Join Date: May 2006
SiN Episodes: Review, right and wrong (SPOILERS)
Back in the day as it were, I picked up a demo of SiN. It was different, yet I found it strangely addictive. The enemies were tough, but their heads were weak, and it encouraged a good aim. The AI also made for some interesting gun battles (back then). I never did buy the full game though, money was tight and I saw a couple of negative reviews.
Trailers come out for SiN Episodes Emergence and I wasn't impressed, it looked like a very average first person shoot. Elixis Sinclair struck me as a baddy who would be annoying as hell (a throwback to the worst of 90's gaming), while Jessica Cannon looked like she existed as virtual eye candy. Then I heard the package would include SiN, so I decided to pick it up and try out this whole "episodes" thing.
Got a short way into SiN, but then Emergence was unlocked and I wanted to be one of the first to play for a change, so I fired it up.
Firstly, compliments on the menu music, it is superb. Damned if I'm buying it from iTunes though at their cacky, low bitrates.
Anyway, there's a lack of documentation, which is annoying, and this is certainly a game with features which need documenting. You can move around the car seats (the pop-up appears in under a second). You can eject canisters (the pop-up only appears if you stand in a particular position) You're looking at the challenge and aid sliders... well, WTF do those notches represent? Sure, the top one is extreme, but how hard is the middle one? Average? WTF would that mean anyway? Why can't I change the sliders during the game? I did like the idea though of the game adapting to challenge me, and help me out where necessary. Being the hard ass that I am I set the challenge to Extreme and aid to Nothing [img]/forums/images/graemlins/wink.gif[/img]
The lack of documentation was a pain throughout the game.
Started it up. We kick off by noticing that we're dealing with quality VO... thank God. Unfortunately this is followed by an escape sequence of zero tension down a linear route where nothing really happens. Jessica plugs a couple of baddies (in a way I wish was duplicated later, firing rapidly like a player, and taking cover to avoid counter-fire), but I was under no pressure to escape, so I wandered along and checked out the windows. She demanded I leap in the car, but the hell with that, I checked out the street.
The next segment was better. The chat in the car, the passing out, learning a bit more about my situation and the world, and most importantly, making use of the Source facial system which works so well. However, I'd also noticed by this point that the game seemed to suffer from the audio hitches Half-Life 2 had when it first came out. Disappointing to say the least.
The recommended settings seemed good, and held up for the whole game, though things didn't feel quite smooth when I was looking around, and when a lot of breakables were breaking things would slow to a crawl.
A lot of names were being thrown at me, some as though I should know them. Who the hell was the guy who betrayed us? I felt lost. I also noticed that many features of the game were not explained to me, like the icon in the top right indicating I could use the communicator. And the lights on my hud indicating weapons. These would change colour depending on ammo status, but again, this was not explained.
Now though the game started to show its true colours, it is an all out FPS shooter, and a good one at that. The combat has its own dynamic, mainly due to the fact that headshots are lethal, but also because everyone, including yourself, is pretty fragile. It makes for some exciting cat & mouse gunfights as you spring out, let rip, then duck back in to avoid the counter-fire, always battling for a better position.
The AI was, for the most part, superb. It looked pretty much like the Source AI, but unlike Half-Life 2, it was making full use of grouping in addition to AI hints. The enemies would flank me, offer each other covering fire, shout to each other when they lost me. Having them talk in plain English added a lot, and I loved hearing the last guy scream for reinforcements when the rest of his squad was down. Most importantly of all, the AI wasn't mindlessly aggressive, it would hang back. Sometimes it would be thick and enemies would walk to the same place their buddy died and die just the same, but that was the exception rather than the rule. For the most part, the AI rocked.
Let me offer a couple of examples.
