Project: Snowblind holds several disparate elements together remarkably well.

User Rating: 9 | Project: Snowblind XBOX
After a year brimming with high-quality action games, it’s a testament to creative development that fascinating games like Resident Evil 4 and Oddworld Stranger’s Wrath have kept the momentum going in 2005. Continuing in this vein, Crystal Dynamics has released Project: Snowblind, the title originally conceived as Deus Ex: Clan Wars. Snowblind certainly owes a lot to the cyberlore of Ion Storm’s franchise, but the gameplay itself turns the Deus Ex mythos on its head. This is no RPG wrapped around an action/stealth framework: P:S is a straight-up shooter, and a fantastic one at that. Like LucasArts’ recent Mercenaries, the action is gripping and intense, and while it’s a little light on story, the original weapons, tight pacing, and action-packed mayhem make Project: Snowblind a worthy new addition to the Xbox library – and a standout amongst the PS2’s weak FPS lineup. P:S’s presentation may be exquisite, but the story itself makes no claims to greatness. As 2nd Lieutenant Nathan Frost, the player undergoes experimental surgery at the outset of the game to find himself a biomod-equipped supersoldier, fighting a Korean resistance led by an egomaniacal, superweapon-wielding villain capable of destroying entire cities. Nathan takes the events in stride, and the game never makes it clear whether that’s because he wants to avenge his soldier brother’s death, or simply because such events are commonplace in the near future. Still, the story deficiencies are masked by realistic characters that are drawn in broad strokes but never become caricatures, and a visual design both violent and sumptuous. War is hell, and the backdrop is sufficient framework for the furious action that commands your full attention. Thankfully, once Project: Snowblind has garnered that attention, it won’t be letting go. The levels propel you through one magnificent set piece after another, and you will be attacked by a myriad of human enemies and machinery. The shooting itself is satisfyingly violent, partially because the assortment of weapons is eclectic and balanced, each gun a gem in a fully realized arsenal. There is only so much one can do with a carbine and pistol, of course, but even the standards have an edginess, both in their feel and their design. Of particular note are the futuristic shotgun and the havoc-wreaking rocket launcher, and secondary fire modes are almost brand-new weapons on their own. Five different grenade types are also available, including mini spider robots that actively seek out your enemy and provide useful reinforcement if things get a little hairy. You can easily cycle between weapons on the fly, or take the time to choose just the right one for the occasion, if you need a breather while thinking about necessary tactics. The most interesting weapon takes its cue from recent trends in environmental manipulation, such as the gravity gun in Half-Life 2, or the telekinetic powers in Psi-Ops and Second Sight. While Project: Snowblind's kinetic kicker may not be a direct ripoff of its obvious inspiration, it isn't nearly as innovative as it would have been a year ago, nor does it feel as comfortable in the frantic firefights here as it did in the more measured battles of HL2 or Psi-Ops. Most of the kicker's usefulness comes outside of the action, when you need to pull ammo and health to you from a distance, or for manipulating boxes for climbing or as temporary shields. Speaking of shields, there are also a few special tools in your inventory, not the least of which is the riot wall, which you can throw down for some effective and temporary cover from incoming bullets. The other nifty addition to your arsenal is an ice pick that lets you hack into security panels and bots with a variety of occasion-specific outcomes. Project: Snowblind's roots in the Deus Ex mythos are most apparent in the biomods implanted into Nathan's human frame, and they have real effect on the gameplay. Powered by biocells littered throughout the environment. Augmentations include, amongst others, enhanced vision, which lets you see the location of your enemies, even through walls; reflex boost, which functions like a stylized bullet-time; and ballistic shield, which envelops you in a forcefield that absorbs your damage but quickly drains your available bio-energy. Just as with your weapons, it's easy to cycle on the fly, or you can pull yourself from the game to make some measured decisions while mired in the fray. P:S, like with most linear campaigns, relies on these kinds of contrivances to make the action feel organic, and it succeeds in spades, giving every battle a unique feel based on how you approach your obstacles. Not every game can succeed at the “everything but the kitchen sink” ideal, but even when Project: Snowblind drops you behind the controls of some engaging vehicles, it becomes apparent that even with this flurry of gameplay alternatives, Crystal Dynamics makes it all stick together amazingly well by keeping the game challenging without being overwhelming. By balancing these choices by mixing up the mission design, rather than by forcing the player into artificial decisions that are no more open-ended than the linear narrative, Project: Snowblind never feels forced or contrived. Throw in nine multiplayer modes for up to 16 players, and P:S almost becomes too much of a good thing, but never scattershot in scope. You'll find the usual deathmatch and CTF variants, but the Hunter mode, in which one player must survive the singular attention of his enemies, stays the truest to the single-player campaign, simply because it's the most wired. It's no surprise that the multiplayer works so well with the Xbox Live service – but it's a true amazement that the modes play and perform so well on the Playstation 2 as well. Lag is uncommon, and at release time, there were plenty of players online. That smooth performance also owes a lot to a graphics engine that performs well and renders complex scenes that feature a good deal of activity. Project: Snowblind owes some of its success to the same visual techniques that have made the Otogi and Prince of Persia titles so attractive. Extreme violence and pockets of activity are offset by colorful, vibrant environments, and this style works wonders in P:S's Eastern milieu. The meaty levels also showcase some true design prowess, although its easy to miss that kind of talent in the midst of flaming explosions and towering Ogre bots. Character design doesn't quite reach the same levels; avatars' heads often don't look as though they are attached quite right, and some corner-cutting is evident with some painted-on lighting and shadows. This is true nitpicking, however, considering Project: Snowblind looks as good as any recent console shooter and performs respectably, with consistent framerates except in the most vicious of battles. The busy environments are accompanied by appropriately active sound effects, the rattle of gunfire and the clanging of vehicles filling your surroundings. In fact, much of the punch of the impressive weaponry comes from the powerful sounds emanating from them. The musical score compliments the gamescape in much the same way as the complex visuals: some of the most tense moments are accompanied by fascinatingly lighthearted music with a dark undertone, working in counterpoint to the innate tension of the mission. Should you want proof of the subtle brilliance of the sonic design, consider this: one character, in the midst of the overwrought cyberpunk atmosphere, whistles the theme to Peter and the Wolf, a disturbing and hysterical aside that goes far in lending humanity to a title featuring characters that aren't always fully human. These characters are voiced with precision by a talented voice cast, which is a blessing that cannot be taken for granted in recent years. If you felt burned by the promises that Armed & Dangerous, Killzone, and even Deus Ex: Invisible War failed to keep, fear not: fans of action with a twist will not be disappointed by the latest in a groundbreaking list of fantastic FPS's. Even with a lackluster story and an almost overwhelming glut of features, Project: Snowblind manages to hold these disparate elements together remarkably well. Once you have finished the 12-hour campaign, there is plenty to pull you back in, whether it be to marvel at the stupefying action, or to enjoy the addicting multiplayer. Crystal Dynamics and Eidos have a potentially dynamite franchise on its hands, and we sincerely hope there is more to come.