Free Radical Design
PS2, GC, Xbox, PC
If tasked to name a game by Free Radical Design (currently known as Rare Crytek UK Dambuster Studios), it’s likely one in particular will pop up, and rightly so. The TimeSplitters franchise was a much loved and well reviewed series, with TimeSplitters 2 serving as the highlight. Taking much of what the team had learned during their time at Rare working on seminal titles such as Goldeneye 007 and Perfect Dark, Free Radical created a superb trilogy of shooters that played smoothly, had a wonderful multiplayer and even matured into some fairly decent storytelling by the end.
Of course, the other title that might come to mind would be Haze, a game so bad it near-singlehandedly bankrupted the studio.
In-between those two extremes, however, sits a game that has been largely forgotten. It held neither the fast-paced scrappiness that the TimeSplitters series had, nor the awful blandness of Haze. Ladies and gentlemen, it’s Second Sight!
Players are cast in the role of parapsychology researcher John Vattic, a civilian advisor to a military unit sent into Siberia to secure a Russian scientist. Waking up six months later in a research facility with nothing but a bald head and a medical gown, Vattic slowly realises he has psychic powers.
These run the gambit of Psychic Abilities 101 – telekinesis comes in handy to flick switches and pull levers, eventually getting powerful enough to toss tables, chairs and even enemies around; healing allows you to use some of your ‘psychic energy’ to recover; psi attacks lets you throw a ball of pain at folks; whilst projection gives the go-ahead to leave your body in spiritual form, wandering past guards undetected and even possessing them if need be.
A fine spectrum of abilities, then. But Second Sight isn’t an action game. Vattic’s no one-man-army, and if players are to survive more than a couple of minutes, they’ll need to learn how to hide. Stealth plays a massive part here, whether that means hiding in cupboards and watching guards through peepholes or using your psychic powers to sneak past a corridor of cameras undetected.
But as fun as it is to throw an armed goon into a pile of his mates before diving into a locker, or possessing a scientist to sneak past a thumb-print scanner, Second Sight’s real success comes in the form of its story. As the narrative unfolds, it leaps back and forth in time, explaining what went wrong in the mission and why you ended up in the research facility. It’s hardly new material, but it’s solid stuff, with a well rounded (and well acted) cast, and a clever switcheroo midway through that makes you question what’s a flashback and what’s present day.
Graphically, it’s obviously a Free Radical game. Characters have that exaggerated, cartoon-like quality that TimeSplitters had, which is hardly surprising given it runs on the same engine. Animations are superb, and everything has a clean, solid feel to it, whether players are sneaking through medical corridors or across snowy tundra.
It’s a shame that Second Sight didn’t perform better at retail. It didn’t help that the similar Psi-Ops released right around the same time, and Free Radical’s tight, narrative-driven game played Deep Impact to Midway’s story-lite, sandbox-heavy Armageddon. But it’s a great little title, and entirely undeserving of its forgotten status. It’s a hell of a lot better than Haze, in any event – if only they’d seen that one coming.