SiN Episodes: Emergence (viewpoint)

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Somewhat original SiN

PUBLISHER: Electronic Arts/Valve Software DEVELOPER: Ritual GENRE: Shooter AVAILABILITY: Retail box, download (steampowered.com)
ESRB RATING: Mature REQUIRED: 1.2GHz CPU, 256MB RAM, 2.6GB hard drive space, Internet connection
RECOMMENDED: 2.4GHz CPU, 512MB RAM, 128MB videocard MULTIPLAYER: Should be available by August

ARE GAMES ART?
They weren’t in Duke Nukem and Doom’s day. Men were men, women had porn-star proportions, and BFG didn’t exactly stand for Bio-Force Gun. Today, developers slow down the pace to fl aunt graphics while wrangling with bigger questions like emotion and storytelling.
Hence, SiN Episodes: Emergence has an especially tough fi ght: The born-again FPS needs to stay true to its roots and remain palatable enough to attract new gamers…while packing enough gameplay into the first six-hour episode to justify the $20 cost. Like a schizophrenic off meds, Emergence begins unbalanced. Two early cringe-inducing scenes feature villainous sexpot Elexis Sinclaire’s digitized boobs practically slapping you in the face; from there, it shifts to a druggedup Col. John R. Blade silently brooding through the entire experience like Half-Life’s Gordon Freeman. Isn’t there some sort of middle ground here? Half the fun of the original game came from hearing Blade crack wise while calling shots for the HardCorps team. Now, his handlers simply bark exposition-laced orders: “Go in the building, John! You need to turn off the computer, John! Don’t eat that paste, John!” Emergence chief designer Tom Mustaine explains, “Blade doesn’t have a voice, for story reasons…but it’s also been many years since FPS games
had a chatty main character.” Expect Blade to get more talkative in future installments. For the moment, though, a bullet is worth a thousand words.

BRAINS OVER BRAWN
When it comes to action, Emergence chases the shooter dragon with a junkie’s zeal—and the Dynamic Diffi culty Adjustment (DDA) system is the game’s greatest strength. Tracking every facet of what you’re doing (down to the number of footsteps taken) and adjusting diffi culty on the fl y, DDA showcases Emergence as more than a simple shooting gallery. Troops communicate with each other, pull back, and team up if you’re chewing through a level. Hey,
Valve? Take some notes before completing Half-Life 2: Episode Two, because Episode One’s pacing is, at times, pokey by comparison. Just don’t fall into Emergence’s trap of forcing players to quicksave and reload to deal with several cheap enemies-popping-out-ofnowhere moments.

At least enemies look good (if a little Half-Life-ish) while you’re dying, thanks to a modded Source engine. Environmental details also show off a good deal of interactivity, but we wish the oh-so-in-vogue physics puzzles here weren’t so amateurish—a propane tank set by itself next to a precariously placed girder might as well have a blinking neon sign saying, “Shoot me!” Interestingly, items you monkey with allegedly have repercussions in
later episodes.

It’s time for me to eat a little crow: I, along with many critics, originally dinged Emergence for a content drought. When encountering multiple waves of the same armored baddies in a short six-hour ride, you can’t help but feel shortchanged. In retrospect, Emergence’s fi ve different enemy types count for more than the one new kamikaze headcrab zombie we got in Half-Life 2: Episode One. However, Emergence’s scant three fi rearms—a handgun, an assault rifl e, and a
shotgun—are the unbuttered toast of FPS games. Sure, the arsenal feels substantially meaty…but how about some original gear? ccording to Mustaine, “Future episodes will increase the total gun count. We also plan on episode-specifi c weapons, some that you will see in one episode, but never in another.” Who cares if Emergence is a by-the-numbers shooter? It’s still a fun thrill ride on some base level. The designers just need to tinker with the narrative and refi ne some gameplay issues if they hope people will come back for more. That’s one advantage of episodic games: Maybe the next installment will fi x everything.

REALITY CHECK
1UP NETWORK 7/10
GAMESPOT 7.3/10
GAMESPY 3/5
IGN 8/10

THE DYNAMIC DIFFICULTY ADJUSTMENT SYSTEM IS THE GAME’S GREATEST STRENGTH.

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