For many, Deus Ex remains one of the finest PC games ever - an intoxicating mix of sci-fi conspiracy, RPG, stealth and shooter that forced you to use brains as well as brawn. Unfortunately, developer Ion Storm is now no more, shut down by publisher Eidos after the low-key releases of the Deus Ex sequel Invisible War and Thief: Deadly Shadows, with the respected head honcho Warren Spector moving
on to pastures new.
So what has this got to do with Project: Snowblind? Well, the game was originally conceived as a first-person shooter called Deus Ex: Clan Wars; a simpler, more instantly gratifying pumped-up dumber clone of JC Denton - Bubba Denton, if you will. Developer Crystal Dynamics (also busy reshaping the norks of Lara Croft in the new Tomb Raider) has dumped the famous name, but the similarities to Deus Ex are unmistakable. Snowblind has a futuristic 2065 Hong Kong setting, bio-augmentations, icepick hacking
into cameras and bots, primary and secondary objectives, multiple pathways and several other features that give away the origin of the game (see 'Deus Ex Déjà Vu', right).
The action is relentless right from the beginning, with none of the usual atmospheric learning curve of Deus Ex, as it hurls you into a chaotic battle between the Liberty Coalition forces and the Republic. The revolution is being led by a twisted general bent on unleashing a Snowblind weapon - a huge EMP blast that disrupts bio-mechanical systems and other electronic devices, temporarily disabling them with static. Your character, Nathan Frost, fights alongside dozens of other AI-controlled soldiers, who cover your back, launch attacks, take over gun turrets and chip in with quips such as "Aaaagh! My wife specifically told me not to get shot!"
Immediately you're struck by the colourful, frenetic pyrotechnics on display - this is no greyed-out, science-fiction dull-a-thon like Minority Report. Neon signs glow above exotic Eastern buildings, missile trails and fiery explosions rain in around you, objects and ragdoll bodies fly, and bullets spark and zing off metal surfaces. This is Blade Runner on fast-forward.
However, just minutes into the conflict, you're badly injured by a bomb blast while rescuing a fallen comrade, and in a sequence nicked from RoboCop, are given a multi-billion dollar refit with the latest technological modifications - bionic legs, electronic eyesight, mechanical buttocks - the whole works. However, rather than being able to use everything to play with at once like a spoilt child on Christmas morning, the bio-mods are dribbled out over the course of the game through upgrades and hacks.
Nathan Frost sets out on his 11 missions with a vision enhancement that enables him to see people's heat signatures through walls, but he soon gets hold of Ballistic Shield for protection, and Reflex Boost, which is basically a slo-mo capability for dodging bullets and taking out multiple bad guys. Another favourite bio-mod is Cloak, which gives you invisibility - perfect for stealthily avoiding security cameras, and sneaking up behind enemies to kill them at point-blank range. You have limited bio-energy for running these super-sub-routines (which depletes a little too quickly for my liking) that can be recharged with pick-ups, but you don't get the opportunity to completely customise your character to suit your favoured style of play, as you can with the RPG-friendly Deus Ex titles.
Project: Snowblind also has a neat collection of gadgets that you can collect and use in the field, with the most important being the icepick, a hacking device that you can use to assume control of computers, gun turrets, cameras and best of all, bots. In one sequence, a rather large metal walking machine was lurching towards me, intent on ripping me a new augmentation, but with one sharp shot from the icepick, I was instantly in control. Switching to a view screen from inside the bot, I could stomp around as well as operate the machine's machine gun and rocket launcher, making mincemeat of a troop of soldiers with a hail of hot lead and a devastating volley of explosives - although you have to be careful, as your body is still vulnerable while your mind