Project: Snowblind Updated Hands-On

Eidos shows off a new playable build of Crystal Dynamics' promising first-person shooter. We go hands-on.

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Crack skulls as tech-enhanced future soldier Nathan Frost in Project: Snowblind. Click "Stream for Free" for higher resolution.

We got an updated look at the previously elusive and newly rechristened Project: Snowblind at a recent Eidos press event. The game is under development at famed developer Crystal Dynamics, and, from our initial impressions, it looks to present an interesting mix of fancy special powers, intriguing plot, and good old-fashioned run-and-gun first-person-shooter action. Throw in some rather impressive visuals--not to mention a full multiplayer mode with online support for 16 players on both the PS2 and Xbox--and you have a shooter that ought to be well worth keeping an eye on.

Set in Hong Kong in 2065, Project: Snowblind casts you as Nathan Frost, a regular grunt who is mortally wounded and then transformed by the military's medical wizards into a supersoldier with a whole host of nifty technological powers. Crystal Dynamics representatives were mum about specific details on the storyline, but it's safe to assume that Frost will be involved in single-handedly taking on the bad guys and winning through to save the day. Well, he won't do everything single-handedly, because many of the game's missions (including two of the ones we played) give you substantial backup in the form of artificial intelligence-controlled regular soldiers who help fight off waves of well-armed enemy soldiers.

So, about those powers (and the guns, too)... In the demo levels we played, Frost was equipped with an impressive arsenal of weaponry, though we imagine that you won't necessarily have all of these weapons available at once. There were plenty of conventional FPS weapons on offer, such as an assault rifle (called the carbine), a shotgun, a sniper rifle, and so on. Unique weapons were included too, such as the kinetic kicker, which let us push or pull objects in the environment around with the power of physics, and the flechette, which shot some sort of particle projectile in rapid-fire fashion.

The game's urban levels effectively convey a sense of chaos during their hectic gun battles.
The game's urban levels effectively convey a sense of chaos during their hectic gun battles.

Each weapon in the game will have a secondary fire mode, and these run the gamut from the ordinary to the truly interesting. The carbine's secondary fire is a simple grenade launcher, for example, but the flechette uses what the developers have termed a "smart weapon" system whereby it fires a swarm of particles that then fly around and target any nearby enemies, eventually overtaking and killing them. We saw soldiers actually backing away from this cloud in fear before being consumed, which was a nice effect. There will be other such smart weapons in the game that will essentially act with their own intelligence to destroy your foes.

In addition to an assortment of expected grenades (frag and EMP, anybody?), we saw such equipment as a "spiderbot" that could be thrown as a grenade that would then unfold and walk around with you, helping you out by blowing away anybody in your path. Another interesting gadget in the grenade category is the riot wall, which literally erects a temporary barrier wherever you toss it, giving you some portable cover from the fire of enemies.

As mentioned, Frost has a set of superpowers enabled by his transformation that will give him a substantial leg up on the competition. One of these is a bullet time-like effect that gives the screen a sepia-toned look and makes time run really slowly so you can easily avoid attacks and lay waste to enemies with impunity. An enhanced-vision mode renders everything on the screen in green hues and highlights enemies in a bright orange color for easy killing--even through walls (we saw a player use this power in conjunction with the rail laser weapon to actually take out bad guys on the other side of a barrier). Electric storm is a power that literally sends electricity out from Frost's body to fry local enemies. Finally, other useful powers, like a force field and invisibility, will be available for the appropriate moments.

We played through three demo levels, two set in war-torn urban areas and one that took place inside an ancient temple. The former two levels were extremely hectic, with a slightly insane number of enemy soldiers shooting at us from all sides and a great number of things blowing up around us. The temple level was a bit more steadily paced, mainly because we didn't have any AI help and had to pick our way through the enemies one by one. Several times we had to face off against some pesky (and rather powerful) bipedal robots equipped with heavy guns. Though we were generally satisfied with blowing the robotic bastards to smithereens, apparently you'll be able to take control of such 'bots--with the right equipment--so that you can turn the tables on your foes.

We also got to briefly check out the game's multiplayer mode by running it on a number of networked PS2s. The game mode on offer was standard capture the flag, and we were able to pick from several classes (each equipped with a unique weapons loadout) as we entered the game. There were several drivable vehicles scattered around the temple map we played on, some of which will require two players to operate (in a driver-and-gunner configuration, for instance). Other multiplayer modes (such as a king-of-the-hill-style mode called hunter) and modifiers (like arms race, which will let you accumulate other players' weapons) will also be available in the final game.

Your gadgets and special powers will be essential parts of winning against the forces of badness.
Your gadgets and special powers will be essential parts of winning against the forces of badness.

Visual representation of Project: Snowblind has been scarce up until now, but we're not really sure why, since it's a striking game to look at. The two city environments we played were full of blasted-out buildings, broken neon signage, rubble in the streets, and other effects of urban warfare. More importantly, the game uses a number of lighting and filter effects to achieve both a soft-focus and a somewhat cinematic look. Other elements add to the presentation, such as the white-noise effect that covers the screen when Frost is "snowblinded" (which occurs when his electronics are scrambled). Though the Xbox version looked slightly better than the PS2 one, the difference was surprisingly slight. In fact, it was less so than you'd expect to see between the two platforms.

Project: Snowblind seems to be heading in a positive direction and already has a lot of variety to offer as a shooter. We'll be interested to see how the more complex aspects of the game, such as the weapon alt-fires, the special powers, and the biomod upgrade system, will add to the overall experience. Snowblind is slated for a winter release, so look for more in the coming months.

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