GDC 06: SiN Episodes: Emergence Hands-on

Ritual's new SiN is on hand at the Game Developers Conference, and we couldn't resist trying it out.

SAN JOSE, Calif.--Bad timing isn't one of the seven deadly sins, but when it came to the original SiN, it was deadly enough. SiN came out in the shadow of the original Half-Life, and it's taken the franchise roughly eight years to recover from that. Now, developer and publisher Ritual is preparing the return of SiN in the form of SiN Episodes: Emergence. Ironically, Emergence is built upon Valve's Source engine and Ritual will distribute the game online using Valve's Steam service. And by relying on much of the same technology used by Valve for Half-Life 2, this SiN looks to be making a much stronger impression than its predecessor.

Emergence will mark the return of all the key characters from the original game. You play as John Blade, the determined cop out to stop the nefarious plans of Alexis Sinclair, the corporate evildoer out to rule Freeport City. The action involves much running and gunning as you blast bad guys with a variety of weapons while blazing your way through the different levels. Since it's essentially only the first episode, Emergence will contain approximately four to six hours of gameplay.

What's really intriguing about the game is the dynamic difficulty system, which we got to experience first hand. Like most shooters, Emergence will keep track of all your statistics as you play the game, including your hit percentage with various weapons, your number of kills, and so on. However, this data isn't for you to gloss over at the end of the game. Instead, Emergence will dynamically adjust the difficulty level depending on your performance. As Ritual's Tom Mustaine explained to us, if you start getting good at nailing head shots, then the game will subtly adapt to that. Enemies may start appearing with helmets, or they may dodge faster to incoming rounds. The idea is that you'll constantly be faced with a difficult challenge, no matter what your skill level. What's impressive is that Mustaine said they've discovered that with dynamic difficulty turned on, both newcomers and first-person shooter veterans take about the same amount of time to get through the game.

We were brutalized by the dynamic-difficulty system as we blitzed our way through a level of the game using our highly refined shooter skills. At first, it seemed a bit easy to take out the bad guys, but it didn't take long for the game to adapt, and before we knew it, enemies started using different tactics on us, such as utilizing the secondary fire mode on their weapons to really unleash on us. If they do that to you, then you know you're doing well, and the game is trying to compensate for that.

You may have noticed that there are some familiar elements in the game that hearken to Half-Life 2.There's a driving sequence we saw where you ride shotgun while another character maneuvers a car through the level, and at one point you haul through a tunnel where bad guys rope down from the ceiling. Still, Emergence should stand out on its own regards thanks to its colorful design style and its intense and occasionally gory combat. (Just take a shotgun to a guy at point-blank range or watch them burn in agony thanks to a well-thrown grenade).

We're told that Emergence is almost complete at this point, but Ritual still plans to put the game online sometime in May. The company is distributing it online via Steam, but it is contemplating some kind of retail package, as well, though nothing is nailed down at this point. What's interesting is that those who buy Emergence will also get the original SiN through Steam, and it's been cleaned up with all the bugs fixed. This includes multiplayer, which apparently is still popular, even today. Emergence looks like a fresh new start for the franchise, and we're looking forward to seeing it ship soon.

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