One of gaming's forgotten gems, Second Sight, has returned to Steam after being unavailable for nine years. Developed by the Nottingham-based Free Radical Design, best-known for the Timesplitters series before it was driven to bankruptcy by Lucasarts, Second Sight is a 2004 third-person adventure that is built around fancy telekinetic abilities.
The game was de-listed from both Steam and GOG in September 2012. At the time a GOG staffer said "some legal issues have arisen with Second Sight” before its removal from the store, likely arising from Crytek's acquisition of the remains of Free Radical a few years beforehand. THQ Nordic re-acquired the rights to both Second Sight and Timesplitters in 2018, though this re-release is not a remaster: it's identical to the version last available in 2012 (and published by Codemasters).
Second Sight was supposed to be the game that Free Radical Design, formed of Rare veterans, made first. "When we set up we weren't going to make TimeSplitters," co-founder Steve Ellis told me many years ago. "We were making a game called Redemption that would end up being Second Sight." The estimated development time was three years. "Redemption was the plan," recalled artist Lee Ray. "Then Ian Livingstone says, being the Fighting Fantasy freak that he is, said 'Yeah we'll do it if it has demons in it.' He was obsessed with demons! So there was a bit of arguing..."
The studio ended up making Timesplitters instead, before returning to the concept of Redemption: and leaving Ian Livingstone's beloved demons behind, in favour of a story revolving around a US military facility and its prisoner. As prisoner John Vattic, you essentially toss guards around using your mind (or can just take over theirs), and try to work out what's going on: imagine Control with half-decent combat.
I'm not going to pretend that Second Sight is a buttery smooth experience: even at the time, the camera was a little funky, and there's no denying that visually it looks, well, like a game that came out in 2004. But this was one of the games that was a bit different then, and is still out there on its own now.
"The story never actually changed at all," remembers David Doak, Free Radical co-founder and one of the game's writers. "I'm very proud of that story actually, and the twist, I think it stands up well. We were thinking there was no reason we couldn't be making a Metal Gear Solid, and if you look at it it has many elements along those lines. If I could go back and change anything about it I'd spend more time refining the controls. We made it too clunky to control, switching the powers and things. But the lock-on targeting stuff in Second Sight, with things like the sniper, I still think is really innovative."
Maybe I'm just looking back with nostalgia, but I loved Second Sight at the time and can't wait to see if it holds up. There are a thousand other games demanding your attention but Second Sight's setup and abilities have never quite had an equivalent. This game is one of the paths less-travelled, and it's great to see it back.