When you ask veteran gamers who pre-date the release of the industry-saturating Call of Duty what the best FPS ever is, there’s a good chance that the answer will be Half Life. For years Valve’s pivotal FPS was considered the standard all other games in the genre were measured against, and rightly so in many ways. The worst day at work for science boffin, Gordon Freeman, goes down in gaming history as being one of the few games to approach actual perfection, and a slew of following games, including today’s releases, have attempted to reproduce and better the formula Valve created.
Only Valve itself arguably managed to do this with the excellent Half Life 2 (even if we’ve been left in limbo for a ridiculous amount of time for Episode 3 or a sequel). And, whilst there are now many FPS titles that are far superior to Half Life, none have really managed the same impact the original game had on its release, and certainly none have been responsible for so many changes to their genre (except gestational titles like Doom, of course).
It’s quite telling, then, that a game that was almost, if not equally as impressive as Half Life was largely ignored, only to peter out and die, despite attempting a comeback. This game was Ritual Entertainment’s Sin, and it was superb.
Sin, like Half Life, was a new breed of FPS that really pushed the boundaries of what the genre could offer at the time. It was set in the near future in the fictional city of FreePort. Police forces in this future were abolished due to high levels of corruption, so private security firms and corporations filled the gap. One of these is Hardcorps, helmed by Colonel John R. Blade.
As Blade, players embarked on a mission to stop a gangland bank robbery, only to be thrust into a larger-scale plot involving drugs and genetic experimentation, with global repercussions. The major villain of the piece was the CEO of powerful corporation, SinTek, the buxom dominatrix, Alexis Sinclair. This situation, of course, required plenty of guns, explosives and plenty of Saturday-morning cartoon style.
Sin was a full-on action FPS, but one that didn’t take itself too seriously. Instead of realistic characters and an overly dramatic presentation, Sin revelled in the cartoon aesthetic. Blade was a typical, wisecracking cartoon hero, with Alexis Sinclair and SinTek being the usual megalomaniac, world domination dealers with ridiculous plots to take over the world. Super villain staples like secret laboratories, rocket launch facilities and mountain bases were de rigueur, and Blade’s design – a pumped-up white guy with dreadlocks, shades, and plentiful baditidue was every bit the 80s and 90s ‘toon cliché.
This all worked, though, and Sin, although not blessed with a deep and meaningful story, was all the better for the comical approach. Under all of this celluloid frosting was a damn fine FPS.
Spread across a series of varied missions, Sin wasn’t short of stand out moments, and it was one of the most advanced FPS titles of the time, perhaps even more so than Half Life in some ways.
For one, Sin had a very interactive world. This went beyond the ability to destroy objects and parts of the environment, which Sin featured, but also actual interaction on a more complex level. A notable example was the use of computers, which employed a DOS-like command prompt to execute commands and hack security cameras. You could even use ATMs and find secrets in this way. Sin also made some use of vehicles, another rarity for the time in the genre.
One of the more interesting features was the introduction of locational damage. Blade could find and equip armour, and this took damage in various areas as he was shot, complete with a damage indicator to show where he was hit by enemy fire. Even enemies demonstrated this, with clear signs of location damage, and head shots were quick methods to kill foes qucikly.
Perhaps Sin‘s best feature, however, was the level design and variety. There was more to Sin than simple run and gun. There was a lot of shooting, sure, but this was tempered by a healthy selection of different challenges. There were stealth missions (which weren’t forced), underwater survival sections where Blade has to find air supplies to stay alive, and many missions didn’t have a linear structure, allowing players to complete them in different ways and in different orders. There were also primary and secondary objectives, with primary being needed for the mission, and secondary being optional. Plenty of secrets were hidden in there too.
Even the very first mission could be completed in no real order, and the various goals made things far more interesting than simply getting from point A to B, which made up the majority of Half Life. Yes, it had its fair share of key card-grabbing filler, but other challenges kept changing things up, as did the boss fights and on-rails shooting sections. These may be pretty standard FPS tropes these days, but back then this was impressive stuff.
Like Half Life, Sin also had enemies with fairly good AI. Enemies would seek cover and team up on you, which again, may sound a little passé now, but set the game apart from other titles on release. Whilst the AI wasn’t up to Half Life standard, it made for a good challenge, more so than the majority of AI at the time which simply ran towards you on sight.
One of the other main elements Sin got right was the general feel and control. Based on the Quake 2 engine (and so not as pretty as Half Life), the game was silky smooth and fast, and combat was great. Weapons all felt really meaty, especially the staple assault rifle and heavy machine gun, and the collection of guns, although pretty standard fare, were all great, especially the one-hit kill sniper rifle. You could even get to grips with some of the basic weapons in the game’s excellent training mode, which didn’t hand hold you like Valve’s now endlessly-cloned training mode, but instead offered an open Hardcorps HQ with various target shooting courses, complete with high score-tracking computers.
So, Sin was a great FPS, on par with the mighty Half Life, but why did it become an underappreciated title if it was so good? Well, if you’re wondering what all of this comparison with Half Life is about, when there were a myriad of other FPS titles out at the time, it’s because Half Life is often attributed to be the main reason the game didn’t do well.
Sin was released in time for the Christmas season, at the end of October in 1998. The problem here was the arrival of Half Life the following week right at the beginning of November. Half Life‘s critical domination totally overshadowed Sin, and the game failed to sell as well as Ritual had hoped.
Sales weren’t the only problem, either. Sin‘s initial release was also a buggy one. Not only did it have some of the worst loading times ever seen, it was notorious for glitches and crashes. These have since been fixed in patches, but the damage was done, and at the end of the day, most PC gamers only had eyes for Mr Freeman’s adventure.
Sin was expanded a few months later with the mission pack, Wages of Sin, and there was even an animated feature. Ritual also attempted to revive the IP with an episodic sequel called, rather originally, Sin Episodes. However, although this looked promising, only one episode, Emergence, was released via Steam in 2006.
Sin has since been re-released on Steam, and more recently on GOG.com in Sin: Gold form (which includes the Wages of Sin mission pack), and works on modern PCs with no messing. So, if you’re an FPS fan and you’ve missed it (and you probably have), you really should give Sin a go.
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