By Josh "Dr.Rouge" Vasquez
Sin, and an odd reference to some Russian guy
erhaps the saddest body to be fished out of the relentlessly evolving stream that is the entertainment industry is the cadaver of the "painfully adequate," that flawed work which does not quite fall completely off the map. It is a piece left sitting nestled in the terribly quiet land of the unremarkable. No one is motivated to even rail against it let alone praise it; at least indignation is some sort of response, a emotional reaction far better than the bored stare of indifference. Regrettably the cinematic fragments from the game Sin inspire little more than a disinterested sigh.
Sin, developed by Ritual Entertainment and published by Activision, chooses to condense and symbolize its narrative and themes through distinctly cliched cinematic intro. The overall feel can be directly traced to the opening credits sequence from David Fincher's very stylistically influential film, Seven.
Sin's opening is patterned after the grainy look of battered film. Images and text fade in and out, pulsating to the point of almost breaking apart. Medical diagrams and mathematical formula slide back and forth across the screen, hurdling towards the viewer and sinking back into the distance. All of this is combined into a mini-narrative, an encapsulation of the threat posed by a mysterious wave of destruction.
The corporation SinTek appears to be wrapped up in some devilish experiments under the guise of a financially successful business venture called "Vanity." Something has gone terribly wrong, however, as the various illustrations of mutilated and mutating bodies and the screeching voice on the soundtrack aptly demonstrate. While there is a sense of dread trying to peek around the frayed edges of this tired, washed-out imagery, it cannot sustain itself beyond the cliched "this-is-menacing-because-it-looks-weird" feel of so many silly horror and science fiction film previews. What the creators don't seem to realize is that an image of someone standing off in the distance in the middle of a field can be just as frightening as hysterically kinetic flashing horror shows.
It's a matter of the details. Stalker, a truly unique science fiction film by the Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky, is a wonderful example of this approach. The film centers on three travelers who journey into a forbidden landscape known as the Zone which was created by the crash of some mysterious object from space. The Zone is a place of great danger requiring special navigators called Stalkers to circumvent a maze of traps. It is visualized as an overgrown wooded area. A few rusting cars litter the fields, while some decaying urban relics such as huge water drainage pipes and old canals are all that remain of the sectionís city which were obliterated by the crash. At the center of the Zone is a battered farm house, its many rooms filled with sand dunes and flocks of birds. This is also the center of the greatest danger facing our heroes. The reason I dipped into this film away from the regular stream of the column was that it perfectly illustrates my point about the creation of mood.
Tarkovsky conveys the threats inherent in the Zone through very specific techniques. He sculpts with just what he requires, no more, no less...and the final result is definitely the product of an original vision. Tarkovsky relies on three basic elements to establish a sense of menace. There is a very minimalist electronic musical score, subtly "informing" the audience that this is a dark science fiction film without hitting them over the head.
The film material itself, a beautiful washed out blue-grey stock speaks to the colors of a dream (or a nightmare). Finally, the actors, by conveying fear of the Zone, make it threatening. The traps are an odd mix of the physical and the psychological; one is never quite sure what dangers are being threatened. Since the characters are completely convinced that a danger exists, however, the audience is somehow pulled along. Unlike the creators of Sin, Tarkovsky evokes a sense of dread with box of unique paints.
Some might say that itís unfair to compare a three hour long film like Stalker with a three minute videogame intro like Sin. I'm using Stalker only as an example of the powerful use of detail. Not every piece of media attempting to scare, jolt or disturb has to take a "poetically" subtle approach. What they have to do though is utilize details in a new pattern. Sin just rehashes the same old "crazed" cinematics in very broad strokes. It reaches the point that the creators even throw out words at like "fear," "drug addiction," and "carnage" as if they're hoping to trigger some kind of internal Pavlaovian reaction in the viewer. It just seems like the last effort after long hours staring at a blank page.
There are a few things, however, which do manage to save Sin from the back hallways of shame. The medical images and mathematical equations rapidly scrolling across the screen are effective in the sense that they fill in the background themes of disease and science without completely telegraphing the point to the player. These images do have a nice "vagueness" about them which does pique an interest, albeit a very jaded one.
In the end, while the cinematic opening section of Sin is far from a laudable accomplishment, it is not a laughable travesty. Sin's introduction is a terribly ordinary, everyday rip-off. Its creators have taken the last train out of town to the sad little village known as mediocrity, lost somewhere in the land of the unremarkable.
- Josh "Dr.Rouge" Vasquez is a regular contributor to loonygames.
Credits: Pixel Obscura logo illustrated and is © 1998 Dan Zalkus. Pixel Obscura is © 1998 Josh Vasquez. All other content is © 1998 loonyboi productions. Unauthorized reproduction is strictly prohibited...we know where you live.