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Second Sight: Why it deserves another look

A look back at Free Radical's mind-bending action game...

A man lies tied to a hospital gurney, blood seeping through his bandages. He can't remember how he got there, or for that matter, who he is. But something is wrong. He struggles against the restraints, scared and confused. Suddenly, a blinding light waves over the straps, and he's freed. Just what the hell is going on here?

It's with this cryptic introduction that Second Sight boldly announces that this is a game unlike anything you've ever played. Combining elements of stealth, squad combat and paranormal powers with a storyline that plays out like a psychological thriller Hitchcock would be proud of, Second Sight simply can't be pigeonholed into one genre.

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The man in question is John Vattic, a sceptical researcher into the paranormal, now afflicted by amnesia. What he can't remember is that six months ago, he and a psychic called Jane joined a military team codenamed WinterIce. Sent to Siberia, their mission was to capture a scientist called Grienko and secure his top-secret research. But what happened? And why has Vattic ended up in hospital, imbued with freaky telepathic powers?

Naturally, it's these powers that make Second Sight special. Armed with several offensive and defensive abilities, they make the game wonderfully free, offering you many different ways to overcome obstacles or dispose of unhelpful guards.

For instance, 'Projection' enables Vattic to create a ghostly copy of himself, allowing him to pass through laser grids and investigate otherwise unreachable area. And this is just one of a range of psychic abilities that the likes of Metal Gear's Snake would give his right eye to have in a tight spot.

There's 'Charm', for example, that enables you to sneak up behind enemies, effectively invisible. And 'Possession', which lets you make über-baddy Hanson's shock troopers fire on unsuspecting comrades. Or how about using Telekinesis to bash a scientist against the wall? Vattic's powers develop the longer you play and it's brilliantly satisfying to experiment with the many ways to evade enemies and pull off stealthy kills, especially since the enemy AI is so damned twitchy.

MIND OVER MATTER
Just how twitchy becomes very apparent, very quickly. Knock over a piece of furniture, and guards will swarm to the area, either overwhelming you, or forcing you to seek cover in cupboards. Of course, that also means telepathically moved objects can draw enemies away from important doors while you make good your escape.

So while initially it seems like Vattic's prodigious psychic abilities make him pretty damn invincible, the constant threat of beingoverpowered and caught means you're very capable, but vulnerable too. Trigger alarms and your Psi Energy will drain, causing the screen to swim with static: a genuinely disorientating effect that'll leave both you and Vattic exposed.

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The levels themselves provide Vattic with a playground to romp in. Teeming with air ducts, security cameras and hand-scanning door locks, there's not always an obvious, set way to reach your next goal. So you may simply read a memo to discover a computer log-in, then use it to deactivate cameras.

Or use 'Projection' to unlock cell doors and free mad inmates who'll then attack the guards. Or maybe run around with guns blazing: although, to be fair, this almost always results in death, thanks to the rather weak targeting system.

Brandish a firearm and Vattic automatically targets anything he can shoot. Great. Well... unfortunately, this means soldiers and inanimate objects: frustrating when you're in the middle of a gun battle and you start blasting up a crate. However where this over-zealous auto aim works beautifully is with the game's sniper rifle. Raise the sight and it locks on and zooms into the victim, enabling you to look him right between the eyes. Beautiful.

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