Review by Nightfall

"Crystal Dynamics Shows Us They Can Do Shooters, with Style!"

Review for Single Player Game Only

Regarding Crystal Dynamics first attempt at an FPS, the first thing I have to say is B-R-A-V-O. Snowblind is an excellent addition to the genre with awesome graphics, frenetic gameplay, tight control, a plethora of cool weapons, and some excellent level design. The game is simply great fun to play and it's hard to put down once you get into it.

The second thing I have to say about Snowblind is that something weird is up with the audio in this game. Vehicles make no sound, thrown objects make no sound when they impact the environment, and you can't hear people speaking when you look directly at them! In order to hear people speak, you have to turn your view at a 90 degree angle to the speaker, so one of your ears is facing them. What's up with that? Maybe they were trying to convey the idea that Nathan Frost has super-human hearing, but to make him deaf when he faces people? What's worse, the Ogre (a big mech Nathan can actually hop into and drive) doesn't even MAKE a sound! It's the world's most quiet mech. Even it's weapons are completely silent. Very amateur quality audio in some very important respects. I half suspect there is some strange problem with audio settings here, but my system is not complicated. I have an Xbox and my tv. No receiver, no external audio system. I discovered that it does seem to help a bit if I set my Xbox's audio setting to Dolby Digital, but my tv doesn't support Dolby Digital, so go figure. If anyone out there encounters the same strange audio problems I have, please email me and let me know.

The graphics look pretty darn good. There are some truly genius level designs, a nice amount of detail, and a wonderfully varied color palette. In a nutshell, the graphics aren't quite as good as screenshots and gameplay movies suggested, but they are still very good with some very cool artistic design. The frame rate is pretty smooth. Things have that soft, perma-glow look to them that tricks the eye into thinking the graphics are better than they really are. But hey, it looks cool. Where the graphics don't impress much is in character design. Character models are kind of dorky looking. All the Liberty Coalition soldiers have the same face, and it's not very well drawn. There is one red headed greenhorn in Nathan's troop that looks like a complete geek. It looks like they took a photo scan of a CD employee's mentally challenged nephew and put it in the game. Even Nathan's face is lacking something . . . I don't quite know what it is. It just doesn't look right. His face appears as if it was in the early stage of character design, not in the finished stage. Enemies, however, look very cool, especially the advanced ones you run into later in the game. The designs for Security Bots and Mechs are very good. The vehicles, however, are not designed nearly as well and look, again, like they are from an early design stage rather than a finished 3D render. The environments get more interesting and visually pleasing later on in the game, although they can be rather confusing. It's easy to get lost and lose track of where you were and what you were doing.

Crystal Dynamics has a unique approach to the art design in this game. Environmental details and even enemies have a look about them that is a satisfying cross between cartoony and realistic. The realistic side of the design gives the experience its gritty war-like feel, while the cartoony side makes things more graphically pleasing and allows the player to easily pick up on visual cues that help you make more sense out of the environments. The rocket launcher has a distinctive cartoony look about it, like maybe you'd see it on a Gundam cartoon, but at the same time it looks so damn cool and high tech. Spider bots are so darn cute you just wanna pick them up and hug them, and they'll try like the dickens to follow you everywhere you go. Weapon reloading animations are very good, and the animation for Nathan's melee punch (he's a lefty) is one of the best I've seen in an FPS. It looks realistic and you get the sensation of impact when his fist connects. Enemy animations are also well done, especially those when they go flying after you toss a frag grenade at them. The cut scenes in the game are top notch and have some nice dramatic effects that help keep the intensity level up. If only they had fleshed the story out more through the cut scenes. Nathan is a strong character but he just doesn't come through like he should have, because the story is weak.

