A grim night punctuated by the report of automatic weapons fire and distant explosions. The walls are pocked with bullets like in a Sunday afternoon western. Tracers whiz overhead as you scuttle through bombed-out buildings, popping up from your cover to drop another joker with a headshot.
It appears you’re in some war-torn near future, and there’s some claptrap about someone overthrowing the government, or maybe you’re protecting some coalition from freedom fighters. You don’t pay too much attention — you do what you’re told, and you’re told the future relies on you. Besides, look at all the cool weapons they gave you.
Like an overheated action movie, video gaming’s first-person shooter (FPS) genre is pure escapism. Stealth plays a greater role than in the past, and the environments are more interactive, but, as in the movies, the formula’s changed little over the years from the template established by the PC classic Doom.
And what’s to change? Car chases, explosive fireballs and trails of bodies are inherently satisfying. How you get there doesn’t matter much, as Dubya would tell ya. Justifications pale before the joy of dispatching hopelessly overmatched enemies with superior firepower.
The stories (for what they’re worth) of Timesplitters: Future Perfect and Project: Snowblind invoke sci-fi staples such as zombies, time travel paradoxes, bio-augmentation and evil criminal-political syndicates. Chiefly they are excuses to blow shit up.
Project: Snowblind is the more engaging of the two, due primarily to the pacing of its urban warfare levels. Set at night, the darkened streets and shadowy, desolate inner-city buildings of future Hong Kong have the eerie, dank vibe of Blade Runner. The lack of light and the windy, claustrophobic buildings and alleys you must negotiate ensure plenty of lurking surprises.
Fortunately, you were almost killed as the story opens, giving the government reason to stuff your body with expensive enhancements that make Lee Majors look like the Pillsbury Doughboy. Your bionic eyes include a heads-up display reminiscent of the first Terminator, which identifies fellow soldiers by name and clues you into interactive environmental features. By that, I mean computer terminals, security panels and the like, which you’re able to hack and turn to your own purposes, whether that’s opening a secret door or assuming control of an automatic gun turret. Other features of your bio-engineered warrior include a force field, invisibility, heat vision and super-reflexes, which slow the action à la The Matrix. However, these features deplete a power reserve that requires recharging.
Like a good movie, Project: Snowblind paces the action well, interspersing intense firefights with levels where you can snipe your way deep behind enemy lines, killing enemies without being fired upon. But stealth isn’t the requirement it is in some games: If you’re enough of a Rambo, you can go for it, without facing a “Butch and Sundance vs. the Bolivian army” moment.
Where Project: Snowblind is thoroughly militarized from nomenclature to tactics (which often find you fighting alongside your platoon-mates), Timesplitters is a more cartoonish action flick. You play Cortez, whose gruff voice, beefy physique, baldpate and funky eyes (glowing red beneath what look like tanning bed goggles) easily recall Vin Diesel’s movie character, Riddick.
You hopscotch across time searching for a ubiquitous mad scientist, the last hope to save humanity from strange time-jumping creatures that have overwhelmed future Earth’s defenses.
The cheeky story includes a Resident Evil subplot and a rogue’s gallery of humorous sidekicks, including a randy ’70s swinger-secret agent, a stodgy British RAF officer and a Laura Croft-wannabe teen in fishnets and a mini (who bends over with disconcerting frequency).
The situations and banter are modestly funny in an action-pic kind of way, and as a whole Timesplitters is no-frills B-movie entertainment — something to while a weekend afternoon away. A number of game options that extend game play, including a co-op/split-screen option for the narrative (still relatively rare in first-person shooters), and a cool solo death match you play against some pretty skilled bots. (It’s an excellent warm-up for the even more predatory online player-versus-player version.)
The first-person shooter is a meat-and-potatoes dish for gaming. It’s immersive by nature, the equivalent of point and click. Like a good pop song, it’s straightforward and to the point (i.e. bloodshed), each wave of slaughtered enemies a chorus. With so little difference in their general mechanics, the real difference — aside from the paint job — is how they handle, and, while not revolutionary, Project: Snowblind has the proper mesh of accessories and fast-paced play to make it one of the better titles in the genre.Chris Parker is a freelance writer. Send comments to [email protected]