During the docks I entered a building, only to take fire from three guys in there. I quickly retreated, popping in and out to trade shots, before finally lurking out the door waiting for them to come to me. They didn't, what they did was go out the back door, round the side and proceed to blast me through a chainlink fence. Man oh man, I've never been so happy to die [img]/forums/images/graemlins/smile.gif[/img]
Another encounter, I looked out a door onto a street and sent the mercs into a panic. Nailed a couple, and a couple more made for the door only to die to shotgun blasts. Waited and waited... nothing, must be dead, in Half-Life 2 the Combine would have mindlessly rushed this door one by one. Not in SiN Episodes, nope, one merc was in cover outside and opened fire when he saw me emerge, so I took him down, only to step outside and take a shotgun blast in the side from the guy who was doing what I'd been doing: camping the door.
The AI was truly a joy to fight, and the level design, for the most party, made for exciting fights. It was even possible to shake the AI, as I found out when I made rapid progress through a battle, rush and hid behind a wood pile, and the next soldier coming to the battle ran past towards my last known location. Shot him in the back.
The AI narrows down your position, engaged it in some woodstacks, the first two ran forward and I was hiding by the edge of one and nailed them through the netting as they approached. The next guy tried to run across the end of the woodstack alley to find cover, but I nailed him too. The last one moved out just far enough to get a bead on me and opened fire.
Oh, and grenades. Oh sweet Jesus do they use grenades well. They don't stand in the open and throw them, they wait till your hidden and flush you out. I often thought I was safe, only to hear the whirr of a grenade which had landed next to me, forcing me to sprint, often into the line of fire.
The AI takes all the good points of the original Half-Life AI, then improves on it with simple things like moving and shooting, and running at your speed. This game is all about combat and fortunately, combat was damn fun.
This is also the first game I've played where mutants didn't ruin the game. I was started to get bored of boilersuit fights, and thankfully soon after, mutants arrived.
Let me interrupt myself here to say that I'm glad the Half-Life style of story telling was used. That sequence by the sub in the lab was particularly effective, and having Elixis keep appearing to speak is taking a page from System Shock. The bad guy should also be around in some way to give you that drive, and so that you're not stuck dealing with underlings and you only meeting with them is right at the end when you couldn't care less because you've had no involvement. Loved it.
Good music and dialogue combo.
However, this did remind me that I was really a little isolated from my side, I mean, the game hadn't given me any chance to bond with my team, which is surely important? If I hadn't played SiN I really wouldn't have given a toss about JC, and Jessica was almost as much a non-entity.
Anyway, back to the mutants. The soldier/mutant fights were satisfying, especially as the soldiers seem to have a good handle on dealing with them. A little disappointed that the soldiers simply turned on me if there weren't any mutants in their LOS (even if they were just around the corner) around, I mean, couldn't we have exercised a little common sense and stopped trying to kill each other for five seconds while we nail the monsters? I'd also have liked to be able to watch more of these battles, as it was I tended to be behind one side or the other, so couldn't see what was going on. Next time, I want to arrive on a high ledge with the battle below.
The mutants also left quickly, which I was thankful for, though I thought they could have had the odd appearance now and then, especially as possible aid during one of two of the trickier sections. It would have livened things up a bit too.
The only enemy I didn't like was the Heavy Gunner. He was a enemy with only one weakness, his gun takes a second or two to charge up. The problem with this sort of weakness is that once enough of them appear, they can close you down before you can take them out, and without cover that warm-up time doesn't matter. It also makes them very tedious to fight.
I'd say the game overuses the trick of having the room lockdown and enemies pour in through the ceiling. Once, sure, maybe twice, but it happened over and over. The ceiling thing especially, I mean, it felt like a third of all enemies jumped in through ceilings in front of me, and after a while that simply because a case of die, reload, throw grenade where they're going to land and exploit!
Oh, and if you're going to have situations where I'm stuck in a corridor or lift or something under attack, don't design it so I can hide in a corner and evade all the fire. When I was trapped in the lab corridor, Jessica shouted "Come on JC, he's getting killed in there!" while I stuck in a corner on near maximum health. Instead, provide me some cover within the area so I can fight, but don't give me an out and out safe corer.
