Thursday, 21 March 2019

SiN Episodes: Emergence (PC)

Developer:Ritual|Release Date:2006|Systems:PC

This week on Super Adventures, I am finally getting around to playing SiN Episodes: Emergence! To be honest the only reason it took me this long is because I decided to hold off buying it until it was really cheap on Steam, and then that never happened. Until it finally did. I even got a free copy of SiN with it, which I fully approve of. More sequels should include the first game as a bonus... even if it is a little bit censored and doesn't include the expansion (unlike the version sold on GOG).

The first thing I noticed when I put the game on, aside from how cheap that menu text looks, is how good the opening theme is. It's like they swiped it from a Bond movie; it has vocals and everything! It's a bit disappointing that they didn't awkwardly work the word 'Emergence' into the chorus, but they found a place to include 'sin' at least. Here, have a YouTube link so you can listen to it yourself: What's the World Come To?

SiN Episodes also managed to disappoint console owners by never being ported, and PC owners by only ever getting the one episode. The mid-2000s episodic gaming experiment really didn't work out so great for first person shooter sequels built on the Source engine. That said, I'm sure Valve's Half-Life episodes sold a hell of a lot better than this did.

The original SiN had the misfortune of being released just two weeks before before the groundbreaking Half-Life and being entirely overshadowed by it, then the exact same thing happened with Emergence when it came out three weeks before the massively hyped Half-Life 2: Episode One! The game launched on Steam back when the store was practically empty and still didn't sell enough for even one more of its nine planned episodes to enter development. But the SiN series truly died when developer Ritual was acquired by MumboJumbo shortly afterwards and sent to casual game development hell for eternity instead.

Content warning: this article contains a screenshot of a model in lingerie. A 2006-era real-time 3D model.




I'm spotting a bit of connection to Half-Life 2 with the options screen as well. It's like how half the first person shooters the came out after Doom had that same menu with the options listed down the centre of the screen, except more so. I guess developers use a game engine like Source because they don't want to redevelop the wheel every time they do something like a menu screen, but this has the effect of making Emergence seem like an expansion pack... or a cheap knock-off.

If you're good at those puzzles where you have to spot 10 differences between a pair of images you'll have noticed that one of the tabs has gone missing. There's no 'Difficulty' options to let me switch between 'Easy', 'Normal' and 'Hard' difficulty during gameplay anymore. Instead the game handles that itself, adjusting the level of challenge dynamically based on how quickly you're making progress and probably other factors.

When I started a new game it gave me these two sliders so I can choose how much I want to struggle. When the game first came out they mostly did a whole lot of nothing, because a bug made the difficulty ramp up to impossible, but I've been assured that they've fixed that now. Either way I'm leaving them all set to default like I do in anything I write about for this site.

There's two other options here that I don't see often in a first person shooter (or any game actually). One disables saving entirely, even the autosaves at the beginning of a level, so you have to finish the whole game without dying once. The other lets you skip past the intro straight to the part of the game where you have a gun in your hand and bad guys to use it on. I have to admit, that second option has way more appeal to me than the first one, but I don't get to click either of them as they'll stay ghosted out until I've beaten the game. Ironman mode denied.

But because I'm nice, I'll give you a skip intro button you can use on my article right now: SKIP INTRO

Welcome to the mid-2000s, the era of Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball.

That's Bond Blade villain Elexis Sinclaire on the left, returning from the first game, and the bloke on the right's apparently called Radek, I don't think I've seen him before. Turns out that HardCORPS commander Colonel John Blade went and got himself captured off-screen and these two mad scientist supervillains have just injected him with a syringe full of mystery. I guess now they're waiting to see whether he grows feathers, a giant eye on his shoulder, or the ability to shoot bees from his hand.

Fortunately there's a bit of unscheduled heroism and that woman from Half-Life 2 comes in guns blazing to get Blade out of his restraints and back on his feet. Okay she's not literally Alyx Vance, but Jessica seems to serve the same purpose of being my occasional sidekick in the field who does a bit of shooting and tells me what to do.

