Retro Review: Snatcher

'Snatcher, no snatching!' - Gillian Seed takes Dora the Explorer seriously, and you should too.

The Snatcher I know and love is actually a remake. While the Sega CD version was released in 1994, the original MSX title came out way back in 1988. There was apparently even a Playstation and Sega Saturn version that we never received, meaning the Sega CD version is the only internation version released. Luckily it’s a very good iteration, and it well utilises the capabilities of the hardware. It’s a traditional Japanese adventure game, which tend to function quite differently from the western idea of the point and click adventure genre. Instead they play out from primarily a first person perspective and rather than solving puzzles and creating solutions from an ever increasing inventory, the focusis much more about an engaging story and immersive atmosphere, which is something Snatcher does very well indeed.

The character you’ll be viewing the adventure from is Gillian Seed, an amnesiac (*groan*) and a Runner for the oranisation JUNKER, tasked with hunting down and destroying the disguised mechanical menace, the Snatchers (Yay!).  The world of Snatcher you see is a very hostile one. In 1996 a chemical weapon is released in Russia which kills 80% of the population of Eurasia, creating an area of total decimation for over a decade. Fifty years into the future our hero’s city, the Artificial Island of Neo Kobe, is beset upon by the Snatchers who have been killing citizens and stealing their identities, and it’s up to Gillian Seed to stop them. Yes, before we go any further, this is made by Hideo Kojima. It’s going to get a lot crazier later on. I wont be going into the rest of the story in detail, but it’s an interesting yarn that you’ll want to stick with until the end certainly. You also wont have any trouble getting there, as there is almost no fail-state in the entire game.

The majority of gameplay takes place from Gillian’s POV, and any choices regarding the adventure are made from a menu featuring the staple of genre commands like ‘Look’ and ‘Talk To’, and for the most part that’s exactly what you’ll be doing. There actually isn’t a lot more than that in terms of player interaction, besides a number of shooting segments in the game where you have to gun down approaching aggressors. These however occur at set moments in the story, so if you spend any time exploring or trying to figure out what to do next you wont simply have to fight random encounters along the way. Be prepared for a lot of reading though (Shooting’s natural enemy), as Gillian and crew will be doing an awful lot of narration and description. It’s worth doing though, as it’s genuinely entertaining to flesh out the world as you see fit. In the JUNKER HQ you arrive at during the game’s introduction, you can freely wander the halls simply talking to people and learning more about the world you’re in. You can even head down to the target range and participate in a number of challenges, for no other reason than ‘I wanted to’. The game is obviously linear, and there are no multiple endings or choices to be made throughout, so this kind of exposition really helps to keep the player involved in something that actually he doesn’t have an awful lot of impact on.

Where Snatcher really succeeds is just the interactions between the different characters in the game, for example early on Gillian actually teams up with a tiny robotic partner called ‘Metal Gear Mk. II’, both a useful tool and a valuable ally. Throughout the game both characters fire remarks back and forth between each other, with Gillian lucking out with women allowing MG MK. II to console him about how all women are capable of deception if you let them. What really fleshes out these two characters and the rest of the cast is through the CD quality audio which actually includes a full english voice-track, and amazingly it’s really quite good. Some of the supporting characters are a little iffy, especially the receptionist of JUNKER, Mika, but most of the male characters like engineer-cum-cool guy-cum-drunkard Henry Benson and the effortlessly awesome and engimatic Random Hajile. On a console where almost all western games were obsessed with live-action cinematics with real actors, a decision which failed universally, Snatcher should’ve completely overshadowed them with great performances and a well composed soundtrack too. Somehow it didn’t, and the failures of the Sega CD are more often remembered than its successes.

Which is an incredible shame when factor in the fantastic art direction. The world of Snatcher is heavily inspired by Blade Runner, among other fictions, but instead of the dark and desolate world that would’ve been easier to depict Kojima went with something incredibly bright and detailed. All the environments are mostly static backgrounds with a few animated characters along with it, which means you can really analyse each area and make out a lot of really interesting features. One of the coolest things about the game is that even though it’s presented from the first person, you have extra cut-ins during important dialogues where you’re actually shown the animated faces of Gillian, Metal Gear and whoever they’re talking to. This way you can actually see how they’re reacting facially while they’re communicating, showing off anger and embarassment, and during a number of scenes like the realisation above, the comedic effect it has on scenes really makes the whole effort worth it. The whole game is peppered with early but easily apparent parts of Hideo Kojima genius, like that moment above where you had to find the device by turning up your TV volume in order to hear it. Afterwhich, Kojima lowers the volume of the rest of the game so you forget you ever turned the volume up at all. That is of course until the device does what was intended, and you’re left what your ears blown and your controller launched in surprise.

Ultimately, it does fall a little short of the mark. The final act of the game is a lot more linear than the rest of the adventure, and the payoff for the story isn’t actually as satisfying as the build up was. I would’ve much preferred a shorter ending if I could’ve had a lot more hunting various Snatchers across the city with Metal Gear and JUNKER before we’d begun tying up the threads of the tale. Overall though it’s a fantastic game, and for the time it really pushes what I thought would’ve been acceptable on a Sega console, seeing as though in the initial act you find a human corpse with its head firmly twisted off. It’s not that great in terms of player interaction, and I’m sure a lot of people, even those used to point-and-click style adventure games, will find themselves wandering what all the fuss is about. That said with the popularity of games like Hotel Dusk and Phoenix Wright, I don’t think it’ll be as much of a leap of faith for gamers than it used to be.

Ace Attorneys and Private Eyes beware, there’s a Snatcher on the loose, and he’s after your free time! B+

  • sarahtonin

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