuristic aesthetic that fits in well with the setting and storyline. The maps seem to do a good job of evoking the plot's war-torn urban battlefields, and the action is fast and furious amid the broken buildings and piles of rubble. Perhaps most impressive, the PS2 version of the game looks just about as good as the Xbox version, with many of the same special effects, such as reflections and light blooms, intact. Light blooming is fast becoming the most frequently overused graphical effect, so it's nice to see that Snowblind generally uses it in a tasteful way that's not too overstated. We've been impressed by the cutscenes we've seen so far as well. The sequence in which Frost is rushed into the hospital is overlaid with a dreamlike, detached narration that helps to set up the backstory in a subtle manner.
The first couple of months of the year are typically a slow period for game releases, so Project: Snowblind seems well timed to tickle the fancy of shooter fans who have grown tired of Halo and the other first-person shooters that were released in 2004. The game is set to ship toward the end of February, but we'll bring you more information on it before that time.