Ultra-Indie Spotlight Sunday: Second Chance Is A First Of Its Kind
Today’s Spotlight caught me by surprise. So much so that I hijacked the article from Ted, the usual writer of this column. But this game stuck out to me and I needed way more than the 2-3 paragraph Daily Dose Format. Second Chance, by itch.io developer THE_T_V1RUS, could possibly be the world’s first second-person perspective game (man that’s an awkward sentence). Every game I’ve ever played uses either a first-person or third person camera perspective. Beyond Ratchet & Clank (kind of, not really), there really are no games that are in the second person. Until now.
I suppose we should start by defining what “second-person perspective” actually means. A good example would be The Catcher and the Rye. Holden Caulfield, as the narrator, is talking directly to you. The book is kind of like a conversation, albeit an entirely one-sided one because it’s a book and trying to converse back would be a red flag to friends and family. But basically, a second person perspective is whenever the author says “you.” You, the audience, become a character part of the narrative.
So how does that work in a game. How is it possible for the author to say “you.” Well, there are a few ways. The obvious choice is the classic text-based adventure games, such as the classic Zork. The game tells you a scenario, for instance, “you come across a path in the road,” and you type in your answer, for another instance, “turn right.” The other examples I could find are things like Deadly Premonition or Psychonauts, during scenes where you see from the boss’ point of view. But the latter examples are only a small part of the game, whereas the former is not really gameplay. That’s what makes Second Chance so intriguing. You play it from the second person for the entire game.
Second Chance has you playing as a man named Adam, sitting at a desk. On his desk a ticking bomb, as well as a computer. On the screen is the feed for various cameras located in some kind of building, focusing on a lady named Nola. She’s stuck in the building just like you, but unlike you, there is a very threatening Jason Voorhees looking man stalking her. From the confines of this desk, you must guide Nola through this labyrinthine building, to both get her out alive and find a way to defuse the ticking time bomb.
So technically, Second Chance is still a first-person game. In a bit of a subversion, you, the player in Second Chance become the narrator. But it would be impossible for you to give commands to Nola and have her move autonomously because this is a free indie horror game. You continue to control her movements, with the arrow keys. And since you’re looking at it from these fixed camera angles, a la Resident Evil, Second Chance is simultaneously a first-person, second-person, and third-person perspective game. Man, my head hurts thinking about this.
What works about Second Chance is that it is functionally the same as a classic third-person horror game. The second person perspective is really only as a narrative device. Players of retro horror titles like Silent Hill and Resident Evil will have no trouble getting used to the gameplay. It plays like any other horror game, so at least in that regard, you don’t spend the game trying to wrap your head around literary narrative technicalities to try and figure out just how second person of a perspective the game is unless you’re as unhinged as me.
But because you’re sitting at a desk as a second-hand observer of the actions, there can still be spooks that rely on that perspective. All throughout Second Chance you’re reminded of your incoming demise in the form of the bomb ticking away next to the monitor. As the countdown goes down, and you have difficulty figuring out the puzzle, the panic can really set in. On top of that, there are several great scares that involve the camera feed pointing at you sitting at your chair, which was really effective.
What Can Be Fixed
The faults in Second Chance are relatively few. My main problem is that the puzzles are not the best. I recognize that for a developer this may be incredibly hard to do well, especially without playtesting. It’s hard to gauge just what the player will be thinking and to set the puzzle difficulty accordingly. I got stuck and ended up with the “Bomb Ending,” you can probably guess how that goes. So I might try and get some community feedback, somehow. This one should be taken with a grain of salt, as it is just as likely that I am dumb and the puzzles are actually fine.
My other problem is that the game doesn’t use the second person perspective nearly enough. The best scare in Second Chance involved the room that you are stuck in, and I think T Virus should have really leaned into that. Obviously the bomb right next to you is a source of tension, but the rest of it comes from playing as Nola. It’s almost easy to forget that you are playing as someone else. A reminder in the form of something threatening, or even just a weird noise and the player’s camera looks around, would absolutely heighten the experience.
Second Chance is honestly one of the best free games I’ve played on itch.io. It’s incredibly polished, the sound design is surprisingly great, and on top of that, it utilizes an almost unheard of narrative perspective (for video games, obviously). Of course, it’s a free game, probably made in T Virus’ spare time. At ~20 minutes of game time (the clock on your desk connected to your bomb will time you), it’s certainly longer than many. But at the same time, I felt that it could be more flushed out.
Perhaps in a later edition or sequel, the character you guide could find a way to extend the time, like the massive floating clock in the Hydro Thunder time trials. This is certainly a novel concept and I would absolutely love to see it expanded. Surely a smarter person than I could figure out how to use the desk-based horror in more interesting ways. You can play Second Chance by clicking here, it’s name your own price. Just don’t think too hard about if it’s actually second-person perspective