Jessica also does a fair bit of whining whenever I go off-script. I know from her perspective we need to escape this place and chase down some villains right now, but I got the point the first time she told me "we're running out of time" and repeating it only serves to wind me up. People spent ages building this room and creating all the textures, and I want to look around at stuff and take some screenshots! Though I'm also going to quicksave right here in case there is actually a time limit.

Oh speaking of timing, I found I had to cap the framerate at 60 to spare my poor video card from working its ass off rendering faster than my monitor can display. Not that I'm complaining about getting more than 60 with maxed out graphics; I wish I had the same problem with new games.

I followed Jessica down some mysteriously exploding corridors, trying and failing to pick up guns from all the people she killed along the way, and got into the car she had parked outside. It's surprisingly detailed for 2006 I reckon and it also happens to be mine, but it seems I don't get any say in what she does with it.

Now I'm stuck in another cutscene, with Blade fading in and out of consciousness as Jessica drives around and deals with a SinTEK checkpoint. The company apparently runs whole sections of the city now, which seems like a new development. Or maybe I just don't remember much from the first SiN.

I do remember that Jessica wasn't in it, but somehow despite being the rookie she's the one doing all the talking, explaining that our destination is the "South corner of Fuck and You," before smashing through the barrier and driving off. Again, not her car she's smashing up.

One time Blade passed out he found himself dreaming of Elexis wading in a sexy swamp, wearing a lot more clothing than the developers originally intended (according to TV Tropes anyway). This may seem like obvious pandering to male players, but it makes perfect sense that Blade would be dreaming about the arch nemesis he's obsessed with. I'm sure James Bond has the exact same dreams about Blofeld, he just doesn't like to talk about them.

Funny thing is, I think Elexis has actually had breast reduction surgery between games (or waist implants), because she actually looks halfway human now.

SiN (PC)
This is what she looked like back in the first game for comparison. Graphics came a long way in eight years.

Hey it's the computer dude from the first game... and he's having a conversation with Jessica without me. Ritual figured it'd be a good idea to copy Valve and make their protagonist almost entirely silent this time around, but the result of that is that rookie Jessica speaks for him, makes all the decisions, comes up with the plans, and continually orders her boss around. Basically they should've made her Blade and had the player controlling Jessica instead.

Hang on, the computer guy is called JC, she's Jessica Cannon, and I'm John Blade. That's a lot of 'J's and almost as many 'C's.

I've finally escaped the car! Jessica hasn't permitted me to use a gun yet though (or a HUD) so I'm just walking around the docks looking at stuff while she looks for somewhere to park or whatever.

The game's got the awesome computer screens from Doom 3 that turn your crosshair into a cursor when you point at them, so I tried typing the numbers from the posters into this phone and got... short joke messages. Well that's different I guess. Sadly 0451 does nothing.

What I'm supposed to be doing is finding a guy called Garrison who's going to get us into the SinTEK lab that Radek's run off to. Blade apparently got himself captured deliberately to put a tracker on him, and now Jessica's keen to catch him before he gets away, despite her boss's condition. It might not be the worst idea to prioritise Radek though, as they stand a better chance of curing Blade if they can get the guy to tell them what he was injected with... assuming that Blade doesn't go full Las Plagas along the way because we went out on a mission instead of getting him medical treatment.


SOME WANDERING LATER


The game's taught me two things while I've been wandering around the docks: first, I can pick up boxes with my invisible hands, second, these NPCs I'm forced to talk to get angry if I wander away mid-conversation. So I decided to keep myself entertained by trying to balance a crate on Garrison's head instead.

Suddenly people with infinitely more guns than me showed up, so I quickly re-enacted the start of Half-Life 2 where you're running away with bullets flying all around you. Funnily enough the only possible path I could use to escape required me to learn how to jump and then crouch along the way.

I ran into Jessica again and she's brought me a gun and a HUD at last! Looks surprisingly retro. The HUD I mean, though the pistol's almost identical to the one I was using in the first game.

Seems like this is as good a time as any to learn how to use the melee attack to smash open a window and get to the Half-Life-style wall-mounted med station. Though one way this differs from the Half-Life games is that I have a dedicated melee button, so I can smack things immediately without having to switch to a crowbar or whatever. I've got a dedicated grenade key as well! Definite improvement.