The movement of the aiming reticle feels pretty good, although not as dead on as Halo and Stranger's Wrath. The controls are simple and easy to pick up, but using the black button to throw grenades is unfortunate (blame that on Microsoft's decision to put the black and white buttons where they are instead of up top, like Sony's controller). Also, the melee punch should have been assigned to the right stick, not the left. I like the fact that the crouch button is a toggle. That was one feature I wish the Halo games had. Another cool thing is that every weapon except the ones that have to be thrown has a precision aim capability. Click the right stick and your view will zoom in a bit. I thought this was cool, because we're used to seeing only the sniper rifle with zoom capability. I like anything that assists aiming. The control is pretty tight except when it comes to piloting the Ogre and the Hydra. Oh my hell, what was Crystal Dynamics thinking when they designed the controls for driving the Ogre? Have they never played a mech game before? The thing is a NIGHTMARE to control, and this is coming from a guy that has played a lot of mech games. It has a lot of health and some powerful weapons, however, so it's worth it to acquire one if you can. The Hydra is a vehicle with a turret mounted on the roof, but forget about trying to use it as a weapon. The thing is even more unwieldy to control than the Ogre. For a game that takes some elements from Halo for inspiration, they sure didn't pay much attention to Halo's vehicle control system.

But about the most important thing regarding control--aiming accurately at enemies--no problems there whatsoever. I don't have to struggle with the stick at all to center my reticle right on an enemy's head, even in the heat of battle when I'm completely surrounded and my blood is pumpin' high. In fact, it almost seems that the more intense combat gets, the better the control becomes--that shows a lot of testing went into the game. The distance for throwing weapons like grenades is much farther than it usually is in shooter games, so you'll have to adjust a bit from what you're used to. You'll almost never have to angle your view up because throwing weapons travel so far when thrown from a level view. If you want a bit more control with a grenade-type weapon, use the Carbine's alternate fire. It's a less powerful version of the grenade that doesn't travel as far and has a shorter fuse, so you can be more accurate with it. Oh, and good luck figuring out how to use the Mine Launcher. I'm on my second time through the game, and I still can't figure the damn thing out.

There is a lot of information to absorb in the first couple hours of play, and it can seem a bit overwhelming. Especially when someone is trying to give you instructions or orders while you're taking fire and you can't figure out where the hell it's coming from. Read carefully the instructions on how to use each and every weapon, because you only get to read them once, the first time you pick the weapon up. One of the first things you learn is to take advantage of the environments. Important pick-ups and powerful weapons like gun turrets are at your disposal if you can figure out how to get to them. There are strategic opportunities for cover, but you don't want to just camp out behind every wall or corner you see. You have to pay close attention and try to see how you can best use the environment to your advantage, as well as your various augmentations and multi-tasked weaponry. The game forces you to think and strategize a bit, which is a good thing and something not always required in an FPS. Hanging back and advancing cautiously (which is how I play every FPS I've ever had) isn't always the best tactic, because many times there will be something up ahead that will help you out tremendously in the fight. Most of the time there are multiple ways to combat your enemies. Encouraging the player to think creatively is one of the game's strongest points. There are power ups stashed everywhere--the game is not sparing at all with Medpacs or ammo. It is quite stingy, however, with Bioenergy packs. That is one of my main complaints about the game: your bioenhancements don't last long enough and there are not enough pick ups in the environment to replenish their reserves. You run into many situations where you really wish you could use one of your enhancements, but you can't because your bioenergy is depleted. Be on the lookout for power ups which increase the amount of bioenergy you can hold. I missed most of them my first time through the game and thus got very little use out of my augmentations. (Here's a little hint for you: repair bots replenish your bioenergy reserves to maximum, so don't destroy them and try not to let enemy fire get them either).

I have to say this is the only FPS I've ever played that has such chaotic battles. Not the whole game is like that, but there are many battles in the game that are just sheer chaos, where you really feel like you're in a war zone. Enemy soldiers everywhere, giant mechs stomping toward you, friendlies screaming and barking out orders, mortars pounding the ground, gunfire coming from every point on the map, some psycho shmuck firing rockets at you from ten feet away--it's just crazy! But the cool thing is, the game's difficulty is geared in such a way that these chaotic battles can last quite a long time before you actually bite the bullet. It's not one of those games where you die over and over before you pass a certain area and it stops being fun. You can enjoy the chaos--hell, revel in it. This is something I've always yearned for in a war-oriented game: a challenging, visceral experience that LASTS and is a hell of a lot of fun to play. Snowblind delivers this. Many war games get so bogged down in their difficulty that the experience just isn't fun. It's not like you're really living the experience, because you're dying every five minutes (recall The Library level from Halo). Thank you, Crystal Dynamics, for putting out one hell of a fun FPS that stands out from the rest and gives players a fighting chance.

