A good thriller is hard to beat.
In Western literature, it has become a popular genre of fiction that has over a hundred years of history behind it: (one I’d argue really got its roots from Alexander Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo, BUT we’ll save it for another day). What I love about the genre is its ability to portray both a psychologically and intellectually deep story in a way that rewards its audience with clever twists, gripping action and a strong demand for more well after the final page. Whether it’s the deeply-woven mind-benders of John le Carre and Christopher Nolan to the fast-paced, white-knuckle thrill rides of Brad Thor, Vince Flynn (RIP) and Ghost in the Shell, I can safely say that the thriller in all of its forms is one of the most influential genres of fiction to exist.
This also means that it is one of the most copied and, unfortunately, poorly-copied genres of fiction.
Most understand the broad strokes of thriller fiction and, incorrectly, assume that those broad strokes are what make it good. So, we get so called ‘action thrillers’ with tons of action, barrels of tropes, stock characters and little else. The formula is so abused by now that anyone looking for a quick buck can copy it and slide under the radar of good taste. This is a trend that nearly collapsed the James Bond franchise a while back before Casino Royale snapped it back up to shape.
Enter Snow Light.
Created from a webcomic series called Dragon and Weed, Snow Light is an action thriller in the same vein as the Call of Duty series or any of its numerous clones. And yes, that carries with it more critique than praise. Everyone got their safety gear strapped on tight? Leggo!
Oh and there will be spoilers, people. You’ve been warned.
Snow Light takes place in a futuristic world marred by conflict after the fall of a powerful international corporation. Kate, codenamed Snow Light (of course), works for an international espionage organization tasked with stopping a terrorist called White Mask. In order to do this, Snow has to find him through his associate Avarez: a PMC leader who rose to power by defeating an army of militant feminists in South America. Together with her friend, computer genius Rebecca, Snow has to bring Avarez to justice before…something.
There is a clear language barrier here, so some of the plot being lost in the shuffle can be forgiven. However, even with a rough translation, you can get the bare minimum of a game’s plot and whether that game is good, bad or average. We saw that last year around the same time (strange coincidence) with Timun Mas. The same rules apply for Snow Light. If you haven’t been able to tell from my sarcastic tone, I’m choosing to believe that even in its native language, Snow Light isn’t good.
The biggest issue is that there is no threat for Snow Light to stop. The White Mask never actually makes a threat against the world during the game and Avarez only attacks innocent people to escape a mind-bogglingly stupid attempt to arrest him. To further the point, Avarez is repeatedly shown to be a respected member of the internationally community and the White Mask has the backing of several, prominent nations in the world. If anything, Snow Light and her group are the terrorists here, as their constant presence just causes more problems than solutions.
The funniest thing about that last bit is that it could very well be right. Snow Light, as mentioned, is canon to a long-running webcomic. Regardless of what the developers may have promised, if you have never read the webcomic, you will be lost trying to play this game. Strangely, it’s not like they don’t explain certain aspects of this typical futuristic world or that there’s no backstory for the cast, but rather those explanations don’t actually explain anything. Using the game itself as an example wouldn’t work, but let me try to use Ghost in the Shell Stand Alone Complex 2nd Gig to show how backstory and explanations work in this game.
This is Hideo Kuze. He tried to assassinate the Prime Minister and now he’s trying to start a revolution in Japan. Section Nine have to stop him before he gets a nuclear weapon and declares part of Japan independent.
See? I covered all of the basics of Kuze’s character. So, when the Major does get moody thinking of him or Gouda’s talking about Kuze’s importance to his own plans or Kuze himself is talking about his vision of the future, you shouldn’t have any questions because you already know what you need to know and that’s all that’s important!
THAT is how Snow Light operates when it wants to explain something. When it DOESN’T want to explain something; God help you. You will be completely lost in a slush of acronyms, impossible technologies and poorly executed action bits. The game’s clear response to anyone confused playing the game is a glossary of terms in the Extras section that follows the GITS example I already gave you, along with an overview of the comic. So, yeah; if you’re confused, just read the comic! Did I mention that the webcomic is over seventy chapters long? Yeah, have fun with that!
Once you get outside of that, you begin to realize that Snow Light herself is a bad protagonist. She checks off all of the necessary Action Girl tropes while bringing as little personality or likability to her role as possible. At least they attempted to give her computer-whiz sidekick Rebecca some personality by having her talk back to her superiors and burn the secret organization’s cash with her constant shopping sprees…okay, it’s a bratty personality, but I’ll take what I can get. If perfect heroes, male or female, aren’t your thing: you’re not going to like Snow. There is literally no situation she cannot shoot or punch her way out of. Interrogations are a snap as everyone is afraid of her without, you know, actually KNOWING who she is. When they DO find out who she is, then they’re crapping their pants even harder because (buckle your seatbelts for this one) apparently she’s the daughter of the leader of global organized crime.
That’s right. In this universe, all organized crime is ruled by a global Mafia Don and his daughter is a specially-trained superspy who literally avoids getting hit by twenty men armed with automatic weapons by standing still. If I were face-palming any harder, my teeth would be embedded into my cerebral cortex.
