Reviewed: June 7, 2006
Released: May 9, 2006
In 1998 a little game called SiN was released to the gaming populace. It was a buggy little piece of rushed software that was soon overshadowed by a very big game called Half Life. After Half Life, it seemed every previous first person shooter was some archaic throwback best left unplayed should it somehow impinge on Half Lifeís greatness by daring to exist in the same genre.
Truth be told, I preferred SiN to Half Life. Sure, Half Life was the ďnext stepĒ but I always felt it played like more of an interactive movie. SiN though; SiN was a game, a delightful little B-move romp with interactivity that has yet to be surpassed. Quite honestly, the closest thing to a Duke Nukem sequel weíve yet gotten.
Iím sure youíve noticed Iíve mentioned Half Life quite a bit in comparison to SiN. Itís a connection thatís only going to get more pronounced as this review goes on. Tapping into the power of the Source engine, SiN Episodes: Emergence is in stark contrast to the rivalry the original and Half Life seemed to have going, one sided though it was. No longer figurative enemies, Valve provided the engine, Ritualistic the framework, and the we get the first of what might just become the first true episodic game series.
The game immediately throws you into the action. Captured and alone, Col. John R Blade is at the mercy of diabolical SinTek owner Elexis Sinclaire and local bad guy Viktor Radek. After a daring rescue by HardCorps new recruit Jessica Cannon, the game begins in earnest.
One of the first things that becomes apparent is Freeport City has had a lot happen to it since the last time you visited (in the Wages of SiN expansion) Itís awash in both chaos and bureaucracy. Ritual left little hints about some of the stuff that happened and Iím positive weíll get the full story as new episodes are released.
Soon after, you obtain your first weapon, which is the standard HardCorps M90 Magnum (with a few custom enhancements.) This was the gun I used for the majority of the game. As the story unfolds, you obtain two different weapons. Thatís right, a measly two, on the upside however, each has an alternate fire mode. I remain hopeful the paltry weapon selection is merely for the first chapter and not all thereís going to be in your armory.
Combat is your standard FPS formula, shoot, dodge, shoot. The enemies are a mixed bag. Occasionally theyíll be very intelligent, but Iíve also run up to a couple groups and they stood there for seconds until they reacted to my presence. On average theyíre reasonably astute.
Emergence also has a selectable difficulty setting that works really well. You can decide how long before the game determines if itís becoming too hard or too easy and then how much it should ramp the difficulty up or down to compensate. I found the system worked just as advertised. The game was never so easy I would just blindly rush through, but never so hard I had to constantly reload saves.
The story as presented in the game is serviceable. SiN has always seemed to be rather B-movie when it comes to its storyline. Well, maybe ďB-movieĒ isnít quite fair. Itís more like an action film you donít really need to think about, just shut your brain off and enjoy the pretty lights. The story ends not on a thrilling cliffhanger, but a pause in the action after a big battle. Iím still pumped for the next episode, but a thrilling cliffhanger wouldíve driven me even further over the edge.
Emergence runs off the Source engine so you know it looks good. Not quite up to the level of Doom III or Unreal III but certainly not hard on the eyes. Unfortunately, Iím one of the people who gets the infamous Source stuttering bug so the game, regardless of graphical settings, often ran as little more then slide show. On the upside, I could run it with high graphical setting with very little slowdown in the rare instances the stutter wasnít there.
The environments all have excellent texture work and the entire package has an excellent blend of in-door and out-door locations. Most of the fighting takes place in-doors but the buildings themselves are pretty different so it hardly feels like youíre fighting in the same place for the whole game.
The characters also look great and the splendid emoting continues to be one area where Source reigns supreme. SiNís most recognizable character would probably be Elexis Sinclaire, the busty neíer-do-well. She certainly looks better in Source then she ever did in Quake. Where she used to exist as little more then a comically big-chested seductress, usually in tight red leather; here she becomes more proportionately endowed and perhaps even a bit sophisticated with a much more conservative type of dress (though still leaving a clear shot of some ample exposed cleavage.)
The other two carryovers from the original also look much better and have aged in the interim. Blade looks much more fearsome and definitely not someone you want to see pointing a gun at you. JC seems a bit more built and even changed hairstyles. The new comer, Jessica Cannon, also fits well into the SiN world.
Your weapons, limited selection though they are, also look nice in your hands. The animation on them is just as good as the animation concerning the characters themselves. Unfortunately, the weapons arenít even inventive designs. Both the shotgun and assault rifle are very generic. I bemoan the lack of inventive weapons in Emergence, especially since the first game was pretty good in that regard.
The enemies are somewhat of a disappointment. A majority of the episode is spent fighting the same stock jump suited guys. There are other enemies, but only in small sections. The Bosses are pretty inventive and quite a fearsome sight to behold. Canned death animations are also gone, and a welcome change from the three or so we used to have in the original.
As for minuses, the only major ones are the stuttering issues I experienced, more on that below. The other one was higher expectations. I felt this word was a lot less interactive then the previous SiN games. I used to marvel at ATMís and phones and even fake little DOS simulations on the computers, and they did all that in an aging engine. A brand new, close to state of the art engine is now used and only the phone terminals and vending machines seem to have carried over. In my mind, the original SiN still holds the record for most interactive game ever, least until Duke Nukem Forever is released.
Emergence performs adequately in the music department. Nothing overly inspiring, but not bad enough you mute the sound to avoid it. Although, the song played on the main menu I couldíve done without.
The sound effects are perfect and do an excellent job of capturing the feel of the environments. Bullets sound exactly like I think they should when they hit wood or class or concrete. The guns, all three of them, have excellent oomph and sound realistic.
The voice acting is serviceable, Jessica Cannonís lines are the least impressive of the bunch but Iíve certainly heard worse. Blade became a lot less talkative then he was before, and I do miss his verbal banter. He went from almost Duke Nukem in his use of in-fight observations and insults to a few steps above Gordon Freeman. Both JC and Blade sound just like their old counterparts which is quite welcome, and yet still fit the updated characters too.
Emergence isnít a full game mind you, just an opening chapter in a planned ongoing series of installments, but even so, itís long enough you feel like you got your $20 worth and thatís not even counting the extras. $19.99 gets you SiN Episodes: Emergence, plus the original QUAKE II SiN, as well as the SiN multiplayer (now run through Steam.)
You also get a couple unlockable modes after you compete the game, nothing special, just a HardCorp mode (increased difficulty and no saving) along with OTHER MODE. All in all, itís an incredible package. The older SiN is well worth the entire price by itself. Packing them both together is like cutting into a delicious steak and finding money.
I wasnít much a fan of episodic content before this game. I didnít think they could include enough to warrant a $20 price tag but SiN Episodes: Emergence has gone a long way towards disproving that assumption. I was also quite pleased with the entire process of purchasing the game. Iíve long decried Steam as being invasive, unnecessary, and useless. While I still hold ďsomeĒ of those opinions, this streamlined version is much improved over the earlier incarnation.
The current package is a steal and well worth the $20 being charged for it. I donít think, at this point, Emergence is a true sequel to SiN in application. But a lot of the same care and thought has been put into this version. By the time the entire game is laid out and story told, I certainly feel it could be.