[Overlooked Gems] Second Sight
On just about every video game forum on the Internet, there is invariably a thread about which video games would make a good movie, who should play which character, who should direct, etc. I tend not to participate in that discussion because it presents the attitude that video game narrative can’t stand up on its own, and speaks to the contradiction in which gamers desperately want to be accepted by the mainstream while being incredibly cynical and suspicious when the mainstream expresses an interest. Usually, when this topic comes up in relation to the AAA title du jour, my response is something to the effect of, “Why does Metal Gear Solid need to be a movie?” or “What is missing from Half-Life that a movie could add?” Like books, television shows, or even historical figures and events, some things lend themselves to film much more easily than others. The key is not just taking something that’s popular and shoehorning it into another medium.
This is a long-winded introduction, but trust me I’m going somewhere with this. Video games and movies are kind of in the same space that comic books and movies were in back in the 1990s. In the case of the latter, the technology wasn’t quite there to provide an experience that was both faithful to the source material and even remotely appealing to an audience beyond the extreme hardcore. Also, it took until the early 2000s before creative people steeped in the culture were given the keys to these franchises. Joss Whedon knows his stuff when it comes to comic books, and it shows with The Avengers. As it is now, the technology is theoretically available for filmmakers to adapt video games, but there really aren’t any significant artists in the movie industry who are also gamers.
So, here’s my message to Hollywood: Stop throwing money at developing movies for Bioshock, Halo, Grand Theft Auto, Metal Gear Solid, and all these other AAA massive games…at least for the time being. Hollywood isn’t ready to make those kinds of movies because there aren’t enough people in prominent positions who know how to properly deal with those properties. Instead, if they are serious about adapting video games into movies — GOOD movies — start with something small. Start with something like Second Sight.
Second Sight was released in 2004, during the mid-to-late period of the PS2/Gamecube/XBox generation. It’s in this general period of time in which developers were really finding their feet with the technology of these consoles. There were a lot of interesting and capable games being released in this period, some of which failed to find an immediate audience. Unlike, say, Psychonauts or Beyond Good and Evil, Second Sight never really achieved the same kind of cult-hit, hip status amongst gamers. It was also released around the same time as Psi-Ops, which had a very similar gameplay premise, but was more conventional and less ambitious. As a result of a split fanbase and a crowded release period of quality titles, Second Sight ended up getting double-screwed. The good news is that it is available on Steam and GOG, it’s dirt cheap, and it’ll run on any PC from as early as 2007.
[So, what is so damn special about Second Sight?]
Second Sight’s plot seems straightforward, but its complexity unfolds as you progress. You play as Dr. John Vattic, a scientist who wakes up in captivity in a medical facility with psychic abilities but no memory of how he came to be there. As he escapes and begins to piece together the events leading up to his incarceration, he periodically flashes back to a mission he participated in six months prior; acting as an advisor for a military team investigating a rogue scientist in Siberia. The game jumps back and forth between that mission and Vattic’s attempts to find his scattered team and figure out how everything went wrong. It is an incredibly effective way of telling a story in that each section not only provides the player with discovery, but it also has an apparent effect on the events in the other timeline. It also does a nice job of balancing gameplay and storytelling, never feeling like one lasts too long.
Gameplay-wise, it is kind of all-over-the-place. It’s a third-person shooter with stealth elements, a rudimentary cover system, ragdoll physics, and of course psychic abilities. Overall, it’s functional but not exceptional. As with many early adopters of Ragdoll (i.e. Max Payne 2), the game feels really floaty and the cover can be a little frustrating. On the other hand, the targeting system is pretty rock-solid which counteracts the other control issues. Through this early section of the game, he progressively acquires psychic abilities such as telekinesis and astral projection which become conveniently necessary to aid his escape. By the time you are halfway through the game you have pretty much acquired (and re-acquired) all of your abilities, thus providing you with many opportunities to play around. With the exception of a few sequences here and there which require you to use a particular ability to progress, you have free reign to use your powers to mess with your environment and, of course, your enemies. There are few things more awesome than Astral Projecting into a guard’s body, taking him over, and opening fire on his allies while your physical self is safely around the corner.
The thing that truly sets Second Sight apart from most games is its ending. Quality endings can be a tough nut to crack for games, but this one really pulls it off. Obviously I’m not going to spoil it here, but I’ll frame it a little bit. The game pushes Vattic into a final confrontation in two timelines, puts him in mortal danger, and triggers a truly phenomenal plot twist. Its revelation isn’t quite as world-shattering as the ones in games like, say, Knights of the Old Republic or Bioshock, but it has implications so significant it makes you immediately want to go back and restart the game.
As a complete package, Second Sight is nowhere near my all-time top ten. While I stand firm that most games would not make interesting movies and that filmmakers should not bother trying to adapt them, this game is one of the rare exceptions that I believe would make a fantastic companion to the core experience. As an added bonus, seeing a game like this being adapted into a quality film would present a second chance on a game which really deserved far more of an audience than it got the first time around. Are there any games that you think would legitimately make an interesting movie? Let’s talk about it! Leave a comment below or start a thread in our forum.