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SiN Episodes - Emergence Review 198

Along with pale imitations, it seems the destiny of genre-defining games to provoke a reversal in design decisions. The success of 3D platformers has lead to a renaissance in 2D gaming, World of Warcraft has pushed online game designers away from the fantasy genre, and Half-Life 2 has prompted a lot of story-light brainless shooters. It's this last genre that houses SiN Episodes: Emergence. A traditional run and gun First Person Shooter (FPS), SiN is a blood-soaked five hour jaunt you can download from Steam for about twenty bucks. At that price and that length, this Aeon Fluxian gorefest may just be a happy start for the age of episodic content. Read on for my impressions of a good-looking throwback that proves you don't need millions of dollars to make a fun title.

  • Title: SiN Episodes: Emergence
  • Developer: Ritual Entertainment
  • Publisher: Valve
  • System: PC

Calling SiN story-light might not be fair. It would be more accurate to say that this first episode of the 'season' isn't heavy on plot elements. Ritual plans on making these 5-8 hour gameplay releases a regular event. A 'season' will be a complete story made up of three episodes: a beginning, a middle, and an end. You're awakened at the start of this episode staring into the um, eyes of an attractive woman and a well-dressed guy. You're strapped onto a table, and have apparently been injected with something. Before you can really understand what's going on, another attractive woman comes to your aid, spiriting you away in her auto.

What follows is a textbook-standard FPS. You make your way through the grubby urban environments, a secret underground lair, and moist crawlspaces, shooting the faceless bad guys that get in your way. Weapons are fairly limited in this first episode; For most of the game you have a pistol, a shotgun, and grenades. Really, though, what else do you need? Enemy models and map creation are fairly generic, though they are competently executed. There's a couple of nice action set-pieces, such as a fight against jet-pack wearing baddies from inside a cargo crate being lifted over a body of water. The few explanatory plot moments are used with the in-game engine, as in cousin Half-Life.

If there is a differentiating element to SiN, it is the adaptive AI and stat-tracking that haunts you throughout the game. Every bullet you fire, which gun you use, whether it hits or not, all are tracked as you move through the title. The enemies will start off fairly dumb, but if you find yourself having an easy time of it you'll start to notice the enemies beginning to adopt new tactics. If you pwn the bad guys hard enough in the first few levels, you may even find yourself outclassed when the action gets fast and furious later in the episode. This intelligent adaptation to your gameplay is a little spooky once you start noticing it. The first time you find yourself in the middle of a well-executed pincer maneuver, with soldiers on all sides closing in, you'll know you've gotten the AI's attention.

Visually, SiN looks a lot like cousin Half-Life, which only makes sense; Emergence was created with Valve's Source engine. All the 'fun with physics' moments you can have in Half-Life 2 are here in SiN, with some extra surprises. Despite what the Mythbusters had to say on the subject, compressed air tanks make surprisingly good weapons here. The polish on the game's look is less pronounced than it was with Half-Life 2, the result of a smaller budget and shorter development time. The audio is run and gun standard, but the weapon sounds are surprisingly satisfying. They have a lot of heft, which partially makes up for the very few weapons you'll have access to in the game.

If Emergence was $15, this would be a sure thing; At $20 I'm not sure this particular ride is worth the price of admission. Just the same, if you've got the money lying around and are a fan of the FPS genre, you're probably going to enjoy SiN There's nothing particularly wrong here, just a general sense of 'been there, done that'. At only five or six hours play time, you probably won't even have time to get bored before the episode is over. Future episodes will elaborate on the plot, give us more enemies to fight, and more weapons to fight with. As such, the pricetag may be more justified for future episodes. For right now, though, here's hoping they drop the price to make this bite-sized FPS morsel taste just right.
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SiN Episodes - Emergence Review

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  • by taxman_10m (41083) on Tuesday May 30, 2006 @01:43PM (#15430139)
    The success of 3D platformers has lead to a renaissance in 2D gaming,

    I guess I don't follow games that closely anymore. What 3d platformers have I missed, and what games defined the 2d renaissance that followed?