Jessica's soon gone again though, using the power of scripted cutscenes to squeeze though a gap I can't fit through, so now it's just me and my gun versus countless mercenaries out to put a bigger gap in my torso than the one in Jessica's very practical combat uniform. Seems like the actual game part of the game is about to start!

Welcome back all the people who clicked that 'SKIP INTRO' text at the top of the article, because this is where the game begins if you choose to skip introductory levels on a second playthrough.

Well, not precisely right here in the explosives warehouse; I actually started just outside where I nearly got run over by a scripted truck event. So the game's at least as sophisticated as the original Shadow Warrior from 1997.

Red health markers have been appearing on screen to let me know that I'm being shot and from what direction, but fortunately most of the folks in this particular warehouse are currently staggering around yelling "EXTINGUISH, EXTINGUISH!" after I put a few rounds into the gas canisters on the shelves. Got a nice display of Half-Life 2 physics from that move, it was very nostalgic.

Oops. I worked my way through the building and then accidentally solved the first puzzle in the alley outside before I even realised it was a puzzle.

I was presumably supposed to run into that locked door down there and look around for a way to get it open. After a short while I was supposed to notice the bundle of girders resting on the shelves and realise that if I could get it down somehow it would swing into the fence. But I immediately spotted the exploding barrel and shot it before I even noticed all the stuff around it, so the door-opening carnage came as a bit of a surprise.

It's probably for the best though, because this is the last place I needed to be trapped behind a puzzle door, with the vending machines behind me competing to see which can get get me to unload a full magazine into it first. "Drink Hammer Cola, get hammered!" "Delicious Grape, drink more!" "Nail the day in with another Hammer Cola!" "Grape, ninjas love it and so should you!"

I never overhear henchman having funny conversations but the vending machines never shut up.

Hey, I got a secondary fire for my pistol that uses special ammo and kills enemies in one hit! Unlike my regular fire which also kills them in one hit... as long as I aim for the head.

This pistol's the only weapon I've found so far, but it's so damn good I'm not eager to replace it. It can kill a mercenary with a single headshot from any range and has perfect accuracy. As long as I get that crosshair dead on target, it will hit them. The tricky part is spotting the bastards (and sometimes spotting the crosshair).

My melee attack is equally deadly, though it seems best not to run right into incoming fire. Blade can tank a lot of damage and can recover health from dead enemies, but he's not so great at dodging bullets, so staying mobile isn't all that helpful. I've had more luck standing still, taking the time to headshot a couple of the mercs as they jog back and forth, and then getting my ass back behind a wall while their mates have a go at returning fire.

Nice lighthouse by the way; there's no way that's not where I'm heading to next. I don't need to put a tracker on a dude to find his evil lair, I just follow the linear level straight to the most obvious landmark.

It turns out that I was going to the lighthouse! Then I went up one floor, came back out and ended up in a building right next to where I started from, just on the other side of a fence. The game loves to make me take the long way around.

This is new though; I'm trying to have a shoot out while a giant arm in the middle of the room spins around and throws shit at me. I don’t like having things thrown at me, it hurts, and the enemies all know how to do it! Plus they've just moved up to throwing grenades as well, and that hurts considerably more. Oh, those must be what the little 'H' looking icons on my HUD are supposed to indicate! Seems that I can throw a couple back at them.

After the carnage was over and enemies stopped finding new entrances to pour in from, I started hovering up health and ammo, and checking all the doors looking for an exit. There's usually only one way out, the game's entirely linear, but the unlocked door isn't always well marked.

Turns out all the doors were locked though and the only gap in the wall was too short to crawl through, but I cunningly deduced that it must be there for me to shoot through instead! I opened fire, ignited something inside the room, and blew the door right off its hinges! It was only then that I noticed the big window on the side of the room put there to give me a good view of the explosive barrels behind the door. That's the second time I've spotted the solution before I noticed the puzzle.

