ret­ro­spec­tive: sec­ond sight

XBox: The Official Magazine (US) - - START - Stephen Ashby

You’ve heard of Per­fect Dark, right? And Gold­eneye 007 for N64? Oh, and you re­mem­ber the Times­plit­ters se­ries, of course. Yep, those are some ab­so­lute clas­sics. You might also know that they all came from the same core team – a team that started at Rare, be­fore they splin­tered off as a new stu­dio. And it was at Free Rad­i­cal De­sign that they made the in­cred­i­ble Times­plit­ters se­ries. But that team cre­ated more than just those few gam­ing mega-hits. Be­tween the ex­cep­tional Times­plit­ters 2 and the un­der­per­form­ing Times­plit­ters: Fu­ture Per­fect came an­other ti­tle – a mind-bend­ing, story-driven ac­tion ti­tle called Sec­ond Sight. And it was bloody bril­liant. Bril­liant it might have been, but Sec­ond Sight wasn’t the com­mer­cial suc­cess it should’ve been. Prob­lems with the orig­i­nal pub­lisher meant the an­nounce­ment of the game was de­layed. The re­lease was un­for­tu­nately timed with an­other, sim­i­lar ti­tle. And in the end, not many peo­ple heard about the third-per­son ad­ven­ture made by the guys that cre­ated some of the best shoot­ers of a gam­ing gen­er­a­tion. It wasn’t the end for Free Rad­i­cal, but this is a game that de­served so much more.

Trick of the mind

The idea for Sec­ond Sight had been knock­ing around in the mind of its writer, David Doak, for a few years be­fore he and the team even­tu­ally got to make it. In fact, it was sup­posed to be Free Rad­i­cal’s first game as a new stu­dio. Back then it was called Redemp­tion, but the gen­eral idea was the same – your ac­tions in the game would change the course of the story. But when the re­lease of the PS2 was de­layed, Sony saw an op­por­tu­nity for a sim­pler, mul­ti­player-fo­cused shooter. One that re­quired less sto­ry­telling, and could be pro­duced in time to be a launch ti­tle for the new con­sole. That shooter was

TimeS­plit­ters. And after its suc­cess, the game that would later be­come

Sec­ond Sight was put on the back­burner – for more than four years.

But the idea was al­ways there. And when the game was even­tu­ally an­nounced in 2004 – just a few months be­fore its planned re­lease date – it had al­ready been in pro­duc­tion for a while. The plan had been to an­nounce it much ear­lier, but when the orig­i­nal pub­lisher got cold feet, things changed. By the time Code­mas­ters stepped in to help, it was al­most fin­ished, and the team had to work hard to build hype for a game that was com­ing out in just over six months. De­spite pos­i­tive cov­er­age be­fore and dur­ing E3, it wasn’t enough for Sec­ond Sight to light up the charts.

It didn’t help that the game launched within weeks of Psi-Ops: The Mindgate Con­spir­acy.

The two ti­tles were sur­pris­ingly sim­i­lar; both had psy­chi­cally-pow­ered pro­tag­o­nists, pow­er­ful men­tal at­tacks and awe­some physics. At the time, it was im­pos­si­ble to talk about one with­out some­one bring­ing up the other. The fates just weren’t on Sec­ond Sight’s side. But for many of those that did play it, it be­came an un­known gem. Fans of TimeS­plit­ters could be for­given for think­ing it was a spinoff thanks to the art style alone. Its dis­tinc­tively blocky char­ac­ters were hugely ex­pres­sive, and at the time the game looked gor­geous. The team chose the graph­i­cal

style be­cause they knew that the hard­ware of the time wasn’t pow­er­ful enough to make char­ac­ters look gen­uinely re­al­is­tic. So rather than try­ing the im­pos­si­ble, they opted for a style that let them make bad guys look truly evil. And it al­lowed them to cre­ate a story-driven ti­tle that cap­tured the minds of those that played it.

Child min­der

The story places you in the body of John Vat­tic, a sci­en­tist who is co-opted into a Spe­cial Forces team and sent to Rus­sia to stop a mad sci­en­tist do­ing psy­chic ex­per­i­ments on chil­dren. Yes, I know it sounds ridicu­lous, but bear with me.

At the be­gin­ning of the game, you wake up in a ster­ile fa­cil­ity, alone and chained to a bed. You have no mem­ory of who you are or how you got here. All you know is what you over­heard as the guards wheeled you, semi-con­scious, through the halls – you’re dan­ger­ous. A psy­cho. A killer.

Within mo­ments of wak­ing, a strange force lifts you from the bed and un­does the cuffs that hold you cap­tive. As you wan­der around the room, dis­com­bob­u­lated, John won­ders aloud whether he did that with his mind. Maybe it’ll work on the locked door, too?

You’ve been play­ing for less than a minute, and you’re al­ready com­pletely drawn in. The first con­trol you get lets you open doors with your mind! Soon you’re rip­ping mon­i­tors off walls, chuck­ing chairs at guards and heal­ing your­self with your brain. But you’re bruised, you still don’t know who the hell you are, and you look like Brit­ney Spears that time she shaved her head. Yes, my ref­er­ences are as retro as this game. Sorry about that.

