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SiN Episodes: Emergence

Date: May 12, 2006
Author(s): Rob Williams

John Blade is back, and he’s not alone. We check out the first part to this Episodic adventure, with Blade continuing his journey of defending Freeport City. Elexis is still evil, but at least JC and Jessica are by our side. Let’s see if Emergence lives up to the original.



Introduction

Reader Warning: This review of SiN Episodes has content and visual representations of the game that may not be appropriate for all readers. The game carries a Mature ESRB rating for Blood/Gore, Strong Language and Sexual Themes. The article may reflect this, so please read with discretion.

It’s hard to believe that it has been a full eight years since the original SiN was released. The game was a marvel when it was first released, for a few reasons. Probably the first and most intriguing thing about the game was the foxy Elexis Sinclaire that graced the cover. Paired with great graphics and top notch action, the game was an instant hit. SiN was the first game to introduce body specific hit zones. This meant that depending on where you target the enemies body, it would affect the damage given. This was an important new feature that paved the way for future games.

Well, SiNs back with the same cast of characters as seen in the original, along with new addition Jessica Cannon. Whereas the first SiN was based off a stand-alone game engine, so is SiN Episodes. Ritual took the Valve route and based the game on the Source engine, which Half-Life 2 and Counter-Strike: Source use. This is a rather wise choice for them to make; The engine is packed with some great features and proves very customizable.

SiN Episodes: Story

Once again, you start as Col. John Blade.. protector of the universe! Well, actually, your main goal is to protect the people of Freeport City, but the universe would be far more interesting. It’s been four years since Johns first encounter with the gorgeous Elexis, whose primary goal is to mold humanity into her distorted vision. The law has tried to stop her in the past, and failed consistently. So of course it’s up to Blade to take matters into his own hands and take her down.

Sinclaire runs SiNTEK, an empire that Sinclaire is using to help her conquer whatever she pleases. Your hacker friend JC is back from the original to help you throughout your missions, though in the first episode he does very little helping. Alongside you this time also is the fiery Jessica, and does she have a hardcore attitude! Within five minutes of the game you will hear her drop the f-bomb, and that’s only the very beginning of her potty mouth. She puts up with nothing.. nothing!

SiN Episodes: Gameplay

If you have played the original SiN, you know what to expect here already. Since the original SiN, the entire game has been refined so you can expect game play quality to come close to Half-Life 2. Back again is the body specific damage system, so targeting various areas of your opponents body will reflect how much damage you deal, and their reaction to your fire. For example, my personal favorite is a nice, clean head shot. When you aim for the head straight on, sometimes the enemy will literally flip over backwards. It’s a great result that urges you to continue trying for head shots.

Since the game is based on the Source engine, the usual slew of system options are available to you. The options available are spot on to what HL2 offers, although it’s lacking anything related to HDR. SiN Episodes is more than just a total conversion though, because there are some added elements that we did not see in Half-Life. The most notable are the breast physics. Yes, I said breast physics. At the very beginning of the game, you are conked out on a hospital bed. The very first animation you see is Elexis looking at you with her bouncing cleavage. I guess you could say this is what really makes SiN stand apart from Half-Life 2.

Ritual did stick to what succeeded in SiN 1 though, because even though we are 8 years since the original release, this game feels exactly as you would expect. If you can remember the mass amounts of enemies from the first game, don’t worry, they are back. In fact, this is one of the few things I am not particularly crazy over. The action is non-stop, with continuous flocks of enemies out to kill you. I won’t go as far as to say that the monster system is as bad as Serious Sam 2, but it’s pretty close. Either way, the first SiN was exactly like this, so Ritual stuck to it.


Gameplay

There’s around 10 total enemy types in the game, and some are straight-out crazy. One of my favorites proved to be the jet packers. Basically, these are human enemies that are equipped with a jet pack, so they can literally fly through the air. Why they are so interesting though, is because if you shoot the actual tank on their jet pack, you in turn puncture it. This is an interesting way to kill the enemy, because due to the seeping air, they will fly around sporadically until the tank finally explodes, which will end up taking their life. It’s a very cool addition to the game that makes killing way too much fun.

