Gaming

Blog 849: Project Snowblind

Project Snowblind was originally touted as an entry into the Deus Ex ouevre, albeit by a different developer than Ion Storm. However, Crystal Dynamics took a bold step — they realised that they were making something a bit different and cut ties to let Snowblind become completely its own thing.

It’s always been an object of interest to me, even more so now considering that the actual Deus Ex prequel that did get made would have been much better off had its developers realised they were making something different and not crowbarred their game into a mythos it didn’t suit. Sigh, etc.

Project Snowblind

The cutting of ties, I can now most assuredly attest, was the right choice.

Project: Snowblind is a gung-ho, hoo-rah shooter where the augs are definitely good. Nathan Frost never wrings his hands about how he never asked for this, as his dying body is pumped full of enchancements to resurrect him as a super-soldier. No, he takes obvious delight with each augmentation activated, and the soldiers around him treat his enhanced self with absolute reverence.

So while Snowblind does have a lot of Deus Ex DNA clearly running through it (perhaps more particularly Invisible War than the original), it’s a faster, simpler game: a more capital-C Cinematic shooter, complete with film-grain post-processing. And much as I love a meaty immersive simulation to chow down on, I am also one who simply loves having more ways to blow stuff up and shoot bad guys.

A couple of throw-away lines that are never explored are about as close to philosophy as it gets.

While Snowblind ups the pace, it is also very generous with its toys. There are five augs and all but one are enabled after nary an hour of starting the game.

The augs are a bit of a mixed bag, though. While you have a reserve of bioelectric energy that depletes with use, only one augmentation can be active at a time, and each has a built-in time limit on top of that. This makes creeping around with night-vision on, for example, slightly annoying as it regularly expires, forcing you to wait a short cooldown before being able to turn it back on again. Even worse is how this fairly cripples cloaking, as the duration isn’t quite long enough to safely bypass much of anything, even if you would otherwise have enough energy to make a good run for it.

Probably most useful is the Ballistic Shield, which makes you invulnerable — so yes, you can flip that on and wade into a room full of enemies, and by the time it’s run out you’ve probably cleaned the place up enough to be able to rely on circle-strafing and whatnot.

So, really, I spent a lot of the super-soldier game not actually using the augs. Oops.

You can’t truly be invincible without being blinded by screen-warping post-processing effects.

On the other hand, the levels are very linear so use of augs isn’t all that necessary.

It’s very clear in most places that you can take the air vent or the gun-toting front door, and honestly, taking the air vent is pretty much just an excuse to get line-of-sight on a turret or a hackable control terminal so you can even the odds a bit. Yes, hacking terminals is done at range using the “Icepick” (at the cost of one pick per terminal), so rather than having to wait until a patrol has passed to get a peek at a computer, it’s more a matter of getting line-of-sight of one from a safe corner. It’s less like an immersive sim than a straightforward puzzle of interlocking pieces where the only failure state is starting the shooty bit slightly earlier than anticipated.

In true immersive sim fashion, you can lure people into your line of fire and away from alarm panels by throwing stuff about.

There are also vehicles! Hacked turrets can be set to attack enemies in the traditional way, or they can be controlled directly for extra fun. Civilian cars in a multi-storey carpark level can be used as improvised cover or simply to mow people down, Carmageddon style.

Never mind those, though: there are big stompy walkers to enjoy. One has lasers, the other a machinegun and rocket launchers, and oh, how the big levels of Deus Ex could have been if you could drive the bots around! Because, yes, none of the levels of Snowblind are particularly large enough to really let the stompy mechs stretch their legs, but a big robot with big rockets always brightens up any day.

Pew pew pew!

Alas, it is not all sunshine and hoo-rah roses.

Movement is pretty important in any shooter and Snowblind has the habit of scattering levels with little bits of debris that have just enough collision to get you stuck on them. It’s bad enough when you’re stealthily exploring, but it’s an active danger during a fight; ultimately it makes the game feel just a bit clumsy.

Jumping from crouching is also extremely weird, as it’s not really enough to get over… well, anything. This means that obstacles like chest-high airvents are insurmountable without finding a crate to jump onto first. Mate, I’m a super-soldier; I should not be struggling to get into air vents.

Yes, they’ve carried forth my favourite feature from Deus Ex: Invisible War: the Spiderbomb grenade. Attack, my pretty!

But there are two crown jewels of failure: enforced auto-aim and limited save points.

Limited save points, I can almost get. After all, making a full saving and loading system is really fucking difficult, and the game’s so linear it hardly needs comprehensive progress monitoring. But that means Snowblind is not a game one can play with the dinner on or a bath running, or even before one heads out to a local game dev meet-up, as there is no way to predict when the next safe stopping point might come. Honestly, this spoilt the game a bit for me, as I had to play it in a more stuttery manner than would suit its pacing.

But the auto-aim? Ooof.

It cannot be disabled and it’s really egregious. As soon as you enter combat it starts to kick in, noticeably, slowly, pulling your view towards whatever enemy is closest to the cursor, regardless of your actual intent. Half the gunfights are spent trying to pull away from the wrong target as you dive for cover rather than actually shooting the baddies.

Guys, you just need to use those spare health packs that I don’t need! How hard can it be?

It is not a difficult game, so auto-aim’s not even particularly necessary! Snowblind is as generous with its guns, ammo, health and energy packs as with anything else, so there were few moments I even felt in danger, let alone at risk of actually failing. If there are lots of enemies, you have grenades; if you have the element of surprise, you have the sniper rifle; or in any situation you have machine guns and rocket launchers and lightning guns. You’ve got plenty of stuff! Toss ’em all in! Enjoy life! Hoo-rah!

Even should you fall to zero health, as long as you have a Nanoboost spare, that will instantly revive you at full power. I revived this way only twice, and thus never truly died at all. (Though the same cannot be said of the squaddies that accompanied me at various points. Oops.)

The H.E.R.F. chain-lightning gun has a short range but is as effective against bots as it is against people, and a real visual treat too.

Despite its generosity of spirit, however, Project: Snowblind is also about five minutes long. It’s almost like a bite-sized immersive sim, with enough nuggets to give you variety, to let you choose the terms of each engagement, while ultimately ensusing that you do all the shooting in all the places. I might go so far as to say it’s not actually big enough to contain all the cool stuff it has crammed in. It’s a shooter absolutely bursting with bells and whistles.

Yes, it has cribbed more than a few cute ideas from Deus Ex, but it’s not Deus Ex and it’s not even trying to be Deus Ex — and this is excellent news. Because if it had been trying to be Deus Ex, hoooo boy I’d have been miffed. But Project: Snowblind as its own little thing? Yeah, that’s pretty cool.

You know what future I’d like, Kanazawa? More games that are inspired by Deus Ex. Wistful sigh.

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