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volume 1, issue 20

Today in loonygames:

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Off the Shelf:
The Top Shelf






By Jason "loonyboi" Bergman

Title: Sin
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Ritual Entertainment
Average Price: $40


all 1998 the year of the first person shooter (FPS), if you will. Thereís no denying it. In the last six months of 1998, we saw the release of games that far surpass 1997ís mediocre FPS offerings. Look at this list from 1998: Half-Life, Sin, Unreal, Thief: The Dark Project. Any one of these, had they been released just a year earlier, would have been revolutionary.

Unfortunately, only Unreal managed to ship well before the holiday season, and the rest shipped within a few weeks of one-another. This doesnít bode well for Sin, which is a shame, since it really is an excellent game. Make no bones about it, Half-Life is a superior game. But, I strongly think that if Sin had made its original ship date we would be seeing things very differently right now.

Sin puts you in the body of John Blade, a cop-for-hire. The game uses Duke Nukem style voices to put you into the character, and while they arenít 100% effective, they are pretty good (although I swear, if I hear "damn!" one more time, Iím gonna shoot someone). I liked the character of J.C., your sidekick/hacker friend. As you work throughout a level, J.C. tells you your mission objectives, and occaisionally helps you out by opening doors. The two characters also have some amusing banter between them as the game progresses, and I thought that was clever, and not as intrusive as I had feared.

Where the game doesnít fare nearly as well, is with the overall plot. Hereís the schtick: Elexis Sinclair (thatís SinclairÖget it?) is this evil type person whoís been distributing some badass drug to the streets. Being the bad mofo that you are, you go in to shut the thing down. Sheís evil, naturally, so she keeps mutating things to make it harder for you to get to her, and sending her various henchmen after you. I donít have a problem with this thin as paper plot or anything, in fact, I think it has a sort of cheezeball charm to it (certainly Duke Nukem 3D had its fair share of plot holes). But after recent games like Half-Life, itís somewhat harder to stomach. Fortunately for me, I finished Sin before tackling Half-Life, but Iíve heard from a few people I know that stopped playing Sin altogether as soon as they got Half-Life in favor of that gameís superior storytelling.

The fact is that Sinís plot is really set up to put you in some kickass situations to blow some stuff up. Thatís a good thing. Half-Life had some great storytelling, and some really well thought out level design, but it canít compete with Sin as far as all out action is concerned (Sin was runner-up in our "Action Game of the Year" category for a reason). While there are some levels that revert back to "find the damn key" it really doesnít feel that way, since there always seems to be a few guys lurking around a corner to blow away. Sin is about jumping into an action flick and killing everything in sight, and it does this well.

There are some interesting changes in gameplay here as well. If youíve played the Sin demo, youíve already had a taste for one of their "rail shooter" style levels where youíre placed on a vehicle and you are taken through a scenario. Thereís only one level really like this, and itís in the beginning, but it is a nice diversion from the normal gameplay style found in FPS games. In another level, you hop on a little car thingie, and have to zip down a road, running over guys and trying to leap across giant gaps in the road. A buggy interface made this harder than it needed to be, but the overall experience was enjoyable. One level has you mutated into a giant freaky monster thing, and you have to viscously take out guards with your bare hands while trying to find the formula to change back to normal. I didnít know this was coming, and really got into the level.

The game uses in-game cinematics (those things that are all the rage these days with the kids) instead of pre-rendered cut scenes (except for the intro and ending movie) and they are appropriately cheezeball, with some truly hideous dialogue. I think I enjoyed them for this reason. The camera is more dramatic than Shogoís silly "move back and forth" style, and the models actually do more than just their idle animations (they do some funky custom thingsÖvery nicely done) and while itís not as cool as Half-Lifeís scripted sequences, Ritual deserves some points for making some of the best in-game cinematics around.

Deathmatch in Sin is good, but not great. The weapons are well balanced, and the levels well designed, but it just canít hold a candle (for me, at least) to Shogoís completely over-the-top deathmatch experience. Of course, these days I find myself playing more Sin deathmatch than Shogo, but thatís mainly because there are more Sin servers up and running when I want to kill some people. Sin deathmatch is as good as it can be, no questionÖbut itís got neither the "pureness" of Quake 1 deathmatch, or the variety in gameplay options of Shogo, so itís not one of my personal favorites at the moment.

The bottom line is this: if youíve already played Half-Life a few times, and Heretic II isnít your cup of tea, go out and grab yourself a copy of Sin. Itís a very good game that just shipped at the wrong damn time. I strongly believe that had Sin shipped in early 1998, it would have been huge. Unfortunately, itís going to remain forever buried within the shadow of Half-Life, a place it really doesnít belong.

- Jason "loonyboi" Bergman is the editor-in-chief of loonygames. He likes guiness.


Credits: Bargain Bin logo illustrated and is © 1998 Dan Zalkus. This edition of Top Shelf is © 1998 Jason Bergman. All other content is © 1998 loonyboi productions. Unauthorized reproduction is a majorly hostile gesture.