Up till this point I've really loved the game. A little repetitive at times, with countless undocumented features, but this has been compensated for by some bloody amazing gun fights (the first third of the game is by far the strongest), thanks to the AI which is a pleasure to battle, and the adaptive challenge which is upped itself to 72. The fight among the woodstacks was my favourite section of the game. It's a solid 7.5/10 effort, quality VO, excellent AI, fun gun battles, a villain (Elixis) who I like as a villain, and story pieces that I look forward to (even if it could have done with one or two more of these). Sure, my side is a little anonymous, and the documentation doesn't exist, but it doesn't ruin the game. Also, the level design turned into a bit of a corridor fest when you penetrated the lab, but still, nothing too bad.
Unfortunately, you smash into Supremacy Tower and it all goes horribly wrong. Firstly, you've got Jessica. She's your all-in-one invincible Half-Life 2 squad. Well, that she's invincible means I was pushing her out to do as much fighting as possible, hiding until I had to engage. Couldn't we show a little more imagination here? She gets hit enough she goes down for X seconds? She has to retreat and heal with a med kit or something for X seconds until she can engage? But no, she's a walking gun, and unfortunately she's also a silent walking gun. This should have been my chance to really engage with this character, but she doesn't say a word, unless I USE her, in which case she bosses me, her boss, around.
She also has the annoying Half-Life 2 squad following behaviour. Sorry, but couldn't you cover me or something? If I'm hiding, can't you fire? While you're reloading why don't I fire? Sharing my hiding space allowing them to close right up to us is not intelligent stuff. This area really needed some work.
Why does she fire at such a slow rate? Nothing is more annoying that someone being thick to limit their effectiveness. For the love of God will you either burst fire, or hold down the trigger! None of this, spat.. spat.. spat. I want to hear spat spat spat... spat spat spat. Or just plain SPAAAAAAAAAAAAAAT when they get close, or she gets desperate. Let's inject some character here!
Depressingly, by Supremacy Tower the game just struck me as having run out of ideas. We've gone from really fun battles against mercs, who have the odd annoying Heavy Gunner of minimal weaknesses, to battles where I am simply hit by wave after wave of Heavy Gunners. I go forward, hit the trigger, engage and kill, having to reload should I mis-step because the game is now that unforgiving. I wouldn't mind, but heavy gunners are tedious to fight because it's the same, step out, fire, hide from their fire until they cool-down, step out etc. routine every time. There's no satisfying head-shot or anything like that.
Worse, I deal with one wave, then I step forward to the next trigger and get another wave, and we do it all over again... and again... and again. The level design has given up and it's corridor, corridor, corridor. The office environment with destroyable walls was a nice change, but it had thousands of heavy gunners. The matrix lobby area would have been fun, were it not an arena which trapped you and forced you into yet another wave fest.
Spawns are activated way too late. There's no point grenading a possible enemy hidey-hole, because even if they are going to be there, they probably haven't spawned there yet! So you're forced to wander into the middle of some open hall to hit the trigger point so MORE heavy gunners can come out while you scurry back to cover.
The spawns also got so sloppy that I could see the enemies being generated. In one case I was standing in a lift and they generated in there with me!
Worst of all, as I killed more and more of them my challenge rose from 72 to 80, and so I got EVEN MORE HEAVY GUNNERS! ARGHHHH! More Mercs, sure, they're fun to fight as I try to take them down quick before they can flush me with grenades, or blast me with rifles, but heavy gunners... Christ they're tedious.
In the end, the game gave up. It put me out on tiny ledges with the odd jutting cover, giving up all pretence of tactical fighting. I'd trigger, hide, step out and kill, then advance to close down the spawn. I did this for three levels of window ledge.
Finally, the helicopter arrives and Elixis arrives for another quality bit of story, I do love those sequences. Jessica lands next to me and says... nothing. WTF? A gate busts open and a guard fires and then I'm left wondering what to do. Surely the game doesn't just expect me to leave her on the ledge? Ah, but after I USE her three times, she finally says "Go on without me" Missed opportunity, she should have had a short monologue to explain what was expected of me, "I... I can't make it, Blade. Go on without me. Get... Roddick... GO!" something like that. As it is, the game expects me to do the last thing that would come to mind.