The story is . . . how can I put this . . . nonexistent. It just kind of doesn't happen. It never pulls you in or even gets you interested. And there isn't even an ending that I can put my finger on. The story had potential, but CD just didn't flesh it out like they should have. There is one character in the game, an evil general, that they could have done a LOT more with in terms of developing the story and providing some unique twists. But after you meet up with him he kind of disappears like a fart in the wind. Luckily, this game doesn't need story, because it's just so damn much fun to play.

What faults the game has are minor, but bear mentioning just for the sake of the review. For one, it's rather short. I probably logged about 8 hours my first time through. And for many FPS fans the game is probably too easy. I breezed right through it without hitting any major tough spots. But this isn't a problem for me. I think there's something to be said for a game that lets the player relax and just have fun. They don't all have to be Devil May Cry 3s or Ninja Gaidens. Hey, the Japanese make enough extremely difficult games that masochists can play to their hearts' content--what's wrong with American developers like Crystal Dynamics balancing things out a bit with games that are fun and challenging with a lower difficulty level.

Another slight complaint I had with the game is that not all of the items in your huge arsenal are worth using. Riot walls can be effective, if you can get the damn things to deploy in the right place. They travel way too far when thrown and most of the time deploy in an area that renders the wall useless. The Mine Launcher I'm sure would be a great weapon if operating the damn thing wasn't so complicated. The Herf Gun is cool but its alternate fire, an electro-plasma ball that sticks to enemies, takes way too long to detonate. EMP grenades don't seem to have much effect on the targets they are designed for: security bots and mechs. Despite these items being somewhat lacking in effectiveness, you can still have a lot of fun with them. Experiment and see what kind of havoc you can wreak. Another slight complaint I had about the game is some of the dorky sound effects. The sound of the Phoenix car crashing into things is a very weak bang, like punching a door with your fist. It doesn't sound at all like a vehicle collision. The walking sound effects for large security bots when you remote control them is just as bad. Let's get two pipes and bang them together--that's mech feet hitting the ground folks! The other problems I've already mentioned: some dorky looking character models, bad control for the Ogre and the Hydra, and the nonexistent story. But keep in mind that none of these problems take away from the fact that Snowblind is a very well constructed game and is a hell of a lot of fun to play.

The voice acting isn't phenomenal, but it's functional. The guy voicing Nathan Frost is by far the best voice actor in the game. I swear on my left testicle that he is the same guy that voices Master Chief. If it's not, he sounds a hell of a lot like him. He gives a very well written inspirational speech to his men toward the end of the game that I KNOW I have heard somewhere else. I highly doubt that Crystal Dymanics would intentionally plagiarize. They probably used it for it's relevance to the game, so I'm very curious to find out where this speech came from. If I remember correctly, it was an actual speech given by someone in an actual war. If anyone out there knows who originally gave this speech, please email me and let me know.

In closing, don't compare this game to Halo. Take it for what it is: a quality addition to the FPS genre that offers something a little different. Variety is a good thing. What if every FPS only allowed the player to carry two weapons, or looked as ugly as Killzone? My point is, variety is the spice of gaming, and we as players too often let ourselves get bogged down in the comparison game, depriving ourselves of new experiences because one or two giant titles eclipse everything else and dictate how every other game should be. It don't got to be that way folks. Give Snowblind a go and I think you'll be pleasantly surprised.

Final Rundown

Graphics: 9
Audio: 7.5 (Some nice sound effects, but also some dorky ones. Some things have no sound effect at all).
Gameplay: 9
Control: 8 (Great for the most part, but some weapons are too tricky to use).
Story: Yawn
Replay value: see online multiplayer
Difficulty: Low to medium
The Best: Great chaotic battles and a huge variety of weapons to choose from.
The Worst: Poor audio in some aspects of the game, single player is too short.
Overall Score: 8.5

Reviewer's Rating:   4.0 - Great

Originally Posted: 03/14/05

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