Here’s something a bit Duke Nukem Forever for you: Jessica's carrying me across a level in a cargo container hanging from a crane and I’m shooting annoying jet pack dudes as it rocks from side to side and rotates around thanks to the miracle of physics! It’s cool because they explode into a fiery mess and plummet from the skies when I shoot them, but not cool because I keep getting shot in the back due to the all the sides having big gaping holes in them.

Anyway that was over with in like a minute and now I’m back to pressing the action key on every door looking for the one that's unlocked this time. Oh, I see! I have to jump into one of the train cars sticking out from the building and walk through to the other door to get inside.

After a bit more shooting I crawled down an alley and found a convenient pipe to get into the next part of the level. But it turned out to be a secret warp pipe that teleported me to a walkway in a warehouse! Trouble is I had 6 hp when I dropped out of it and I got one-shotted by a guard there, so I guess I'll leave that for now and find the proper door instead. That's only the second or third time I've gotten Blade killed so far though, and the first that didn't involve explosives or walking out in front of a scripted truck event like an idiot!

Speaking of secrets, I also found this guy in the water nearby. It's a little 3D Dopefish!

Oh here’s a piece of advice in case you ever play the game yourself: don’t spend so long underwater taking photos of a fish that you start to drown.

I couldn't find any unlocked doors underwater, but after climbing out I found a smashable health/ammo crate which for some reason also turned out to be a secret! Seems that every way I go I run into a secret but I can't find the actual door I'm supposed to be going through. I'm very confused right now.

A minute later I found another crate in a train that was a secret too, so now I'm thinking that I must have found a bug that triggers the 'You have found a secret' text whenever I do anything. I mean the fish wasn't a bug, but perhaps the boxes were... and maybe the teleport pipe was too! Maybe that's the way I'm supposed to be going after all!

Oh wait, hang on, there's an obvious green glowing switch on the wall I missed. Never mind.


SEVERAL SHOOTOUTS LATER


I finally found Radek's lab! Turns out it's hidden inside the wreck of a grounded tanker, so that's cool. Better than in Rage, where they put a giant ship in the middle of level and never let me go in. So much disappointment in that game.

Also I got a new gun at last! It's a shotgun that can kill enemies in one hit, just like my pistol! I'm sure it'll come in handy when I start running into different enemy types though, assuming that ever happens. Plus it's not like it loads any slower, as it uses a magazine too.

The other good news is that I'm making steady progress again now I'm on this boat, and unlike in Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare there's no risk of instant failure if I take a right instead of a left and go the way it doesn't want me to! The bad news is that I have 12 health left and it ain't gonna come back by itself even if I find a nice chest-high wall to crouch behind.

I found a medstation a little bit further in and recovered some of my health, so that's cool. Some of these machines are empty and I have search lockers or drawers for a replacement regenibiotic cartridge to telekinetically float into the slot, but this had some charge left when I found it.

Trouble is I also found a full cartridge and can't find a way to put it into the machine while there's an empty cartridge there already. I've tried hitting it, I've tried shooting it, but nothing will get the old cartridge out of the way so I can put this new on in. Just go into the machine you son of a bitch!

I left the useless machine behind, then a couple of rooms later I found a whole row of precious health cartridges lying out in plain sight on a shelf! It's like the game's screwing with me. I mean I could just shoot one of them and stand in the gas for a decent (but reduced) amount of healing, I don't need the machines, but it's the principle of the thing!

OH! There's an eject button on the top of the machine I can press! I just figured it was one big interactive object like in every other shooter, it never occurred to me there was a separate button on it I could hit. Even better, I can lob a canister into an empty machine from across the room and it'll leap perfectly into the slot! That's my new favourite thing in this game.

Hey I've found some more unarmed NPCs at last! It's been a long bloody while since that chat with Garrison and it's been all shooting since then. I can't talk to them, but they're not shooting at me so I'm going to leave them alone. Also there's a mutant creature on the autopsy table! The rules of video games state that if you come across a dead monster you'll have to fight a lot of living ones a little further on, so I guess I'll be getting some use out of my new shotgun after all.

Every now and again that little face will appear in the top left corner indicating that I can press tab to hear JC or Jessica talk over the radio about whatever it is I've found. Most of the time they’ll pipe in by themselves, so it’s weird that there’s times where I have to activate it manually. It's even weirder that these are the only times in the game that Blade ever talks.

