Project: Snowblind

I bought and beat Project: Snowblind a few weeks ago, and it had its moments, but is ultimately not worth replaying. The reviews it’s getting say something similar: it’s not very original, but it’s a fun, solid shooter. Well, I agree and disagree.

Snowblind is a first person shooter that repeatedly reminded me of Halo (one of my favorites), but lacks the tight, clean integrity of Bungie’s classic in terms of gameplay, interface, and story. I’m going to guess that the developers either: had planned a great game and lacked the time/money to work out the flaws and polish it, or a bad game that benefitted from a lot of love and appreciation for great shooter gaming. I can’t tell which, but the project did start off as a Deus Ex spin-off, and became what it is now, so perhaps that shifting prevented Crystal Dynamics (which is related to Eidos of Tomb Raider fame) from giving it the amount of attention and refinement it really would’ve benefitted from.

But first, let’s focus on what Snowblind does right.

The first thing I noticed in Snowblind is the sense of fighting as part of a military force, rather than a lone superman for portions of the game. The combat starts off as urban combat (my favorite kind). Your squad progresses through futuristic urban warzones, moving through streets and battle-scarred buildings with a great degree of intensity and immersion. As you push back the enemy forces, soldiers occupy ground and squads back each other up in a fairly convincing fight for territory in the city. Missions and goals have a tactical logic, and the design team really hits the feeling of group combat that doesn’t overwhelm with logistics, but feels ordered on a larger scale. There’s also a massive prison break that captures the same rush and intensity. That level’s also worth playing.

There are definitely moments where I was tearing through rounds on my M-16-esque rifle, tossing the occasional frag grenade and had a really fun time. The fight dynamics are passable, particularly when the scene floods with enemy troops and vehicles, and the chaos creates an energizing backdrop for a good firefight.

But that’s about the extent of what Snowblind does right. So, as I said, it’s a decent game with a few peak moments. Now, let’s look at what’s a bit off.

First off, the storyline that drives Snowblind is pretty disposable: international trouble, the good forces fighting the bad ones in an odd conflict that involves some standard characters, and you’re a fresh recruit on his first mission. But the story becomes tedious and generic after that, with some attempts at memorable characters that just fall flat. The most successful moments in the game’s dramatic structure come before you’re turned into a super-soldier, while you’re playing as just another soldier. I won’t bore you with details, but essentially, as the player, you know that some horrible accident is coming, so that tension adds to the action. But it’s over fairly soon. Then, it’s on to boring, over-long, completely un-skippable story sequences, that do more to harm replayability that help the story.

Next up, the heads-up display (HUD). It’s awful. It’s weakly designed and the flat hierarchy, monoline graphics and type, fall into the visual chaos of the background and other interface elements in such a way that glancing at it for info takes a few split-seconds longer than it should, which are critical in an action game. Message to game makers: OCR fonts are not futuristic, nor easy to read. They are designed for computers to read, not people. Also, the game just wants you to manage too much in a too-clumsy manner. There are a whole slew of weapons, items, grenades, etc. and the method of accessing them is not easy by any stretch. Plus, half of the items and grenades just seem foolish and I ended up almost never using them.

If this seems hard to read now, imagine doing it while under enemy fire and running.

More hard-to-use HUD and an enemy soldier. Notice the textures and polys. If the game was more fun, I wouldn’t have cared about the dated graphics. (To see an example of superlative graphics, textures, and design, go here.)

Add this to the on-screen goal markers. This feature, not shown in any screenshots I’ve found (probably with reason) is undoubtedly there to make up for the fairly lackluster level mission design, which isn’t intuitive in its progression (though some scenes within levels were pretty entertaining). Their answer is a large series of radiating yellow rings that are emanating from the goal, so it is basically a huge, distracting on-screen objectives compass. I found it necessary to keep the pace of the game up, but extremely visually cluttered. This navigation element feels like a patch-up solution, and harms the gameplay while pushing it along. It’s toggled with a button on the keyboard, which I used frequently throughout the game to figure out where I was supposed to run next.

A few other let-downs: the weapons feel weak (even my favorite), the enemy A.I. is not that great (made up for with numbers of enemies, and a lot of the game’s features seemed abandoned and not particularly useful (all of which I’ve seen done better elsewhere). Also, I know that Halo has made vehicles an obligatory addition these days, but if you can’t do them well, just don’t bother. Please. They weren’t terrible, and they certainly made some sections easier, but I got to drive them in a parking garage and other similarly un-fun locales.

Look! It’s a vehicle! And a small room! Would you drive a big-ass, hard-to-control truck in there? I wouldn’t either.

Essentially, Snowblind is cluttered, not polished, and looks dated. The screens I’ve seen make it look good, but next to games like Half-LIfe 2, Splinter Cell, and even Halo, it looks dated. The graphics lacked texture and life. I found it to be a bit cartoonish, and not in a good way. It might be a worthwhile used purchase in between more anticipated titles, but that’s about it. Interestingly, I bought it as a stop-gap in anticipation of Pariah, which I eagerly awaited. But that’s another story of another disappointment for another post.