Snow goes to investigate something concerning Avarez, something goes wrong and she has to fight her way out. It’s definitely boring, but boring and bad are two completely different things. Then, the orgy happened.
Yes; as we enter the third act, Snow has to pose as a prostitute and sneak into an orgy to investigate one of Avarez’s backers: a coked-out super genius who apparently runs on hookers. This is also where we find out about Snow’s Daddy and everything proceeds to collapse onto itself. The writers stop trying to hold everything together and instead speeds through the rest of the game. In the process, motives become completely nonsensical, there are a few times characters flat out use magic to escape certain situations and we end on a completely absurd, sequel-baiting cliff-hanger.
It isn’t like the game is short either, but no one on the team wanted to take the time to build and connect the story competently. Instead, they chose to rely on the tropes of the genre and their previous work on the Dragon and Weed webcomic to patch any holes they made. So, what could have been mediocre is instead rendered foul.
PRESENTATION & GAMEPLAY
‘Surely this game, approved by Steam, will get better at this point won’t it JP?’ Uhhhhhhh, no.
The Presentation is amateur hour; no question about it. Believe it or not, I’m withholding the hammer in this situation because nothing can be gained from slamming the style too hard. Instead, I’m going to focus on what the artist’s limited ability was used for. Instead of working to make their cast distinct; they are all easily forgettable shapes and blobs. Nothing grabs your attention and no; the constant stream of fanservice doesn’t count. This isn’t attractive art and since it isn’t attractive art, seeing Snow Light’s cleavage and ass every five minutes only annoys.
As for the action sequences, they’re completely illogical. The game attempts to employ quick cuts between the still scenes to give it a sense of tension and pace, but between the muddled story and questionable translation, the only thing you can take away from these moments are ‘Snow Light is a Badass’. Great. Other action scenes are blacked out completely, including the final fight between Snow and Avarez. Yeah, after dragging us along the entire game, we don’t even get to see them fight. Avarez just takes off his shirt, revealing an impossibly muscular body in comparison to his in-suit form. We then cut to black and Snow has won…because she’s a badass. Ugh.
Finally the sound direction is just flat-out bad. Entire scenes scroll by without music or sound effects only for them to be inserted in for a few seconds and removed again. The custom soundtrack isn’t bad, but like the game itself it isn’t consistent enough to be an asset.
‘Wait JP!’ Someone is undoubtedly saying. ‘This game has a QTE system! Wasn’t that used in the final fight?’
Yeah, let’s get to that glorious gameplay, shall we? Snow Light’s operating system allows it to be played on computers as well as the PS Vita, which gives it access to a Quick Time Event system that, honestly, makes sense for a game like this. While I have issues with QTEs in consoles games, since this is supposed to focus on spy missions and action events. It would be a great way to keep the player invested and make the game unique from other visual novels. So, of course it goes wrong!
The highly-touted QTE system is barely in the game. It plays a role during the first mission with no set button system to use. It is completely random and you won’t know for sure until at least the second time you play through the part. The game does automatically restart from the beginning of the QTE sequence, but just as you get the hang of it, the game doesn’t throw another QTE sequence at you until nearly an hour later. This makes it impossible to be used effectively and a waste of what could have been a unique system.
BUT, let it not be said that they didn’t ring out as much use of QTEs as they could! See, the other major use for QTEs in the game features Snow going through a body scanner. The QTE turns on and off the scanner SO if you can get the right button in time, you can see her panties!
There are also options for branching paths, but it isn’t really useful until the orgy scene where you can either follow Snow or Rebecca. With Snow, we find out about her Global Mafia Don Father and with Rebecca, well, she avoids some fat bastard raping her. I’m assuming this was included because of the lingerie she’s slinking around in during this chapter.
Finally, there’s the translation. Again, it doesn’t seem like English is the team’s first language. However, this is translated into French, Spanish and German. This means that, on a technically level, they planned on every translation being good enough to sell in those individual cultures. With that in mind, this is a bad translation. Entire conversations don’t make any sense and, with the story in the state it’s in, it makes the game a whole lot more grinding. The latest news is that the production team is preparing a patch for the English version of the game to correct most of the errors, so I can applaud them on that much.
However, a language patch doesn’t fix the larger issues plaguing the gameplay. That, unfortunately, isn’t salvageable.
At minimum, you’ll burn around five hours with this game with more time burned depending on how many times you have to replay a QTE. It is also available on PS Vita, Steam and Desura for $9.99. Considering the issues surrounding the title, it won’t surprise anyone that I’m not rushing to pick it back up again. If, somehow, you can dig some entertainment value out of it: have at it. But, even then, I’d wait for a Steam sale.
I wish I could defend this game, because this is a genre I deeply love. However, Snow Light is a mess. With its bland and forgettable cast, irritating plot and confusing action beats, the only way forward I can see for this group is to scrap it and start over. Yes, they made it to Steam and Desura and those are achievements they should cherish. However, they made it not because their own creativity and vision, but because they created a niche game, glued together with various action thriller tropes and marketed to a niche audience.
Surely, they can do better than that. It isn’t as repulsive as Sakura Spirit or as broken as Timun Mas, but that doesn’t make it good. Better luck next time.