SiN Episodes: Emergence
Now hereís something new: a game of high production values, clocking in at only just shorter than many full games, yet being sold for less than a movie DVD. SiN: Emergence is the first episode of a planned nine-episode series, with developers Ritual delivering shorter content for a lower price. The theory is that by keeping the game short and reducing development time the overall quality should increase as a result.
Behind the scenes
The SiN episodes are based on the Source engine, the powerhouse behind Half Life 2. Visuals are distinctive and varied, ranging from docks and construction yards to high-rise office buildings, all filled with clutter just waiting to be thrown about using the superb Havok physics. Sound is even better, with perfectly judged music, sound effects and voice acting, all imbued with a mischievous sense of humour (listen to the terrified screams of the flying soldiers when you send their jetpacks out of control).
All of the above you would expect from a Source-based game. Where SiN really sets itself apart from the competition is in its combat, delivering possibly the most exciting and fun FPS combat Iíve ever played. The weapons are all of strategic use, each vital in different situations and against different enemies, enhanced with some brilliant alternative fire modes (ever fancied shooting through walls, or ricocheting bullets around a corner?), chunky animations and sound effects that have real impact. Enemies are a largely intelligent bunch, taking cover and moving about the locations to try and outsmart you. Every aspect of the combat is superbly designed and executed.
A worthy challenge
However, the real clincher comes in the form of the adaptive challenge system, which alters the difficulty of the game based on your skill level. If you start getting in a lot of headshots, youíll find the enemy soldiers starting to wear armoured helmets, for example. Conversely, if you start having difficulty and a particular section results in your repeated death, the game will adjust to make it slightly easier, either by reducing the number of enemies or by dropping extra health packs. The system is fully adjustable too, so the hardcore players can turn off the assistance if they want to go it alone.
It cannot be overestimated how much the challenge system aids the gameplay. The result is a game that is constantly challenging, often extremely difficult, but which very rarely becomes frustrating. The remarkable thing is that this is true for players of all skills Ė a complete beginner will be able to play and have fun and complete the game, while an FPS veteran will still find a worthy challenge. Itís a huge step ahead of the usual ĎEasy, Normal, Hardí options found in games and makes for an almost perfectly balanced experience.
Absence of story
The weakest part of the game is the story, which is a shame given the potential of the new episodic format. Episode 1 sets up characters and the world but doesnít really go into detail, occupying itself instead with action set pieces and bodycounts. This makes for superb gameplay but a rather limp narrative that rarely rises above b-movie clichť and caricature. This is highlighted particularly in the final hours when you are meant to feel an emotional connection to your comrades, despite them being little more than voices of exposition. Hopefully future episodes will develop the story further and manage to find a balance without harming the core action.
SiN: Emergence is a solid start to the series and episodic gaming in general. Thereís potential for a great thriller but it really depends on how daring Ritual are willing to be with the format. The endless action of episode 1 is immense fun, but spread over another 8 episodes it could easily become tiresome. Action games usually suffer from being too long, which is one of the key advantages to the episodic structure, so letís hope Ritual arenít afraid to experiment.
Gameplay: The best FPS combat in a long time. Yes, better than Far Cry and Half Life 2, even if SiN isnít as impressive in its overall design.
Graphics: Not quite as polished as Half Life 2, but nevertheless impressive and distinctive.
Sound: Great sound effects and brilliant music that blends orchestral strings with a pumping action score.
Lifespan: The episode lasts approximately 6 hours no matter your skill, due to the adaptive challenge system. Thereís lots of replayability, with hidden secrets to find and alternative challenge modes. Multiplayer is apparently on the way, hopefully in a free update.
Final Score: 7/10
Simon 'Tarn' Jones © 2006