Oh hey, it's one of those 'tempting unlabelled buttons located right next to a captive' moments, which rarely end well for them. I took a chance on it opening the cell and letting him out, because I'm an optimist, but nope it turned him into a mutant and then automatically murdered him with what looked like healing gas.

The scientists all started to freak out and a little further on I found one of them getting attacked by an escaped mutant in one of those scripted 'stuff happening behind indestructible glass' scenes. I've no idea if any of this is my fault, but I do know if another one of these scientists crouches down in terror and blocks a doorway again there's going to be bad things happening to them on this side of the glass as well.

Weirdly this wasn't the beginning of a full 'all hell breaks loose' scenario and I went right back to killing mercs afterwards. Though they did get clever on me and trapped me with a forcefield. I had to hide behind a desk and wait for JC to remote hack it while they ambushed me from all directions. Well, mostly just from the ceiling actually, as they're bad with doors. They prefer to wait and let me open them.

This place looks cool, it’s like a super villain lair! I was going to use a screenshot from when I first smashed in through the wall on a cargo cart thing, but the picture turned out entirely red because of all the guards immediately shooting at me from everywhere. They’re still doing it now, they’re just less good at hitting me when I’m jogging sideways and hiding behind a staircase like this.

Man these mercs are so hard to see sometimes. Or any time they're not right up in my face really.

I managed to spot a few of them by looking where the glass broke and then working out were the bullets must have come from, but sending bullets back to them is tricky when they're just a tiny collection of pixels. Really wish I had a sniper rifle right now, or anything with a good scope. Or a rocket launcher, that'd be good too. I'd settle for anything actually, just so that I had more than two guns on me

At least it's not hard to spot the beautiful glass shattering effect. I've also spotted some arrows in front of that large Liftenschitt crane outside and I suspect that there's a connection between them! (That Liftenschitt joke would've been funnier if they hadn't already had boxes with "Schitt Bricks Industries" written on. C'mon, you only get one schitt joke per game, guys.)

The game is typically more focused on shooting part of the Half-Life shooter experience than navigating the environment, but it has its moments. Like there was a bit where I had to swim down to turn a valve to flood a chamber and escape out the top, and there was a bit where I had to jump on some pipes. And here I had to move the crane to give me a platform so I could leap across the room. Fortunately Blade is really good at leaping, forwards at least, so I made it over there on my first try. 

Oh crap, Radek himself was on the other side of the room! And he doesn't know a damn thing about the stuff I was injected with! Worse, he put a forcefield up behind me so I can't escape this cutscene by wandering off!

After he finally shut up and walked away I got a visit by holographic Elexis as well, so I got to speak to both supervillains for the price of one! Well I got to listen to them monologue at least, going on and on about how nasty the injection is without giving any actual details. Fortunately they also set the self-destruct on the boat and all the monsters are running loose, so I've got that 'all hell breaks loose' scenario I was waiting for. Also the ceiling turrets have woken up. Joy.

It looks almost as good as Doom 3 now with this moody lighting! Not bad for a game that came out two years... later.

There's two varieties of mutants roaming these familiar corridors, ones that go straight at me and take a few blasts with a shotgun, and those that spit green acid at me and take fewer shots. They're pretty familiar too, but they just doubled the enemy variety so I'm not complaining. The mercs are probably less keen on them though, seeing as this just became a three way fight and I can hear screams among the ambient horror sounds.

This is the end of Radek's lab so I must be getting close to the end of the episode now surely. I caught a glimpse of a giant mutant in one of the cages so I'm guessing he's my final boss at the end of this and then it'll end with a cliffhanger that never got resolved.


LOTS OF SHOOTING LATER


Oh balls.

I’ve been afraid this thing was going to come after me ever since I heard it stomping around in the tanker and sure enough here it is. Fortunately being charged into by it isn’t an instant kill. He also likes to do some kind of energy blast as well, but that’s not an instant kill either, especially since I’ve discovered I can just side step out of the way of anything it tries to do to me.