  • by smwoflson (905752) on Tuesday May 30, 2006 @02:03PM (#15430331)
    First, I just have to write that I really miss good, old fashioned 2D games. Sure, there may be a bit of a rebirth of the genre, but nothing with the shear fun/greatness of those old Konami games (the up, up, down, down crowd) like Contra and Lifeforce. Does anyone else remeber Rush 'n Attack? That game was awesome, and all you did was run and stab. A game company could never make something like that now adays. Gamers everywhere would say "what, only 1 knife? And no camo changes? And what's with all the lineral movement?" But I digress. Part of me actually likes the idea of an episodic game. Not only does it allow a company to develop a game and its story over time. But it also allows the designers to correct gameplay issues or shortcommings as they develop. The Gamer effectively becomes a test market. As much as Blizzard annoys me with their constant server screw-ups often related to patches and tinkering with their systems, I do love the fact that WoW is continually developing. When weaknesses are shown, they can be fixed. At the same time, another part of me I really doesn't like the idea of episodic gaming. Do you have to buy all of the episodes to play one? What if I get to the game late, do I have to start from the beginning? Or what if I just don't want to shell out the $15 some month? My WoW fee annoys me enough, but this seems somehow even more insideous. It could be like those micro-payment systems that are comming around that are designed to get people comfortable with many small payments, rather than just one big initial payment for the game. And in the end you spend more than you ever would have initially. Somehow WoW's subscription fee feels less creapy to me... I guess I just don't know... we shall see...
  • EULA nastiness (Score:4, Interesting)

    by squiggleslash (241428) on Tuesday May 30, 2006 @02:05PM (#15430342) Homepage Journal
    I saw the original SiN Episodes box for about $20 at a local store and almost bought it, before reading on the box that I have to have an online connection and sign up with Steam in order to play the game I'd have paid for. Not because it needs it (it's not a network game), but, well, no reasons given, let alone good ones.

    I don't care if Steam's a useful service or not. This whole "We'll package something in a box that you'd expect to be a more-or-less standalone product" - ok, it needs a compatible computer, but that's it - "but then we'll add strings so you can't use it without giving us enough information to sell you more crap" is getting out of control.

    No thanks, Ritual. I loved the original SiN, but I don't "subscribe" to games, I buy them.

  • Delicious AI Pie (Score:4, Interesting)

    by MrSquirrel (976630) on Tuesday May 30, 2006 @02:13PM (#15430408)
    My spirits were dampened when I stormed through it in 5 hours, but I still came away from the game with a feeling of satisfaction. The idea to go with an adjusting AI that tailored itself to your gameplay was GREAT. Too many shooters have an element where you find one good technique and use it on every single enemy: "headshot...headshot...headshot", but in SiN, after a few headshots the enemies come equipped with helmets (the weapons they carry, body armor, and even their numbers differ on how you're playing). I wish more companies would take this approach -- it seems like it makes for a very versatile experience.
  • by Evangelion (2145) on Tuesday May 30, 2006 @02:14PM (#15430412) Homepage

    Polygons aren't that bad, when used appropriately []

    BTW, all the character models in the New SMB were 3D models.
  • 8/10 (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mobby_6kl (668092) on Tuesday May 30, 2006 @02:17PM (#15430441)
    Hey, where's the rating!?

    I wanted to post some screenshots (see last paragraph), but instead I'll write a few sentences about the game to make this post at least somewhat useful.

    Boobies! Here's the attractive woman [] from the first scene. They have realistic shake physics, that's probably what Zonk meant by "fun with physics". There are some other fun aspects, like the warning signs which say "When all else fails, use crate" or com-stations (basically phone booths) where you can dial a number you see on ads.

    Shooting stuff is, I'd say, quite satisfying, although there are only 3 weapons. A very accurate and powerful piston, a shotgun, and an assault rifle. They all have alternative fire which you often have to use to kill off tougher enemies. The ones at the beginning go down with a headshot, or a shotgun blast from a close distance will send body parts flying, so that's always fun to watch. Some heavily armored fuckers at the end require a good portion of the AR mag.

    To the whole episodic concept, well I didn't find it too unreasonable. Not unlike HL2, it leaves the story hanging, but it's not much (if at all) shorter than Max Payne. Considering it's not full price, that's not very bad, although of course cheaper would be even better.

    I have a screenshot gallery with over 60 shots in it, but I decided not to post it here for two reasons: 1) I host it on my DSL line 2) I wrote the gallery perl script myself, so it's probably quite dangerous. I'll try to get a static version online, though.
  • Re:Really? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by spyrochaete (707033) on Tuesday May 30, 2006 @02:50PM (#15430705) Homepage Journal
    I DID buy HL2 for the storyline and I wasn't disappointed. The game isn't narrated, per se, but the story is there for those who look for it. It's a Pulp Fiction of games, requiring you to play it a few times to catch some of the subtle hints.

    For instance, at the beginning when Gordon's teleportation goes wrong he winds up in the office of the nefarious Dr. Breen who is talking to SOMETHING on a video display.

    In one level you find an evolutionary poster showing the transparent skeletal heads of an ape, a human, and a strange human\alien "combine".

    In the opening sequence the G-man tells you "The right man in the wrong place can make all the difference in the world," and he goes on to make repeated and illogical appearances all over the game, talking to unexpected people, strolling through areas you've infiltrated while barely outrunning death itself, having just done who knows what.

