It's a really hard time to be an action game developer. No matter what spin you've put on your individual game, there's no way that it's going to escape being compared with Valve's amazing new Half-Life. Sierra's latest blockbuster has pushed up the bar for what we expect out of a first person shooter and has made a lot of the games that we've chomping at the bit for seem lackluster and dull by comparison. Sin is no exception. With it's frustrating mix of the very good and the very bad in almost every area, the game just never seems to rise above mediocrity. Let's take a look at why.
For an action game, Sin presents a pretty compelling storyline. You are Blade, a super-cop who's been called in to help stop a bank robbery in progress. On seeing you, the criminals panic and start taking hostages while trying to find a way out of the bank. You chase them down, and begin to uncover a conspiracy that's far bigger than just a few felons out to make an unauthorized withdrawal. The twists and turns that the tale takes are often predictable, but fairly entertaining, and more than once I found myself plowing through a level just to find out what happens next.
Unfortunately, plowing through the levels wasn't nearly as much fun as I thought it was going to be. Sin is set up more like a platform game than it is an action game, with most of the emphasis lying on careful jumping from ledges and platforms than on accurate shooting and intelligent tactical movement. Don't get me wrong, I don't mind hopping over a few chasms in the course of game, but in Sin, it seems to happen every few seconds. If I'm playing a platform game, I want to be able to see my character's feet at the same time that I draw a bead on the enemy. Sadly, in Sin, this is just not the case.
This is not to say that the parts of Sin that don't revolve around jumping off a plank onto aren't a lot of fun. Sin's brilliant hit detection system mixed with its rugged foes give you a real reason to try and aim your gun before you start shooting. The enemies are also fairly intelligent and have enough sense to open or shut doors and duck for cover when they're getting pounded. The levels, while requiring far too much in the way of hopping around, are well designed and offer plenty of little secrets for careful players to uncover. We especially loved the moving levels, like one that takes place in a hurdling train, that offer a perspective that's pretty fresh. In another cool twist, there are also several things that you can discover that will do you a lot of harm. The rule here is to be observant, but to leave curiosity to the cats.
So what about the graphics and sound? I found everything to be a touch more angular than I would expect from a game of this generation ¿ in many ways it felt like a throwback to Virtua Cop. Still, the game's effects, like blood splattering a wall behind anyone you shoot, really add a dimension of realism that's pretty cool in a heavy firefight. In the end, the graphics to fine for an action game, but this isn't the title you'll be calling your friends over to see. Sound was also a mixed bag, with great music and sound effects and absolutely terrible voice acting. In the case of both graphics and sound, the good mixes with the bad to just create a sort of luke-warm feel.
Multiplayer was actually very entertaining. The levels are well designed, the play is smooth, and the head shot and sniper rifle add a whole new dimension of paranoia to the game. When we first received the beta, the office was completely shutdown by the constant Sin deathmatching. Still, now that we have our hands on Half-Life, Sin multiplayer matches seem to have dropped off to nearly nothing. It's good, but not as good as other games currently available.
There's one last problem that really dropped Sin's finally score, and that's its unforgivable bugginess out of the box. In addition to all sorts of video card conflicts, Sin also has a load screen that takes FOREVER. Activision did send us a beta of patch that will be released later, but the patch is over 10 megs, quite a download for someone using a modem. It seems to me that Activision was trying so hard to get this product out the door before Half-Life that they didn't do the game justice and released it without making sure that it was everything it could be. In doing so, they placed even more distance between the quality levels of their game and Valve's new blockbuster. Who'd have thought you'd get such irony from the videogames business?
In the end, Sin is a solid action game that boasts some really cool features. The problem is, for everything that's great about the game, there seems to be an equal and opposite problem with it. If you're into action games, and you've got the means to pick up several, you'll definitely want to make this one part of your collection.
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