Soon you find a com­puter and log in. Search the hard drive and you dis­cover some per­ti­nent files. It’s your his­tory. You learn who you are, and read about a mis­sion that you were part of. One of the mem­bers of your team, Jayne, was killed dur­ing that mis­sion. The name sparks some­thing. As you read, your brain hurts (in the game, but also maybe in real life), and sud­denly you’re liv­ing through a mem­ory.

In the past, you’ve got hair, glasses and a fetch­ing shirt, like a nerdy Justin Tim­ber­lake, or Half-Life’s Gor­don Free­man with­out the beard. As you play through the mis­sion, learn­ing how to shoot and take cover, you meet Jayne. She runs into a build­ing, and you just know – don’t ask how – that she’s in dan­ger. You fol­low her, and as she is about to die… you save her. Hold on a sec­ond! Nope, no time to waste. Now we’re back in the present, and you’re read­ing the file again. Jayne sur­vived, and is be­ing held in a men­tal in­sti­tu­tion. You have to break her out. Wait. Did you just change his­tory? Just how bro­ken is your mind?

As you progress in the present, you keep re­vis­it­ing the past, chang­ing de­tails that af­fect you when you re­turn to the mod­ern day. See, we told you your brain would hurt. The time-bend­ing plot is art­fully told, with strong char­ac­ters and im­pres­sive an­i­ma­tion. You re­ally feel for ol’ baldy. Then, to­wards the end of the fi­nal level, a rev­e­la­tion changes ev­ery­thing. Back in 2004, it blew my tiny 16-yearold mind. I won’t spoil it for you here, be­cause now that Koch Me­dia own the rights to the ti­tle I’m still hop­ing for a re­mas­ter (and maybe – whis­per it – a se­quel?). But rest as­sured, it’s one of the most sat­is­fy­ing ends that you’ll ever get in a videogame.

The real draw, though, are John’s pow­ers. It starts with ba­sic telekine­sis, aka lob­bing float­ing chairs at ter­ri­fied guards, and psy­chic heal­ing. Soon you’re bung­ing balls of men­tal en­ergy

“Soon you’re rip­ping mon­i­tors off walls, chuck­ing chairs at guards and heal­ing your­self with your brain”

at peo­ple and ‘charm­ing’ guards so that they don’t see you as you sneak past them. Sadly there’s no ‘blow a rasp­berry’ or ‘pull their trousers down’ but­ton. Maybe one for the se­quel? They can have that one for free.

Power play

By the end of the game you are a su­per-pow­ered Brit­ney/Justin (de­pend­ing on your cur­rent time­line), pick­ing up guards and wang­ing them over walls, toss­ing ex­plo­sive bar­rels at groups of bad­dies and blow­ing them up, and even pos­sess­ing guards. That one is par­tic­u­larly fun – there’s noth­ing like ex­plor­ing ahead with your pro­jected pres­ence, find­ing a cou­ple of guards, pos­sess­ing one and shoot­ing his mate in the foot. Un­der­stand­ably, he isn’t too pleased, and by the time you reach them with your phys­i­cal body, you’ll prob­a­bly find that they’ve had an ar­gu­ment that has ended in them both shoot­ing each other. Now you try telling me that’s not a good time, and I’ll re­ply with a gif of Lex Luthor shout­ing “WRONG” from Su­per­man Re­turns. An­other pre-2008 ref­er­ence for you, there. You’re wel­come.

There are also some in­spired touches that make Sec­ond Sight feel truly spe­cial. For one, when you take cover against a wall, you can press to creep around it with­out mov­ing away from the wall. It doesn’t sound like much now, but that’s some­thing not even stealth king Metal Gear had man­aged back in 2004.

There are cam­eras you can con­trol by log­ging into com­put­ers, but move them too much and guards get sus­pi­cious and start ask­ing ques­tions. Search the com­put­ers and you can dig up guards’ chat con­ver­sa­tions about to­tally point­less crap. Does it need to be there? Of course not. But it’s a lovely touch.

Then there’s the in-game cam­era. You have two op­tions – a fixed cam­era that changes as you move into dif­fer­ent ar­eas, à la Res­i­dent Evil, and a tra­di­tional cam­era you con­trol with the right stick. I love that Free Rad­i­cal gave play­ers the choice.

The sniper scope is an odd one, too. You play the game al­most ex­clu­sively in third per­son, and when you scope in with a ri­fle, it doesn’t take up the whole screen. In­stead, the scope ap­pears in your bot­tom-right cor­ner. You can still move as you aim, and see what’s go­ing on around you as you line up your shot. It’s… weird. Do I want to see it in other games? Prob­a­bly not. But it’s a neat touch, and a cool ex­pe­ri­ence.

The only dis­ap­point­ment is that, by the time you get all your pow­ers and can wield them along­side the best guns, the game is al­most over. You barely get to en­joy be­ing a su­per­hero be­fore the cred­its roll. I played the fi­nal level dozens of times, find­ing dif­fer­ent ways to beat it us­ing my plethora of pow­ers. But I was left want­ing more. It’s a shame, but hey, at least it’s a strong idea for that se­quel? Right Koch Me­dia? Right?!

Above Who said cor­ri­dors were bor­ing?

above The graph­ics and in par­tic­u­lar those dis­tinc­tive char­ac­ter mod­els will be fa­mil­iar to any­one who played TimeS­plit­ters.

Top Trips to the past usu­ally in­volve more gun­play, while present-day lev­els are all about your psy­chic pow­ers.

above John was far too good at hide-and-seek. This is why your friends don’t play with you any more, John.

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