SiN Episodes: Emergence

Sunday, May 14th, 2006

I’ve played through the first episode of SiN Episodes entitled Emergence, dowloaded via steam, and have a few things to say. One of the draws of the game is this

Face off against ruthless enemies, like jetpack soldiers and mutants that evolve as you fight them. Witness enemies that adapt to your actions and truly work as a team, as they cover each other and help fallen comrades to get back on their feet.

Semiotically, Sin EM shares the typical environmentals, from Pac-Man to Kya to HL2: crates, spans, and sounds as a means of negotiating the space. But I like to engage the so called intelligent parameters of shooters and adventure games and have to say that the above description is and isn’t true as a means of addressing the ambiguity of programmed “intelligence.” I never saw the enemy evolve, in other words. Because there isn’t much to evolve.

As far as I could tell, the enemies in Sin resemble the Combine in that they’re as dumb as you’d expect. They can’t hear and don’t seem to care much about their own lives. I remember rushing into rooms and soldiers in HL2 would face windows rather than my avatar. Shoot and move on. Similarly in Sin. In one case, I entered a storage room and waited for the soldiers to enter or toss in a grenade. They didn’t. I crept to the door, peered out, and two of my enemy stood facing a wall. I tossed out a gas canister. Nothing. shoot it. Boom. Move on.

High difficulty has nothing to do with intelligence but with enemy numbers. The higher you play, the more you’re shot up or flanked. Fine. Accuracy is another question. These guys don’t miss, even when you’re hiding behind walls. That’s not intelligence. That’s programmed targeting. Both HL2 and Sin suffer from this relentless “programmed-ness” that diminished the sense of in-game intensity and decision making against an enemy that wants you and has its own wants as well.

Sin is a typical penetration metaphor. You must get in and do your business. In/out. But it lacks the grit of HL2, whose world-story is enticing as an image of apocalypse, at least in my mind. But in both worlds, the internals don’t feel intelligent. Why not a game where the intelligence is palpable and isn’t always about calculating proximity, as in hitTest() or either ors, but as a thing that has an intent beyond the avatar’s activity or mission: an agency that builds on its own ends or problems. An enemy that hunts you down and alters its plans and is often confused is a mod I’d like to see in an Half Life or Sin of the future. Anatonistic agency must have a feel of a mind of its own. Sin feels as if it’s waiting for you to walk into it. The trigger is its cognitive metaphor. But I’d suggest that more needs conceiving, an antagonist you can feel working outside your influence.


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