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I am Andreas. Day time programmer and technical consultant. Night time musician and game developer.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Review: Sin Episodes: Emergence

I'm one of those crazy people that really, really enjoyed the original Sin, in spite of its crazy bugs, terrible script and retarded characters, or perhaps because of. Sin, as with most of Ritual's games, has an air of audacity to it that i always found deeply refreshing, with its giant chested antagonists and wisecracking beefcake jerk protagonist. Even the annoying hacker kid somehow lent the experience a coherence that many "smarter" games can only dream to match.
So naturally, i've been excited out of my mind about Emergence.

What was i hoping to see?

* Hacking into people's bank accounts to steal their cash.
* Bizarre one-liners and bad jokes from mr John Blade, aka The Most Notoriously Unsympathetic Protagonist In History.
* T&A across the board.
* Some needlessly complex interaction to frustrate the hell out of me.
* Some kind of retarded mutant that makes no sense and has all kinds of muscles.

What did i get?

A pretty, quiet, polished shooter that was over about as fast as i expected it to be, but contained only cruel teases as to the greatness of Sin's mindshattering retardation. I have MILES of goodwill as far as Sin and Ritual goes. I think Ritual are mad testosterone-fuelled artist geniuses that are in sore need of technology help, and are necessary in the ecosystem of the game industry much like defecation is necessary to the human digestive system. Ritual have always represented catharsis at its purest (though sometimes at it's most flawed) with their unapologetically derivative but sparklingly polished creations. I still look at their Heavy Metal FAKK game and consider it a work of art, even though it plays like a cactus in the small intestine. Sin was and still is their magnum opus, sporting impressive levels of interaction, visceral combat, levels packed with set piece battles and more idiotic action movie dialogue than both Bad Boys movies put together. Emergence brings only a morsel of this vision with it.

I might as well get down with the stuff i liked.

Emergence looks as coherent as any Ritual game before it, with one particularly impressive climb up a skyscraper as a standout. Freeport really looks like a town you want to explore or at least blow up good. In terms of creativity it's not a mind shattering experience, but it looks together, tight and makes sense, and i liked it a lot. This coherence extends to everything, colors, uniforms, weapon designs, menus, dialogue.. Freeport is as realized as any game world, and i'm looking forward to more of it.

The weapons, although there are only 3, really do their work very well. The gunplay is always visceral and fast paced, and Emergence marks the return of The Single Most Awesome Handgun In The History Of Ridiculously Huge Handguns. This thing looks *insane* and takes heads off left and right. Emergence sports a headshot effect that never ceases to amuse, and blowing off heads at a distance with the handgun always made me smile. Most enemies, although there aren't many of them, die in creative ways that are always visceral and sometimes utterly hilarious, which is 50% of what makes a shooter experience right there. The limited arsenal holds together just fine for the duration of this experience, and i didn't find myself missing any more. Having only 3 to switch between keeps the action fast and tight, and i liked it a lot.

Now for the rough edges...

Motormouth Blade keeps his mouth shut for the entire adventure (!!!!), and leaves the wisecracking to his largely uninteresting partner, Jessica. Her delivery is flat, and she keeps putting you in situations of terrible danger for the sake of her own pet peeve with the main antagonist of this episode, a drug dealer type named Radek. As a result, i kept wanting to kick her face in, or at least hoped Blade would tell her to shut her yap even ONCE. But no. Ever the silent feller. Freeman can be a silent protagonist because his character is in his ESSENCE, being intellectual rebellion. John Blade is no intellectual; he's an ass-kicker and a name-taker. His rebellion is about fist against face and spitting on corpses, a rebellion against what is socially acceptable. For episode 2, i hope Ritual let this guy speak up, because his wisecracking bs is ESSENTIAL to the Sin experience.

Worse is the detachment you feel from the storyline. Emergence is a game that demands prior knowledge of the Sin universe, and as such is really really hard to get into if you don't have it fresh in mind. The story, being the beginning episode of i don't know what, is shallow and simple, taking you through a short lived chase after this Radek guy, who i have no real reason to want dead other than Jessica's constant bantering about how big of an a-hole he is. So the real reason to fight is simply that everyone apparently wants you dead, and that's not good enough by my book. I felt detached throughout, and it became more about gameplay than experiencing a game world.

Emergence is a game that has the spirit but lacks the soul, and most importantly it lacks the insane audacity and over the top action movie feel Sin'98 had in spades. John Blade's silence is the biggest culprit here. Here's a character that's pretty damn hard to like from the beginning, and when all he ever says is "come in jessica, what's up jessica, come in JC" etc, what are we supposed to feel for him? John Blade MUST SPEAK, lest he become generic. And generic is the last thing Emergence needs.

Was it worth the 20 bucks? I think so. It's a solid shooter experience that's thoroughly enjoyable purely on the merits of its visceral shooty nature and coherent art direction. Is it worth another 20 for episode 2? I hope so, because i will be paying.

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