JC recommended using the secondary fire on my pistol, which I did, but I can only carry about 8 or so of those special rounds and it soaked up all the damage like a big bullet sponge. So I switched to shotgun and sorted it out. And yet the game keeps going!

I'm apparently only two thirds of the way through in fact, and I'm kind of glad. Mostly because Jessica threw this new assault rifle down to me a couple of minutes ago and I haven't gotten around to really using it yet.

Man this gun's a joy to use. It kills enemies in one pull of the trigger just like the pistol and shotgun if I aim it right (and really why wouldn't I aim for the heads?) but the burst fire is a nice change. These guys still kicked my asses though, leaving me with just 1 hp - not quite enough to survive the initial spray of bullets that immediately come my way whenever an enemy catches sight of me coming around the corner. I guess the enemies have found better guns themselves, but that's fine. To be honest I'm enjoying the game more now that the enemies are putting up more of a fight.

Plus I know what I did wrong here: each of those green barrels contains some kind of mutagen gas which probably doesn't do Blade's chances of remaining human any favours, but standing in the cloud of gas also give me bullet time! They're bullet time gas canisters and I can also pick them up and throw them somewhere more convenient just like I can with exploding barrels (which is a genuinely useful thing to do and occasionally hilarious).


MUCH MUCH LATER


Man, my estimations on how long this game was going to be were way off. Also my estimation of how challenging it was going to get, because holy shit these minigunners are a pain. Mostly because my usual trick of shooting them in the head doesn't instantly remove them from my list of problems.

I have to really unload into them, using my secondary attacks, which is a bit of a problem as they're shooting me with a minigun! Also I keep thinking there's only one or two of them because of how tough they are, but then nope there's another one! And another. That's why this is the best shot I have of them, because I take these screenshots manually and when they show up I tend to be a lot more focused on not dying.

I'm finally teaming up with Jessica by the way, and she seems fairly indestructible so this is thankfully not a GoldenEye scenario: I only need to worry about saving myself. Also we're raiding Evil HQ, making our way up the SinTEK skyscraper, so this has a very 'final level' feel to it.

I wanted to get a nice shot of the city skyline, but this shot looked better than all the ones I took where the flag wasn't billowing in the way, so whatever.

The game's just fun again at this point, as I'm enjoying trying to take out everyone on screen as quickly as possible with as few bullets as possible. Tapping the mouse button twice and getting two headshots is so satisfying, but getting three is even better. Not that I've managed it yet, but I'm hopeful.

There you go, there's a proper shot of the skyline! Just try to ignore the dude with the chaingun cruelly relieving me of my final 6 hit points.

It's funny, I was thinking at the start that I'd put the difficulty a bit too low, but I don't want to imagine what getting past these guys would be like if it was any harder. I don't know if this means that the adaptive difficulty is failing to smooth out a difficulty spike or if it's successfully rebalancing to give me a suitable challenge. All I know is I'd like a lot more explosive weaponry.

I almost didn't include this shot because I didn't want to spoil too much of the story. But then I realised "What story?" There's barely anything in this game and it's never going to get resolved anyway.

Oh guess what I just learned by the way: I can aim down sights! Only took me until the final confrontation to figure that out. Not that it's doing me any good though, as I can't shoot Radek or those canisters next to him. Cutscenes are times for me to stop moving and be talked at, this is the way of things. Blade doesn't even mumble "No... can't do it," to himself when I try. Incidentally Radek's not wrong, I really have gained nothing from shooting all these people, and I still don't know what Blade's been injected with.

Oh damn, that's a twist I really didn't see coming. I knew I'd have to fight the gunship on the roof, but fighting a gunship and a mutant boss at the same time? That is a level of cruelty I did not expect.

I’ve played boss fights before and I’ve played Max Payne before, so my first instinct was to get either the creature or the missiles from the gunship to smash the posts keeping that tower up so that it'd crashed down on top of one of them. But nah, turns out that I just had to shoot them 3 million times each and they died/exploded. I had to quickload a few times during the process but I managed it in end (barely).

Then I got a "Next on SiN Episodes" trailer afterwards, hinting at what would've happened in the next game if it had ever been made! So tragic.