    Even the graphical textures and level designs hint at a personal history of inanimate objects. The meticulous totalitarian dystopia of City 17 is complemented by the spotless streets and gleaming buildings in perfect repair. You can only speculate how much work Civil Protection, or likely the citizens themselves, put forth to keep the city clean - especially in contrast to how filthy the rest of the game is, by in large. HL2 has story all over the place in little chunks. Whether the story is cohesive is irrelevant to me, personally.

    SiN, on the other hand, is a brainless blast-a-thon that wasn't worth the effort pirating. I deleted it in 20 minutes. Nice boob physics though.
  • Re:Really? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by zr-rifle (677585) <> on Tuesday May 30, 2006 @05:50PM (#15431733) Homepage
    Half-Life's story is about videogames. More specifically, it can be read as an insight in the life of a videogame character. Note that Gordon Freeman is resurrected "on request" and placed inside the context of the game without any recollection of the previous years. Also note that the G-Man always appears to help Gordon/The Player continue through his quest. Gordon Freeman never speaks, an empty shell that encases an external entity. Furthermore, the G-Man is the only person that can pierce the fourth-wall and reach the player.

    At the end, the player is left with a very important question: "Who is Gordon Freeman?".
    I wish there were more games with stories like these.
  • Re:Really? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by spyrochaete (707033) on Tuesday May 30, 2006 @06:12PM (#15431834) Homepage Journal
    Haven't tried the sequel, but Halo's cut scenes were indeed very well done. However, they didn't really do anything new. I love how Half Life revolutionizes the concept of cut scenes by showing absolutely everything from the player's eyes in "real time". It's possible to see the same sequence over and over and notice new things every time. You're rewarded for being perceptive.

    For instance, in Half Life 2 when you arrive at Eli Vance's laboratory you're taken through a pretty thorough spiel bringing you up to speed. When he's done blathering, Eli invites you to have a look around and he shadows you. Depending on where you walk and how much time you spend in some places, Eli tells you about what you're looking at. I'm replaying the game to get in the mood for Episode 1 and I just found a new bit of dialogue here when I stood and looked at a picture of a woman on his workbench! And it's my 4th time through the game!
  • Re:Really? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Altima(BoB) (602987) on Tuesday May 30, 2006 @07:56PM (#15432356)
    I didn't play HL2 for the story at first, because when I eventually got to Half Life 1 on the PS2 release, I really didn't see a remarkable story like what everyone was clamoring about. To me, the absolute pinnacle of early FPS storytelling was Marathon, and HL1 didn't come close to any of the Marathon games in terms of story telling. I ultimately didn't care because it was, after all, fun.

    HL2 actually surprised me by how sophisticated its narrative style was. You were thrown into its world without any initial explanation, and you are never flat-out told why the world is the way it is. All of the answers, though, can be discovered by the player if they examine the world enough. I really, really liked that, the world of City 17 and its outlying areas was so much more effective when it was so jarringly out of context, and the depiction of the planet in thrall to an occupying alien force with no intention of keeping humanity alive much longer on Earth (Human sexuality was inhibited by the Combine's technology, and it's implied that some sort of wormhole such as those seen in the first game was opened beneath the Earth's oceans, and that the Combine were sapping Earth of all its water, hence many sections along the highway show beached ships and docks far away from water, as the oceans have receded. Also, the only form of humanity being preserved is the genetically mutilated half-human Combine soldiers who are being sent to other worlds the Combine are attacking) was very bleak and actually a bit disturbing.

    Ultimately, Half Life 2 has a really intriguing story and setting (not so much in the way of characters though, its one real weakness) and is all the better for it by not spelling it all out for the player.
  • by Cybrex (156654) on Wednesday May 31, 2006 @08:15AM (#15434611)
    If you're willing to explore and interact with the characters enough, the Vortigaunts know and acknowledge that Gordon is under someone else's direct control (aside from the G-Man). The "All-Knowing Vortigaunt" makes a couple of statements to this effect, saying things like "distant eyes look out through yours" and the like. You can find out how to reach him here: []

    I think that Gordon doesn't speak for two reasons- one plot related and the other game-related. Plot-wise, despite the angel-of-crowbar-death role into which he's been unwillingly thrust, Freeman is at heart a quiet physicist. His willingness to take a job at the reclusive Black Mesa facility implies that he doesn't date much, and he's probably only really comfortable in a lab or research environment. Alyx mentions at one point that he's not the talkative type. Game-wise, I think that having him not speak is a good idea, as it would reduce the level of immersion in the game. What does Gordon's voice sound like? When I'm playing it sounds like me.

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