SiN Episode 1: Emergence review
Lost is a very popular TV show. Not least because of its attractive cast, fantastic setting and claim to having the most expensive pilot episode in television history. I stumbled upon it by chance, without hearing any of the hype, and expecting not a lot. Where most of us that got addicted lost our chance of retaining our Tuesday nights got caught is the fact that unlike most TV shows, it is essential to view every single episode, because of the ongoing mythology and single storyline traversing two (currently) seasons. It works because of the regular weekly content, (although watch the US throw up a fuss when there is a month break) and cliffhangers demanding you find out what happens next.
|SiN Episode 1: Emergence review|
In a sense, video games have always been closer to films or one off dramas, being unable to draw you in and keep you hooked for multiple episodes any more than a film, and you’re just as likely to find sequels because of how long they take to produce. Now, SiN Episodes has emerged (sorry) to change all that. 9 episodes of content, each containing 3-6 hours of content, purchased separately for a smaller amount than a full game. But the question of whether to purchase is more often than not about the actual game itself.
As a special treat, purchasing SiN Episodes: Emergence in the past gives you a copy of the first SiN game; a welcome inclusion, especially since there is a lot of content within to play through. It may entertain you for a while (and if you have the time and patience is worth it to catch up on the story), but to be honest, is hardly worth going into detail about as a freebee. SiN Episodes takes place four years after the original, with SiNTEK still dabbling in mutating chemicals and general naughtiness.
Elexis SiNclaire, the original excuse for a bit of eye candy is back and causing further problems (as of the end of this episode, her full plan is not clear), so Blade (you), JC and a new recruit, Jessica, must take on the might of the corporation that the legal system couldn’t deal with, and battle a hoard of enemies in the process. The first thing that strikes you about the game is the use of the Source (Half-Life 2) engine. As beautiful as it was when HL2 first came out, it has lost a small part of its charm, purely because the same level of detail doesn’t seem to have been put into Emergence’s graphics. They are still fantastic to look at, but certain elements seem to stand out such as certain repeating textures and some of the character models’ detail. Admittedly the level design is top notch and while navigating around the levels is relatively linear (but consistently interesting), the enemy placement remains predictable and often over the top.
Murder is a SiN
The majority of your enemies will be a seemingly endless number of SiNTEK employees, each wielding powerful weapons that stack the odds well against you. As a pretty good FPS gamer, I found myself being challenged quite severely from early on, because of the ease of which a single soldier can sneak up on you, and decimate your health from behind. It is this that gives the game very much a quick-save/quick-load gameplay style.
Admittedly, the team over at Ritual has been parading around its ‘Personal Challenge System’ which is meant to adapt the game depending on how well or badly you are playing, to keep it fun and appropriate to your skill. I was never aware of this taking place (although plenty of statistics are freely available mid-game), and found that the difficulty very rarely let up, and implied that you had to perform almost perfectly to achieve any progression; again, not as much of a problem if you keep quick-saving, but ultimately I felt that having to resort to such techniques to proceed in the game after every enemy or two shows poor difficulty balance.
Bad to the Bone
Despite the unforgiving difficulty, I still very much enjoyed playing through. The variety of environments is laudable, especially since another eight episodes are meant to be rolling out soon, and fortunately a selection of different enemies (including a few boss characters) pose a different challenge to keep the player interested. Interestingly I found the new enemies revealed around half way through to be a walkover compared to the soldiers with guns.
The few weapons you get to play with have great alternate firing systems, and even your first weapon packs a mean punch that you will be using right to the final moments, and the physics engine undeniably present within Source are put to good visual use. A great selection of music, underscores most of the games events effectively bringing a remarkably interactive sense of mood to whatever is happening at the time, even with a nice emotive song recorded for the title screen to welcome you back into the SiN universe. The voice acting is also plentiful and effective, especially with a few outtakes hidden after the end credits for a bit of extra fun.
Twists and Cliffhangers
With much less content than a full game (barely a third if I am honest), spoiling any exciting events that take place would be especially discourteous in this review, but suffice to say you will be climbing up tall buildings, riding in a car, experiencing blatant excuses to show scantily clad women (not that I minded) and even discovering a nice twist on the overused slow-motion gameplay dynamics.
Speaking of twists, we are promised many within the full story arc of SiN Episodes, but as Emergence serves to (re)introduce the series, they are kept to a minimum in this incarnation. As for the ending, I did feel satisfied with the overall feel of the episode, drawing to a strong conclusion and entertaining (if repetitive) boss battle and a final plot development to rope everyone in to buying the next episode. Just when you think it is all over, in what can only be described as a throwback to the television style that SiN borrows from, the end credits are preceded by a great little montage of ‘Next Time on SiN Episodes’. I’m already raring to find out what happens.
Sting in the Tail
Being delivered through Steam, Valve Software’s rather clever internet distribution system (as well as at your local game store if you prefer physical packaging) means that it takes very little effort to get hold of this and future episodes, and I was playing within a few hours of requesting the files, all at a cheaper rate than it would cost to buy the game locally, although come the 26th you’ll be able to get it both ways, so the choice is yours.
But that’s how they get you really, isn’t it? Providing an incomplete experience but promising more, much like Lost on TV, means that you forgive anything missing from an episode because you are expecting it in the next one. Cliffhangers almost demand you watch or play the next instalment. The question remains whether or not Lost or indeed any episodic TV show would work if you had to buy each episode separately before you could watch them. I fear I am locked into buying each of the nine episodes of SiN now, each at around half of the price of a full game, with no indication of when I will next be able to satiate my lust for more content. Should you buy it? Only if you’re willing to buy another 8 more somewhere down the line.