SiN Episodes: Emergence Review (PC)

The original Sin game was released back in late 1998, and tweaked the first-person shooter in many subtle ways, making it that much more interesting to FPS fans around the world. Unfortunately, it was almost completely overshadowed by the revolutionary changes that made Half-Life, which came out on the same day, one of the best FPS games ever. So when Ritual and Valve signed a deal to release a new Sin game as episodic content via the Steam distribution service, many FPS fans were excited. Unfortunately, the game doesn’t completely live up to the hype.

Jessica Cannon - your sidekick for your trip
Your first view of Sin somehow seems ... sinful

As you’d expect from a game that uses Valve’s Source engine, the graphics are well done. The water effects are there. The same ability to pick up and move objects as in Half-Life 2, though without that game’s most famous weapon – the gravity gun. It all looks very nice. Ritual have also made sure that they’ve done what they were famous for doing in the original game – making sure that the people you’re shooting at react to how they are hit. Shooting someone in the chest or arm brings a reaction, but it will take several body shots to bring them down. On the other hand, a single head shot is often enough to cause gibbets of skull to fly everywhere, at least until your opponents start wearing helmets later in the game. Your fights are also very messy, leaving lots of blood stains and bullet holes on the walls, as would seem appropriate for the levels of carnage you create.

I’m getting ahead of myself though. The game starts off with you being strapped to some sort of operating table while some guy and a pair of breasts discuss your fate. I say that because that’s about all you’re really seeing in the cutscene that you’re watching from your character’s viewpoint. Like Half-Life 2, the entire game is seen from the perspective of your character, Colonel John Blade, who returns from the original game. After a couple of minutes of dialog, your cavalry arrives in the form of Jessica Cannon, who is your sidekick throughout the game. You then are whisked into several more cutscenes of city life which fade in and out, giving you a certain level of immersion in the game. The immersion stops there though. You really aren’t drawn further into the story, and from this point you’re just shooting your way through large numbers of opponents to reach the end of the game.

This leads us on to weapons. Unfortunately, there are only three, and none of these are out of the ordinary for a FPS. You get a pistol, a shotgun, and towards the end of the game a submachine gun. All three weapons have an alternate fire mode which does significantly more damage, and you also have access to incendiary grenades which your enemies do a fair job of avoiding in the later parts of the game. Given a chance, they also like to toss them at you, so you need to be constantly moving around in the battles that you have. Like the weapons, there are also only three main types of enemies you’ll be fighting. The main type is a mercenary. They start with pistols, and graduate to helmets and shotguns, and then the occasional submachine gun. Later there are Heavy Gunners, which carry a devastating chain gun, and lastly there are a couple of types of mutants – little ones that spit acid, and big ones that rend and tear. Right at the end of the game you’ll also see a small number of the SE:E version of HL2 manhacks. Not a whole lot of variation, especially as pretty much all you see are mercenaries for the first half to two thirds of the game.

You'll see a lot of these guys throughout the game Heavy Gunners will tear you to shreds towards the end

The second half of the game is where the game play becomes more challenging, as you finally see the other types of enemies, and they come at you in ever increasing numbers. One of the features touted in the game is that it dynamically adjusts the difficulty depending on how well you are faring. For example, if you’re not doing so well then you’ll see more health and ammo being dropped, or enemy types will vary slightly – you may see a heavy gunner and a mercenary instead of two heavy gunners. There is also a slider that can be adjusted in the game preferences if you want to make things easier or harder for yourself. For the most part though, the AI is fairly basic and you’ll be struggling more because of enemy numbers than intelligence.

The soundtrack to the game is probably one of its best features, with the music changing depending on what location you are in, and stepping up the tempo nicely whenever you’re in the middle of a major fight. I even found that the entire soundtrack could be downloaded from iTunes. As in HL2, there is a lot of detail in various environments, and you can certainly throw around pretty much anything that isn’t nailed down – much of which seems to be explosive as is the case in so many FPS games.

Overall game length is on the short side, and is anywhere from four to six hours depending on your experience with FPS games. It’s certainly short enough to complete in one sitting should you feel so inclined. This seems especially short given the $20 price tag, so this reviewer would hope that future episodes don’t seem to short change the end user as much. The path through the game is also fairly straight forward, and the puzzles aren’t especially troubling. While this does keep things moving, it also feels like you’re not challenged too hard. A major shortfall is the complete lack of a multiplayer game. This game is intended solely for one person to play through, and hopefully enjoy enough that they’ll come back to buy the sequels. You also feel like you’re on your own a lot as those assisting you are absent most of the time. Even when they are around, they tend not to say very much – although that’s still more than your character says. Apparently whatever he is injected with at the beginning of the game made him mute, or so it would seem. More and better dialog would definitely have helped.

Not everyone you meet is quite so pretty
Someone call a cleaning crew!

The bottom line for Sin Episodes: Emergence is that it has some nice features which make it better than an average FPS, but the things that are missing mean it’s never going to be great. Unless Ritual have a much improved game for the second episode, it seems unlikely that many people will still be playing when chapter nine is finally reached.

Top Game Moment:
Dealing out awesome carnage to a pulse pounding soundtrack, then surveying the gory mess you've made afterwards.

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