So, more heavy gunners (Jesus) and the the last big fight. Sorry, this was disappointing, it was yet another slug fest. Huge mutant appears, and there's a platform leading off the roof. Ah hah! The mutant must be led to throw itself off the edge, or it leaps onto the chopper, because my bullets ain't gonna hurt that thing, right? WRONG! Nope, it's slug fest against mutant, followed by slug fest against chopper where bullets can destroy it for some reason. the chopper then crashes (or something) in a way that looks no different to when it normally lowers itself, so you don't know you've won. An unmarked chopper appears, which was lucky I didn't try to blow it out the sky, where was the VO telling me it'd come to give me a lift? After guessing I had to run towards it, I win.
This then leads to a really weak ending which gives me no satisfaction, and no closure. There's no taunting from Elixis. No voices from the rage inside me. No personal chat with Jessica. No doctor telling me she might not make it. Nope, instead we get JC giving us the hard sell for the next episode. That was really weak.
Thankfully, after the credits, we do get a fairly funny segment from a game which, IMO, showed a pretty good sense of humour. Some of the secrets (the mutant egg disco for one) made me laugh.
Sorry to get so negative, but the last chapter was seriously weak. Either Ritual ran out of time or ideas, but it became a tedious slug fest. There were better ways to raise the difficulty, and the mercs were always ALWAYS more fun to fight than heavy gunners, so when they started to disappear, so too did the fun factor since heavy gunners do little more than run towards you and then open fire. Rinse and repeat.
A 7.5/10 game becomes a game lucky to get away with 6/10. The mercs were good, Elixis was good and the story segment in the lab worked well, though the game needed more of this. The last chapter was really weak, and the ending poor.
It took me seven hours to win, but I think two hours of that was the last chapter. The next episode was on my "must buy" list until Supremacy Tower, but now I'd want to see evidence that Ritual have upped their game in the next episode first.
In the future I'd want to see:
* More of enemies with weak spots who have one than one move in combat (e.g. mercs with their weak heads, rifles AND grenades)
* More story segments. Yeah, this is all out FPS, but the Elixis segments rocked, and I need something more to propel me from segment to segment.
* More bonding with your own team. I ending this episode still barely knowing who they were. If Jessica is going to fight with me, then she should be shouting to me in the same way the enemies shout to one another!
* More imagination. Invincible walking guns are not my idea of fun. If Elixis is going to say "But can she survive?" when I know she's invincible, then you've already destroyed your own tension. Sure, I don't want to babysit AI, but let's show a little more imagination, like knock downs where she's vulnerable to death (thus encouraging team work between you) etc. Something more than invulnerable gun. Rather than throwing me in a spawn area, use the Medal of Honour system, where enemies spawn from certain points until you close the distance, and then they stop spawning there. Now THAT would make for a satisfying segment with Jessica, where you leap-frog one another in an attempt to push the enemy back, instead of running around like a headless chicken in yet another room arena spawn wave segment thing.
For the most part this was an incredible experience, and refreshingly the game was actually hard, and until the last chapter it was hard in all the right ways. I felt health could have been spaced a little better, it seemed to be too much of nothing, nothing TONS OF HEALTH, noting, nothing, nothing, TONS OF HEALTH etc. so a loss of a bit too much in one fight meant you were having to take down guys without taking any counter-fire. Mostly though, I loved the challenge and seeing how differently fire fights would turn out each time.
But I just felt I was wading through treacle at the end. I hope the next episode isn't going to be tons of mega mutants, because tough enemies (as in lots of hit points) tend to be the most tedious to fight. Fights where I'm fragile and they're fragile, those are ones where cover and tactics matter the most, rather than a strafe circle, and those are the most fun.
I'm really looking forward to the next episode, but it's not a "must buy" anymore.