But the game actually ends with a bizarre sequence where characters appear one at a time in a black void to say something random and then disappear again. I'm guessing they're outtakes maybe, or perhaps audio clips of the actors screwing around on mic. Who knows?

I'm not quite done with the game yet though, as I still need to try Arena mode.

Arena mode is basically like a multiplayer map, except without the multiplayer. Instead I have to run around a small arena hunting down enemies for points until either the timer runs out or my health does.

Every round I get a voice saying "Challenge increasing", "Challenge balanced", or if I'm being crap "Challenge decreasing", depending on how effectively I wiped out the newly spawned group of enemies. It combines the fun of racing around, getting headshots and collecting the medkits of fallen foes to replenish your life force, with the tedium of being stuck in the same small area for 15 minutes!

I was doing quite well I thought, for 7 minutes anyway, but then those bloody minigunners turned up and refused to accept that my bullets are deadly. Or maybe it was me who made that mistake, as I charged right into their fire so that I could kill them more efficiently.

Anyway, now that I've established that I'm bad at games I'm going to start the actual game mode again on Ironman mode with the difficulty up and the intro skipped, and see if I can survive any long longer in that.


13 MINUTES 33 SECONDS LATER


Ironman mode gave me a stats screen after my inevitable failure! That's pretty cool, I like stats, especially ones that confirm I'm 18 times deadlier per second than your average video game soldier. It even has graphs! It turns out I could've brought this screen up at any time during the game as well, I just didn't think to check the menu.

I'm guessing that the number in the bottom middle is the difficulty mode I set and the number on the bottom left is how hard the game had become, so I think I was doing quite well until I threw a grenade onto my own head. It's a bit hard to recover momentum once you're down to like 7 hp, as the next shot from off-screen can kill you before you can even use the damage markers to trace your attacker's position.

I also discovered that when you raise the difficulty up you get the shotgun much sooner, as the enemies start carrying them from the start. They're also seem more keen to use their secondary fire and wear helmets to save them from your headshots. So I started double clicking on their heads, problem solved... sort of. Anyway I'm turning this off now.


CONCLUSION

There's somehow simultaneously much more to SiN Episodes: Emergence than I was expecting and also much less. It kept going way after the point I expected the cliffhanger ending and end credits to come up, it's about 3 or 4 hours long in total, but it doesn't quite last long enough to tell any kind of self-contained story. It's a first chapter to a nine-part tale that will never be told.

That's no great loss though really, as honestly the story we got in this is a bit crap. You zig zag through the docks until you stumble onto Radek's lab, then he runs off and you climb a skyscraper to chase him again, and that's it. Sure the intro drags on forever, and it occasionally stops the action dead for an unskippable first-person cutscene or a bit of a chat with an NPC, but it probably would've been better if it hadn't. I mean here's a summary of what gets said every time you talk to... uh, get talked at by another character. It's either:
"I'm still working on getting us an evac Blade."
"Still wondering what you've been injected with? What we've given you... is power!"
"Blade we need to keep moving if we're going to catch Radek!"
There you go, I've spoiled every conversation in the game. There's very little wit, nothing there to catch you by surprise. Not a whole lot of sexy seductress supervillains coming out of water in their underwater past the intro either, which I'm considering to be a good thing in this case as the game isn't nearly smart or dumb enough to go anywhere interesting with its... in your face imagery. Even though they sure put a lot of effort and polygons into it.

Graphically the game is fine for 2006, occasionally better than fine, but it's also kind of generic. It doesn't help that it visits very familiar locations featured in many shooters released before and after it: the docks, the sewers, the skyscraper. At times you can forget you're not playing the first few chapters of Half-Life 2, which isn't helped by the fact that it's clearly running on the same engine (and has the same menus!) It's almost like SiN-themed Half-Life 2 total conversion, with a few weapons and characters brought over from the original game. Very few weapons.