There is one particular monster in the game called the SiNTEK Heavy Gunner. All I have to say about those are.. wow. These are by far the most difficult enemies in the game. They are comprised of metal, and can stand back and plow you down with their machine gun. They take a fair amount of bullets to kill, at least 3 good shotgun blasts to the head. The problem is, they can do so much damage, you can die very quickly. I encountered one and it took half my health in one shot. Of course, you may say, “Just hide behind something”. This could be the case most times, but usually they don’t come from a single direction, but rather multiple. On top of that, you may have to battle up to three of these guys at once. In one level in the game, you have to kill at least 10 of these alongside Jessica… which is very stressful.

Superb AI is one thing that has been touted for SiN Episodes, but I don’t know if I would consider it as such. On one hand, sometimes the enemies are unbelievably smart. They have great aim, and work with their posse in order to gang up on you. Trust me, this works. But on the other hand, there were many instances when I think the enemy was confused. At times, I would walk directly in front of an opponent, and they wouldn’t fire at me for at least 3 or 4 seconds. I also had multiple instances where these baddies tried to shoot me through the wall. They would not get the hint to just come around the corner, but rather would just sit there continuing to shoot at the wall. Overall, despite some of these bizarre bugs, the enemy AI is mostly well done.

One thing that may turn some players away is the fact that the game only has three primary weapons. The infamous blaster pistol is back, in addition to the shotgun and the assault rifle. Oddly enough, you can’t even use your fists for battle as you could in the original. This is likely due to the fact that you can ‘butt’ people with the back of your gun, such as you can do in Halo. Of course, it’s not just John who can do this. If you get close enough to an enemy, he’ll do the same back to you for some awesome damage. Considering that there will be a total of 9 episodes, I am sure we will see the return of the other weapons in the future.

One standout feature for SiN Episodes is the dynamic difficulty. This is one feature that actually proves to be incredibly cool, although at times it can be a complete pain. In general, the difficulty for the game can range between 1 and 100. The first time you begin a new game, it starts you off at 20, unless you change it. This is considered ‘Casual’, and after playing it, I believe it. As you progress through the game though, the difficulty will raise or decrease depending on your skill. At first, I began the game on the 50/100 difficulty, but quickly realized that it was much harder than I expected. So, within an hour of the game, I restarted using the default 20/100.

Now, obviously the game wasn’t too difficult right off the bat. But quickly the game determined that my skill was 80/100, so that default 20 that I chose was automatically rising. I have no immediate problems with this, because obviously a game should be a challenge in order to make it feel like you actually accomplished anything. Within a few hours of the game though, it still determined I was 80/100, and it bumped up the actual difficulty to 50/100.. the setting I ended up restarting the game due to. So, I was stuck with 50/100 for the time being, which makes the game quite difficult. All in all though, this will teach you to be perfectly wise, and will help you learn how to deal with certain situations you encounter. If you don’t learn, you are going to die, there is no doubt.

So in the end, regardless of how good of an FPS player you are, this game is going to prove an absolute challenge. This is a good thing for the most part, but I found myself in a few situations that I had to try 10 times over in order to finally beat. SiN Episodes proves to be one of the most difficult FPS games that I have played in a while. One of the reasons for it’s difficulty though, is the mass amounts of monsters in the game. If those were scaled down, I believe the game would be more fun overall.

Each level in the game has various secrets you can find. Most will be areas, and usually will have a weapon crate lying around. You know it’s a secret area because it notifies you directly on the screen. Throughout my game play, I found only one easter egg, which was of the infamous Dopefish. I am sure there are others out there, but easter eggs as such really show Rituals sense of humor. I am unsure what the secrets unlock, but I didn’t come close to finding half of them.

In Half-Life 2, you would find health stations on walls which would regain your life. SiN Episodes has exactly the same thing, although with a twist. The Emergency Health Stations you find throughout the game will have a canister of blue goo in it. If there is any of the goo left, you can use the station to regain your life. If the canister is empty, then you can remove it, and replace it if there is another handy. This is quite cool. At some points when I was really low on health, I went back a few rooms to find a canister and bring it back to the station. Some rooms have far more than one full canister lying around, so it pays to carry one along with you sometimes.

Overall, I like the game play that SiN Episodes offers. The only thing I would change would be the ability to ‘ask’ the game to lower the difficulty during game play. Sometimes, even a seasoned player doesn’t feel like going through a personal stress test.


