Hidden deep within the levels of Ritual's SiN, a dedicated gamer could find a slightly baity sign that read: 'Caution: Do Not Play With Valve'. Never one to follow their own advice however, the cheeky SiN monkeys have found themselves sleeping with those who were once the enemy (of sorts) - playing with their engine, playing with their delivery system and, indeed, playing with the very form of games as we know them. Episodic gameplay, that which bends to the demands of the player, is the name of the game - and my, but isn't it looking tasty?
Sin Episodes: Emergence is winging its way to your Steam tray, snuggling up nicely next to Counter-Strike and Day Of Defeat and providing a return to Freeport City, a parade of armed goons and mutants to slaughter and the newly physically enhanced breasts of Elexis Sinclaire.
But boob-bounce aside, what exactly has cuddling up with Source brought the SiN universe? "Interactivity was one of SiN's main features," explains lead designer Steve Hessel. "But every little bit of it in that game had to be scripted by hand, even if it was just a bottle you could knock over. Having a fully-fledged physics engine takes that kind of work from the level designers, so there'll be a lot more objects you can interact with."
Community relations man Shawn Ketcherside agrees: "The physics capabilities offered by the Source engine have let us take the idea of interactivity way beyond what we were doing in the original SiN. We don't have a gravity gun, but you can pick up and manipulate most of the objects in the environment. It's a required, really. There's some puzzles in the game where you'll literally need to build a solution - grab some planks and create a ramp, that sort of thing. The engine allows us to keep it all kinetic and fast - it feels organic as it runs through the gameplay so it really helps the immersion. You don't have this sense of 'oh here's a puzzle', you just look around and interact with the environment with all the tools you need."
But, as we all know, it isn't clever tricks with see-saws and things that sway that make a shooter: it's the relationship between the shooting and that which is shot. Emergence will be heavy on damage zones on cars and helicopters alike, which will mean that car doors and gun turrets are thrown around the environment by your firepower with great aplomb. Barrels, meanwhile, won't simply explode; they may leak a bit and allow you to ignite an entire area or perhaps bounce around a room makin dents in all and sundry. Or, they may just explode. Some things never change.
SiN Episodes are also geared towards something that was hinted at in Half-Life 2's promo videos (being similar to when Freeman knocks over a computer and is chided by Kleiner), but never really made it to the finished article. "One of the things we're showcasing in the first episode is a new system, Context Look, which enables non-player characters to respond to what the player is looking at," explains Hessel. "You might be looking for an item in a cluttered room and have no idea what it looks like. Your sidekick JC can guide you and react to what you're looking at, so he'll go, 'Nope, that's not it, that's just a toaster' or 'Blade, get on with the mission and quit staring at those posters'. Having the game react to what you're looking at is something that hasn't been done before and it's another layer that adds to the overall immersion."
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT
What's more, seeing as later episodes of SiN will be in development while you're playing their beginnings, story and gameplay tweaks will, by and large, be made with the wishes of gamers in mind. Other games may start to flag in their second or third acts, but not SiN.