Despite by-the-book design, SiN Episodes: Emergence delivers hard, pulse-pounding first-person shooter action in a convenient snack-sized package. You are John Blade, commander of HardCorps, uber-rental cops serving in a garden-variety near-future dystopia. Your enemy is one Elexis Sinclair - a saucy temptress who could easily be mistaken for Lara Croft's evil twin sister. Sinclair leads SinTek, a typical multinational corporation with a simple goal: complete and utter world domination. That's the whole story: rent-a-cop vs evil bitch. If you're looking for character development and subtle motives, go play Oblivion instead. SiN is about blowing things up.
And blow things up you will. During the five hours of game, you'll battle a never-ending stream of the typical lackeys, henchmen and stooges that populate every first-person shooter we've ever played. The SinTek goons use cover, retreat and wield even in-game objects against you. The old "exploding barrel down the stairs" trick puts a smile on our face no matter how many times we see it.
But there's one thing that lifts Emergence above the rest of the shooter schlock: the difficulty. A dynamic difficulty system keeps the game challenging for even the saltiest multiplayer vet. When you start a new game, you choose the level of challenge as well as how often you want help. Then, as you play, the game tracks things like the amount of damage you give and take, the accuracy of your shots, your ammunition level and the number of health packs you use to constantly tweak the type, number and strength of the baddies you battle. We've all heard this story before, but it actually works really well in the game.
For example, if you breeze through 10 grunts with 10 sequential headshots, SinTek starts issuing helmets to the guards. Die a few times in a row, and the game will spawn fewer guards the next time you enter your personalized abattoir. The result is an experience that’s enjoyable and challenging, for everyone regardless of skill level.
We love the game's adult sense of humor; make sure you take a second to read the warning signs and de-motivational posters scattered throughout the SinTek facilities. We also dig the in-depth stats tracking - not only can you see exactly how you perform, the game even gives you a fitting title based on your technique - and we’d like to see it in more games. We've never had a game call us grenade whores before, but we dig it.
Our only real gripe is that the weapon selection is meager; a pistol, a shotgun and a submachine gun fill out your arsenal. Although each weapon has an alternate fire mode, we'd appreciate a little more firepower to take down the bosses and clear tougher rooms. Still, there's plenty to enjoy in Emergence and the price is certainly right. Bring on episode two.