Project: Snowblind started its life as a Deus Ex spin-off, with the purpose of capitalizing on that universe's rich fiction and distinct style by pairing it with a more visceral gameplay experience. Despite the fact that Project: Snowblind bears no official Deus Ex ties now, the game brandishes an almost identical near-future cyber-thriller feel, right down to the eerie blue circuit-board highlights on the hero's skin. Crystal Dynamics doesn't reinvent the first-person shooter with Snowblind, but that doesn't seem to be its aim anyway. Rather, it delivers a solid, fast-paced experience that provides a nice balance between the fresh and the familiar.
Pagodas and robots: two great tastes.
Project: Snowblind borrows liberally from highly recognizable sources, an ethos which might as well be written in the design documents for most modern first-person shooters. As mentioned before, the game's look owes a lot to Deus Ex, though because the action's set in a war-torn near-futuristic Hong Kong, there's a bit more overt Asian influence, both ancient and modern. Still, the philosophy of contrasting the old and the new is hard at work here, creating a look that's a bit more steely and streamlined than what typified Blade Runner. Expect to see a lot of near-futuristic military hardware couched in dilapidated industrial complexes, blown-out urban centers, and--in one of the game's more visually stunning pieces--in a massive domed opera house that's been hastily converted in to a POW camp.
The game's unwavering devotion to this specific aesthetic goes far in establishing Snowblind's overall vibe, as does an almost fetish-level concentration of filtered lighting effects. There's a soft-glow effect at work for virtually the entire run of the game, which cleverly smoothes out the hard edges while creating a tangible atmosphere. There's a unique effect associated with every one of your special abilities, each of which can change the entire look of the game. The titular "snowblind" effect is especially well done, though considering the harrowing situations when it usually comes up, you'll likely be too freaked-out to really sit back and appreciate it.
By limiting the size of the levels, Snowblind is able to keep the visual quality high, often lending a claustrophobic feel to portions of the game. There are some repetitive pieces, and some of the enemy death animations start getting tiresome almost as soon as you see them, but this is still a really sharp-looking game...especially for the aging PlayStation 2 hardware. Surprisingly, the Xbox version carries no visual advantage over the PlayStation 2 version. In fact, we noticed a less-stable frame rate on the Xbox, though the Xbox hard drive made much shorter work of load times and game saves.
Project: Snowblind reminds you that PlayStation 2 games can look legitimately good.
Wrapped around all this glimmer is a by-the-numbers backstory, complete with a grimly stoic hero, unwelcome invasions, vaguely defined military coalitions, and everyone's favorite deus ex machina, a doomsday device that could go at any second. Some story gets crammed in to the margins during in-game cutscenes between levels, and these sequences are brimming with plenty of gravelly, hard-boiled dialogue. The game itself is peppered pretty freely with the idle conversations of bystanding characters, Ã la Half-Life. It's an old trick, but it's an effective one for fleshing out the world in a casual manner. Moreover, the quality of the voice acting helps sell it.
The build of the sound isn't quite as unique or specifically designed as Project: Snowblind's visuals, but it's still a solid foundation of gunfire and explosions, accented by a variety of electronic pips, chirps, and hisses produced by machinery both inside and outside of your cybernetically augmented head. Music comes in when it needs to, whether it's to build tension during a quiet stealth mission or to add some extra punch to a firefight. Again, there's a distinct Asiatic feel to the music, so you can almost anticipate the falling of cherry blossoms when the score kicks in at some points.