Faster than a speeding bullet, with Codemasters just announcing (hit that link for first screenshots, too) that it's signed up Free Radical's third-person action thriller Second Sight, we leapt straight onto the phone to secure an interview with the UK developer and question it about its new project.
But first, a little piece of game background...
Second Sight begins in a fictional US medical facility, dropping players into the shoes of protagonist John Vattic. The storyline echoes, amongst other plots, that of Ubisoft's XIII. Vattic, suffering from amnesia, must use a combination of stealth, gunplay and pshychic abilities to ensure his survival and uncover the mystery of his incarceration, taking course over two separate time zones.
Intriguing, no? We spoke with Free Radical director and former Rare staffer David Doak to find out more about the PS2, Xbox and GameCube title.
Where did the idea for Second Sight originate, how did you come up with it?
Doak: The idea originated with the birth of Free Radical back in 1999. It was actually the first game we were going to develop, but at that time the company was just starting and we felt that we didn't have the resources to tackle such a big project.
I guess the original idea was to have a story which had an interactive element to it and that led to the idea of two narrative threads with one in flashback. We wanted something contemporary and realistic but with one 'different' element to drive the story and the gameplay - hence psychic powers.
As you say, there are two narratives following two different time periods - how do the two narratives intertwine?
Doak: The game begins with Vattic in the 'after' narrative - he awakens in an isolation cell in a US medical facility, bruised, battered and has clearly been experimented on. As he escapes from this medical facility he realises he has psychic powers but no memory of who he is or how he got there.
At key moments Vattic has flashbacks to a time six months 'before' when he was a reluctant participant in a military operation (WinterICE) to Siberia which was attempting to locate a discredited Nazi scientist who claimed to have amazing results in psychic research. The 'before' Vattic has no psychic ability and is in fact very cynical about the possibility that psychic phenomena exist at all.
The 'before' flashbacks are fully playable levels - not only do they fill in backstory information for Vattic and the player, they also allow the player to change events and influence the 'after' narrative. As the game progresses the player will gradually uncover the full implications of what actually happened on the WinterICE mission.
We understand that Vattic's psychic powers can be mixed with weapons - what can we expect here? For example, can we use telekinesis to "throw" knives at people?
Doak: No knives, that would be dangerous - you might have someone's eye out! However, you can certainly use telekinesis to knock enemies around with whatever items are at hand - crates (of course!), computer equipment, gas cylinders etc... A favourite combination is telekinesis-ing and explosive barrel close to an enemy and then shooting it out of the air with a gun and killing them with the splash damage.
Or how about telekinesis-ing enemies out from behind cover and gunning them down in the open as they wonder what hell is going on?
Are all weapons outside of psychic powers conventional, or is there anything a little unusual you can tell us about?
Doak: The non-psychic weaponry is conventional (ballistic guns) although I think we've done some very original work on the third-person control interface. Obviously, we come from a first-person shooting background and we were always concerned about maintaining "gunplayability" in the transition to third-person.
For instance, in Second Sight the targeting lock-on is augmented by a tweakable analogue aim which allows the skilful player to go for headshots.
We're particularly pleased with the sniper rifle which works by having a second viewport on screen representing the targeting reticule. This 'picture in picture' system allows for very playable and cinematic sniping.
Vattic's psychic powers develop as the narrative progresses. Is this RPG-style, or something else?
Doak: Vattic acquires his powers at key moments in the levels, subsequently stepped enhancements occur for a few of them, again at key moments. It is not a "the more you use it the better it gets" RPG system.
What hurdles have you had to overcome in offering the freeform gameplay allowed through psychic powers - because presumably you still have to maintain certain boundaries?
Doak: Vattic's psychic energy is expended as he uses his abilities (he has a psychic power meter) - however, this power is also continually regenerating. Effectively this means that some of the powers like Charm and Projection/Possession are time-limited, which provides an important constraint for the gameplay.
However, for the most part we have tended to rework or enhance the levels/controls/whatever to facilitate any freeform ideas that people have come up with during development. Most significantly, this has meant the integration of much more mechanical physics into the game engine than we had first expected.
There are multiple ways to complete levels, we're told, either via stealth, gunplay, psychic powers or a combination of all three. Could we get a gameplay examples of this?
Doak: OK, here's an example from early on when Vattic is outgunned (only has a tranquilliser gun) and is faced by two guards with automatic weapons who are looking for him:
1) Use conventional crouch/hide/pattern-watching to sneak past s-l-o-w-l-y.
2) Use psychic charm (misdirection) to walk past. Have to be careful not to brush against them though as they will notice physical contact and that is a disaster as it triggers an immediate psychic power wipe out for Vattic.
3) Watch and wait - try to take them both out with tranquilliser gun headshots.
4) Stealth against a wall. Carefully take out one guard out with your tranquilliser gun (preferably with a headshot) and then quickly telekinesis his dropped machine gun into your hands. Switch to the machine gun and spread the second guard around the room.
5) Psi blast them both into the walls and run for it.
6) Psi charm to get into a good position - stealth grab one guard from behind and use him as hostage cover while getting a bead on the second guy's head. Shoot the second guy with the tranquilliser then knock out the guard you're holding. Pick up both their weapons and be on your way. Use telekinesis to hide the bodies if you feel the need...
Has anyone yet completed an objective in a way you had never envisaged?
Doak: Most often this happens with people improvising to make things easier - usually because they are lazy! I've seen a lot of carefully placed and well armed guards distracted by telekinesis or just possessed and marched off into the sunset. Or the classic 'I'm not walking over there when I can telekinesis it from here'.
The thing is that we have tended to incorporate the improvised solutions into what we expect as development has gone on. A good example is telekinesis-ing guards into the air and letting AI buddies shoot them down for you; the first time we saw someone do this it looked like it broke the level design - but it didn't, it just made it more entertaining.
Is that game as much about being psychologically disturbing as it is about action and suspense?
Doak: It's not psychologically disturbing in that you're going to wake up in the night screaming - but you might lose some sleep mulling through the story twists and reveals. Think of intelligent thriller intrigue rather than the screaming ab-dabs.
How do you differentiate Second Sight from the TimeSplitters series?
Doak: They are very different things. A third-person, story-based action thriller with psychic powers and a flashback narrative and a first-person action shooter with time travel, amazing multiplayer and a unique mapmaker.