Sin is for the first-person shooter fan who wants more of the same, done just a little different, but done right. Too bad that's just the sort who'd be especially intolerant of its bugs and occasional shortcomings. Nevertheless, if you're looking for guns, blood, and action, not to mention one of the best deathmatch games of the year, you'll get your money's worth.
When it's at its best, Sin looks like a violent comic book or an exploitative action movie. The weapons are high-tech and over-the-top, the women are top-heavy, blood gushes all over the place, and most everything breaks or explodes eventually. As dictionary-definition tough guy John Blade, you must shoot your way through hundreds of gun-toting bruisers and nogoodniks. Sure, they all look the same, but they die in all kinds of different ways. They'll fly backward, spin out, clutch at their throats, clutch at their stomachs, collapse in place, or just plain blow to bits depending on how and where you shoot them. The motion-captured death throes of your enemies always look great, no matter how many you put out of their misery. Not that putting them out of their misery is an easy task; not all these guys know how to shoot straight, but they move pretty fast, and they won't go down easy. Of course, they'll go down a lot easier if you're a good shot - one of the best aspects of Sin is the hit detection, where you can shoot your enemy in any part of his body and see appropriate results. Sure, if you keep shooting that thug in the chest, he'll eventually go down; but even one or two shots to his head will do the job just the same. But don't get smug because the same laws apply to you. A lucky shot could even knock your weapon clean from your grip.
Most of the levels are intricately detailed, and some of them look very good. The game is richly colored all the way through, and while certain areas are a bit dark, for the most part, every area of the game looks plausible. While some of the level architecture starts to look a little plain, with too many right angles and too many long corridors, there are enough twists and unique challenges to keep you going and, more importantly, to keep you interested. In a throwback to Duke Nukem 3D, the levels also tend to be highly interactive, more so than the usual shooter. Go on, you know you want to flush those toilets, dial those phones, and open those file cabinets. Its graphics look awkward sometimes, often during the in-game cinematics, but for the most part, Sin's slick.
There's a lot of speech in Sin, what with Blade and his sidekick J.C. bantering back and forth all the time. Sure, real people don't talk like that, but the dialogue is appropriate in the context of the game, and for every joke that falls flat, there are at least a couple that work. Unfortunately, for the most part, Sin doesn't sound nearly as good as it should. Enemy thugs mutter the same boring lines over and over, to the point where it's all the more satisfying to shut them up. Most every gun at your disposal looks fantastic, but most every gun sounds meek and weak. It's almost sad - you've got Blade looking like a real tough customer, toting that monster machine gun in one hand and feeding ammo into it with the other, but the thing sounds like an electric razor running low on juice. Meanwhile, you've got an interactive soundtrack buzzing away in the background, and though it'll get you grooving to a good drumbeat once in a while, usually you either won't notice, or you'll want to turn it off.
After all, you must concentrate what with so many tough guys trying to lay you low all the time. The action in Sin is a lot of fun, and there's enough variety in between to keep the gunfights interesting. Often times, you must use your ingenuity as well as your ammunition. J.C. will help hack into various computer systems along the way, so you can disable security systems, open doors, and more. Otherwise, sometimes you must be sneaky; other times, you must think fast; and still other times, you must make some serious jumps. There's a lot more variety here than your average shooter, although that's not to suggest Sin is unlike anything you've ever seen.
The fact is, at its core, this here's your run-of-the-mill shooter. Unless you think it's a unique or revolutionary development to find the machine gun before the shotgun, you'll traverse familiar territory most of the way through Sin. But who cares? This is the shooter made for diehard fans of the genre, and if that's you, you'll like it a lot. After all, Sin rewards your finely honed aim more than any other Quake-style shooter, and the more experienced you are with the genre, the more you'll enjoy its wisecracks and shooter community in-jokes. On top of that, the single-player game is rather long, and you'll always have the deathmatch mode when you're through.
Sin includes many different deathmatch levels, some of which are straightforward but well-designed and some of which are pretty wild. One has you fighting on a moving train, while another puts you in a giant living room. Meanwhile, the hit detection only makes matters more interesting. Even the stock pistol can end a shootout pretty quickly if your aim is remarkable. But you needn't worry about the hit detection ruining deathmatches, with instant-death head shots left and right; Sin moves quickly, and most of the time, you'll have trouble hitting your opponent at all, let alone hitting him in the forehead. And when you need a break from deathmatch, Sin's even got a training facility that lets you skeet shoot with the shotgun, snipe with the rifle, and more; the game even tabulates a score based on your performance.
But all this seems practically pointless in light of Sin's bugs. Sure, multiplayer Sin works fine out of the box, but single-player loading times are unacceptable to the point where you'll have plenty of time to wonder if it's worth the trouble. Sin isn't easy, and dying in it starts to feel like a fate worse than death, what with two-minute load times as a consequence of every fatal mistake. And the problems don't stop there. The game's incompatible with certain popular sound cards, not to mention the first boss who stands perfectly still as you shoot him. Certainly, there will be a patch to address these problems. But no one wants a game that doesn't work well out of the box, and it isn't fair to force a customer to download a multimegabyte patch just to justify the purchase (the beta version of the patch is more than 10MB). Activision should be shipping the patch to every registered customer, complete with a rebate and personalized apology. But fat chance that's going to happen. So, for the time being, if you're looking for the best stand-in for Quake this year, you'll find it worth your while to shrug off the bugs.