SiN Episode 1: Emergence Review
2GHZ Pentium M CPU
GeForce Go 7800GTX Video
Those who have been following first person shooters for the last decade have probably heard of SiN, the Quake-engine title from Dallas developers Ritual Entertainment. While Ritual has spent most of these last ten years making games under contracts for other companies, they're finally returning to their most popular original franchise. With a new way of delivering the game and no publisher breathing down their collective necks, Ritual has put together a great fPS experience - and the best part is that it comes in at a budget price of $20!
SiN: Episode 1: Emergence follows the story of John Blade and his sidekicks at HardCorps, a law enforcement firm trying to keep the peace in Freeport City some time in the near future. Elexis Sinclaire and her evil corporation, SiNTEK, rule the streets just as much as the cops do; her experiments with genetic mutation were a major part of the first SiN game. Well, now she's got a partner in crime who goes by the name of Viktor Radek, someone who's got a personal vendetta against Blade. Along with the return of hacker JC from the first game, Blade has a new sidekick: Jessica Cannon, a no-punches-held bag of sass who also happens to be pretty good with an assault rifle.
SiN Episode 1 is currently available via Valve Software's Steam download/content service, and this game itself runs on Valve's own Source engine (which powered the mega-hit Half-Life 2). Because of this along with some borrowing of Valve's innovative ideas when it comes to FPS gameplay, it's tough not to make comparisons to HL2. The graphics are about on par with Valve's title, while the action is just as fast and intense. Plus, Jessica is very similar to Alyx Vance, the female sidekick that helped out Gordon Freeman in HL2. Much like Alyx, Jessica has been animated very well and will pop in and out based on how the story goes. She's invincible but doesn't do all the work for you, so she's never any kind of annoyance to the player. Overall, Jessica is a fine addition to the SiN franchise.
The episodic format introduced by Ritual for this game has both pluses and minuses. The major plus is that you get a good chunk of fun, intense gameplay (somewhere around six to eight hours for most players) for a budget price. The downside is that the game doesn't have all of the features of a full-price blockbuster shooter. The number of weapons is small, while there aren't any terribly innovative sequences in the game that really move the FPS genre forward as a whole. That's not to say this isn't enjoyable, but at least this first Episode of the game is not really groundbreaking.
While there are only three weapons in Episode 1, they're all well-made and extremely useful. The Magnum returns from the first game; it's a futuristic pistol with great accuracy and an alternate fire that is similar to the Railgun from the Quake series. The shotgun has a nice, satisfying kick and sound, and its alternate fire fires out flak-style projectiles that can bounce off walls to kill enemies. Finally, the submachine gun is great for taking out hordes of the weaker soldiers, and the grenade-launching alt-fire really packs a punch. There are also incendiary grenades to use; these things will explode for initial damage, set people on fire, and leave a burning area for several seconds that can work to stop enemies from running through.
Yes, three weapons seems really low for any modern shooter, but in this game every different way of dealing damage (seven ways in all) each have their own ammo source and they all have their own particular usage. The different types of enemies that you'll fight in this game is great though; between the standard troopers which have a selection of any of the weapons Blade himself can get, to the chaingun-toting heavy armored soldiers, to the jetpack-using troops, danger can come from all sides. Then there are the mutants which will start coming at you about halfway into the game, and the automated defense systems like hovering drones and sentry guns which you'll need to deal with as well. Plus, you'll fight a couple of bosses in the process, too.
Ritual has put a lot of effort into a new dynamic difficulty system for Emergence. First, it's important to mention that the game will constantly evaluate how you play and adjust difficulty depending on how well you do. But you can tweak it: when you start a new game, you get to choose how much of an overall challenge the game gives you (which is sort of an adjustment beyond the base difficulty that's decided for you). This is represented by a slider bar, and you also get another slider bar that tells the game how quickly, if at all, you'd like the difficulty to be dropped if you're getting killed a lot. You can go all the way from nearly-instant help, all the way to none at all.
This difficulty system is pretty interesting as it allows you to play at a higher difficulty than you might be used to without all of the frustration of some sort of nearly-impossible situation. Of course, you can adjust the two difficulty sliders to drastically affect the number of enemies, their accuracy, and their overall AI tactics. Much of the intended replay value in SiN Episode 1 revolves around the player trying the game at various difficulty settings - while I found this whole system to be interesting and fun to fiddle with, others might not.
During your romp through Freeport City, Blade is going to escape from a medical lab, fight through the streets and into the docks, on a huge cargo ship, and finally up to the SiNTEK headquarters in the city. The pacing is fantastic, with the right amount of fighting that doesn't extend into getting on your nerves, and many of the battle sequences are memorable if not terribly original.
Ritual is working on an online component for SiN Episodes, but as far as I am aware they have not finalized their plans for how they'll be distributing it. One option is to release it as a free add-on to Episode 1, but that's not set in stone. Either way, expect a mix of classic FPS gameplay modes (Deathmatch, Team DM, and Capture the Flag seem to be the likely suspects).
I really enjoyed SiN Episode 1. While I was playing it I wondered what made this game any better than any number of other FPS titles on the market today, but I realized that at a budget price, this game is actually really good. Not many games in this genre are released with a $20 price tag, so some gamers out there might not really know how to deal with a game that is a little light on the content but much lighter on the price. Give it a shot, though, and I think you'll find that it's a great game no matter how much it costs.