You get a pistol, shotgun and assault rifle, and that's it, so we're at Wolfenstein 3D's level here. I suppose secondary fire means you get a railgun, flak canon and grenade launcher on top of that, but this has a remarkably unremarkable arsenal. I get that you don't want to give the player all the best stuff in part 1 of 9, but this is part of a franchise born in the 90s, where shooters had weapons like laptop guns, farsights, cerebral bores, nukes, shrink rays, freeze rays, flare guns, regenerating hornet launchers, severed demon heads... sniper rifles at least! I wasn't expecting a gravity gun, but there's nothing in here that transforms gunfights into anything beyond the typical.

And despite its similarities to Half-Life 2, SiN Episodes is all about the gunfights. There's a bit of jumping around pipes to be done occasionally, but Half-Life games are all about switching things up every time you get comfortable, while this is about rooms and hallways full of people that need to be dead. Sometimes you'll find an empty room and the people come rushing in or drop from the ceiling instead, but 9 times out 10 they're going to be people and with any luck they'll go down with a shot or two to the head. You can tank damage and then recover a bit of health from enemies, but I found it encouraged me to take well-aimed shots and then get my ass behind a wall instead of charging forward through undodgeable fire.

That suits me just fine though, as I much prefer trying to chain headshots to slowly chipping away at bullet sponges, and its straightforward gameplay makes it feel like a late 90s/early 2000s shooter that's been edited down to just the good bits. There's no forced stealth level, no escort mission, no turret sequence, no timed bit where you fail if you go the wrong way, it's just the fun levels you'd actually want to replay. Though there are those boss fights now that I think about it. It's just a shame that the dynamic soundtrack doesn't really support the action like it should. I mean don't get me wrong, I love the music in this game, but I felt like it was always fading away when I was doing something dramatic, or going epic when I was shooting a couple of dudes in a warehouse. (To be honest I'm only really bringing this up as an excuse to link to the soundtrack on YouTube: SiN Episodes: Emergence OST)

Halfway through I was about ready to stop playing, write "Nice game, shame you only seem to get two guns and one type of enemy," give it a 'Not Crap' award and move on, but I started getting more into it as the challenge started ramping up and I finally left the docks. Then I started a new game on hard difficulty, relying on the autosaves between levels instead of using quicksaves, and enjoyed replaying the early stages even more. I'm beginning to think I really like this game! I'm not sure I'd say it was one of my favourite shooters, but it said all kinds of nice things about me on the stats screen...

Merciless, Invulnerable, Grenade Hoarding Major John Blade: Combatant for hire.
...so I'm giving it a shiny trophy.


    



Thanks again for reading my words, this would've all been a total waste of time if you hadn't (totally not trying to guilt trip the people who just scrolled past them all). You should also leave a comment now that you're down here, maybe even take a guess at what the final game I'm playing will be.

Uh, I mean the final game before the break, as I'm taking April and May off. Don't worry, there's plenty more Super Adventures still to come this year.

6 comments:

  1. Seems like you're going to tackl "Rise of the Robots" next?

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    1. Yes, I can definitely confirm you'll be seeing some screenshots from Rise of the Robots next week...

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    2. The most beautiful piece of trash I've ever played. I wish somebody made bootleg version with the same graphics but a good playability.

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  2. Your SKIP INTRO button doesn't work. I even went back to try after I'd read the whole post, in case it was an unlockable bonus. It isn't.

    So who's the bloke on the title screen? Is that John Blade? From the arms, I assume he's of the Popeye clan.

    The next game looks to be Rise of the Robots, and I'm sort of surprised you haven't done that before. I look forward to seeing what you make of it.

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    1. I sincerely apologise for forcing you to read about the intro. Though it actually is an unlockable bonus, because I just unlocked it for you. (It worked when I wrote it, but Blogger's editor edited the link for its own amusement and I didn't realise).

      And yeah that's John Blade on the title screen, though sometimes it puts one of the actual characters there instead, like Elexis Sinclaire or Jessica Cannon. Blade was all over the place in the first game, showing up in cutscenes, talking during gameplay, appearing on the loading screens, but it's easy to forget who you're even playing as in this one.

      Also, I've written about Rise of the Robots 2, but not Rise of the Robots 1. In fact there are a lot of Amiga fighting games I haven't played...

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  3. In fact there are a lot of Amiga fighting games I haven't played...

    I don't think there's a decent one after IK+ so you're not missing much.

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