Graphics & Sound

Since the game is based off of the Source engine, the benefits are obvious. Ritual has taken advantage of all the source engine has to offer, and has thrown in some of their own goodies. The world of SiN is chock full of eye candy and is a true visual treat. I don’t say that lightly either. This is by far one of the best looking games I have played in a while. The graphics are not full blown amazing like some other games on the market or ones soon to come out, but Ritual did a fantastic job utilizing the engine at hand.

There are many graphic effects throughout the game that I found noteworthy, but they are not necessary new to gaming. Early on in the game, you will encounter a room full of raw gas that has the ability to incinerate you in an instant. You can look into the room through the glass, and even the glass looks like it is barely able to hold the gas back. The effect is basically showing off an intense heat wave, but works well to instill fear.

There’s also some holographic fields that will halt your progress, which look extremely cool. They are completely see through, and remind me of a door that has glass to distort your complete vision. Probably one of my favorite affects would be the holographic Elexis. Numerous times throughout the mission, she will come to you in full-size holographic form. Bouncing cleavage and all.

The graphics in SiN Episodes are really well done, and I didn’t encounter one obvious ‘glitch’ or bug throughout the adventure. The game doesn’t support HDR, which is too bad since Source supports it. Even without HDR though, the game is very pleasing to the eyes.

SiN Episodes: Sound

The sound quality in SiN Episodes is well done. The weapon sounds are nothing incredible, but they do the job. The voice acting is probably one of the strongest parts of the games, although at times it can be rather dull. You will often hear your enemies talking about you, especially if they know you are around. It adds to the games realism and can scare the wits out of you at times.

Some of the actual dialogue could be better, but there’s nothing to pinpoint directly. There are a few laughs to be had from what the cast of characters say. Especially Jessica, because she puts up with nothing, so some of her remarks to people is hilarious.

There’s not too much music in the game, but what’s there is great. The menu screen has music reminiscent of a James Bond movie, and throughout game play you will have the occasional overtone music to help add more drama to the game play. In the end, the sound is well done although the weapons could sound a little more real.


Conclusion

SiN Episodes came.. but did it deliver? This has been one of my personal most wanted games ever since it was announced. The original had a lot of style and proved to be tons of fun, and the sequel does indeed deliver the game play SiN fans have come to love. Episodes has style, tons of action, and top notch graphics. What more do you need?

The game has it’s share of bugs at this point in time though. Many people are reporting lockups and stuttering, which I have also experienced. I had the game lock up completely at one point, for around 30 seconds and then it snapped out of it. I only had that happen the once though, but some are reporting more frequent problems. Ritual is currently investigating these reports and plans to release a patch as soon as the bugs are squashed.

My primary beef with the game is the dynamic difficulty. Not the fact that it’s there, but the fact that you cannot turn it off or keep it at a static difficulty. There are some points in the game where a player will just straight out not want to play the same part 20 times over. It can’t be helped though if the game keeps your difficulty at 80/100.

The addition of Jessica to the series is quite welcomed. Elexis has her own unique style, but Jessica is a blast to listen to. She whines constantly, and shoots her mouth off often. Some things that come out of her mouth shouldn’t be heard by young’uns, that’s for sure. Of course, the mass killing and blood gushing helps earn the game it’s Mature ESRB rating. Maybe if modders find a way to take off Jessica’s clothes, the ESRB may change it to AO, but I wouldn’t count on it.

This first episode took me between 5 and 6 hours to beat, and that includes all the times I died. I think that most players will have a solid 5 hours of game play to enjoy. Now the pricing scheme comes into question. This episode costs $19.95US, which seems a tad pricey for only 5 hours of play. However, I recently played Tomb Raider: Legends which only had 9 hours of game play, and costs much more than this. In general, the game is worth the asking price compared to a few other games on the market, but it’s ultimately up to you whether or not you think the cash is worth that amount of play.

In total, the game will have a total of 9 episodes, with the second due in 6 – 8 months. If it continues at this rate, it means the game will span over 4 years. That’s definitely a long time story arc! Overall, I really enjoyed SiN Episodes, and can’t wait for the second installment. I am awarding the game an 83% rating.

Likes & Dislikes

+ Superb graphics; Full of eye candy
+ Intense action
+ Fiery sidekick Jessica
+ Immersive game play

– Dynamic Difficulty can make game too hard
– Enemies can become overwhelming
– Occasional stuttering problem
– 6 to 8 month wait for second Episode

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