We’ve been hearing about the promise of episodic games for the last few months. The concept is pretty simple, instead of having one massive game, the game is broken into smaller chunks and sold at a much lower price. The easiest analogy is to think it as getting a one hour TV show instead of a three hour movie. Gamers don’t have to plunk down a lot of money all at once, they get new content on a regular basis, and they actually have a chance to finish the game. Developers get their games out quicker (and theoretically cheaper) and can react to the gamer feedback more quickly since there is a shorter turn around between titles.
Ritual’s Sin Episodes: Emergence is the first big episodic title to utilize this new concept. The game is the successor to the late 1997’s game Sin although you won’t need to have played the first game to enjoy the current one (although it helps). The general gist of the back story is that you are John Blade the head of an elite security force called HardCorp and it’s up to you to defend the city of Freeport against rival organization SiNTEK and their evil leader Elexis Sinclaire (you know she’s evil because she’s sporting about 2 miles of cleavage and isn’t exactly modest about her assets). Backing you up is your tech guy JC and rookie cop Jessica Cannon who provides back up and spunk during the game.
You start the game out in the clutches of SinTEK but you are quickly rescued by Jessica. Before she can rescue you Elexis and her henchman Reddick inject you with a mysterious serum that you can bet is not penicillin. In the chaos Reddick and Elexis escape and it’s now up to you to track them down and figure out exactly what they’ve injected you with.
The real key to Sin Episodes: Emergence is managing your expectations about the game. You have to remember that this is the first part of what will hopefully be a six to ten episode game arc. This was the hardest thing for me to get around with the game as there are only three weapons in the game (thought each does have an alt fire) plus grenades and only four or so different enemy types in the game. That doesn’t seem like a lot for one game but if you factor in that it’s part of a larger game then it makes a little more sense. That said I would hope that the next chapter adds a few more in as you can only mow down people with a shotgun for so long before it gets a little old.
It took me about five one hour sessions to get through the game. I did focus on getting through the game though and didn’t spend a lot of time hunting for the 40 some secret areas in the game. I did find 12 of them though so if you were to really hunt throughout the game you’d probably take a little north of six hours to complete the game and find everything. The one thing that was a bit odd about playing a game that you know is fairly short going in was that I was constantly asking myself “Is this the last level of the game?” or is there more to it. The first part of the game did seem to drag a bit but after a while the game picked up and it got very entertaining.
The Sin Episodes series will use Valve’s source engine so the game does look and play a lot like Half Life 2. That’s not a bad thing as Ritual has taken an already great engine and added a few of their own gameplay mechanisms to the game.
While you don’t have the gravity gun from Half Life 2 the game does use the physics engine in subtle fun little ways. The best example is the jet pack troopers you’ll encounter through out the game. Shooting flying bad guys and watching them fall out of the sky is always cool but when you shoot their jetpack and they go zipping around the map and then explode it takes it to an entirely new level of awesomeness.
Another new feature is the use of gas clouds in the game. While not something new, the game does make it more of a play mechanic than other games in the past, Sin: Emergence really perfects it. You have the standard hit a barrel and it emits a toxic gas kind of effect but you can also shoot a health canister and stand in the fumes and it will heal you which is pretty cool when you need a quick heal and don’t want to be vulnerable while you heal up.
Level design is fairly solid and varied enough to keep you interested. There’s a nice collection of labs, underground areas, and office areas so that you don’t get too bored. There are a few alternate routes to get to some places but nothing too fancy and nothing that distracts you from reaching the end goal of the game. I think there were only a few moments where I didn’t know what to do next which is a nice change of pace.
As I mentioned earlier the first few levels did drag a bit for me though but once you through them and out into the world the game does pick up a bit. There are a few nice set action sequences in the game and a fairly decent end level boss battle. The game does scale it’s difficulty up and down as you are playing so as go through the game it adjusts itself to your playing style. If you constantly die in one part of the game the game will change the bad guys around a bit the next time you enter that part of the game. I had this happen a few times when the game removed a chain gun guy from one area of the map after the third time he killed me.
I have to hand it to Ritual, the song that plays over the opening menu of the game is excellent and really sets the mood for the game immediately with a definite kind of James Bond feel to it. The rest of the sound effects get the job done and all of the guns have a nice oomph feel to them. The voices are decent and while not over the top they don’t grate on your or make you want to turn them off.
The folks at Ritual have done a pretty good job with coming up with some decent models and textures for the game. I do question the need to model in OPL for Jessica Cannon but other than that the game looks good. While the graphics and firefights aren’t quite at the level of F.E.A.R. they do a pretty good job and provide more variety in five hours of game play than Vivendi’s FPS did in 15.
The game also has a stats engine that sits in the background monitoring how you are playing the game. Want to know how many times you’ve jumped in combat? It’s there. Want to know how well the game is scaling up/down to your level of play? It’s in there as well as a host of other interesting facts and figures about how you choose to send enemies to the electronic afterlife.
All in all I think Ritual did a solid job with their first outing into Episodic content. I did have the game crash on me a couple of times (which might have been the result of out of date video drivers) but I run into a few bugs during the game that looked like real defects. In one part of the game you are given a ride in a car and have to get out of the car in order to clear out some obstacles and I somehow got stuck in the car and wasn’t able to get out. From looking at the patch that was released this week it looks like that bug was addressed though.
I also have to wonder who thought it was a good idea to release the game during the week of E3 as the game seems to have gotten a bit lost in the shuffle of everything that was going on. I initially was going to pass on purchasing and reviewing the game (I’m back logged as it is) but then I saw this post and decided that $20 wasn’t that much of a sacrifice to support a good developer and after playing the game I decided to go ahead and review it since it’s a pretty good FPS game.
The few glitches aside I don’t have a real problem recommending the game to FPS fans as you’re definitely going to get your $20’s worth as long as you manage your expectations about the game. Not only do you get a new gaming experience but Ritual is throwing in a copy of the original game (which has multiplayer) into the mix. I’m looking forward to seeing where Ritual takes the series as the first episode was a decent start to a new franchise and hopefully they can build on it.
A good first step into the world of episodic content, the game is not perfect but
Emergence is a decent way to re-start this franchise and kick off this new type of gameplay.