What can you buy for 11 quid these days? A cinema ticket and a can of fizzy pop, maybe with enough left over for a bag of chips for the bus ride home? A pack of 12 condoms for 18 minutes of unbridled pleasure? Or how about the first chapter of an episodic first-person shooter, powered by Valve's stunning Source engine and packing somewhere between six and ten hours of non-stop, frenetic, gut-twisting, firefight-filled action. Sound tempting? Want to know more? Then don't go away.
If you read our preview of Emergence in April, you'll probably know that we were getting pretty excited about the game's release - unless of course you were reading the article backwards, in which case you'll have no idea whatsoever what we were talking about.
For the uninitiated, Emergence is the follow-up to 1998's SiN. It's also the first instalment of what's planned to be a three-chapter, episodic FPS adventure, which you can download via Steam. As maverick law enforcer John Blade, you must protect Freeport City from the heinous plans of villain/geneticist and head of the hugely powerful SinTEK corporation Elexis Sinclaire, while simultaneously uncovering the missing pieces of your own past.
Granted, as a premise for a plot, it's hardly Tolstoy, but the way that it's presented is done with some aplomb, melding subtle flashbacks with well-written and convincingly acted in-engine cut-scenes. So, we're off to a good start.
FUN, FUN, GUN
Despite the visual similarities to Half-Life 2, Emergence is a very different game. For starters, you won't find the fiendish physics-based mind-bending puzzles of Valve's masterpiece here; neither will you find a dynamic, bustling world filled with shuffling denizens and buzzing police probes. Emergence is far more basic than that, but then again, so is just about every other FPS on the market. SiN's true merits lie in its combat, powered by a dynamically scaleable difficulty monitor that tailors the action to your ability as you play.
Gun down ten enemies with headshots and you find yourself facing a legion of heavily-armed, thickly armoured enemies in the next room. Take a beating and the game will be far more forgiving once you move on to the next location.
It's a system that works surprisingly well and ensures that the game is always challenging. Make no mistake, this isn't a Doom 3 clone where you can simply charge around each level blazing away as enemies chase you down a corridor. Neither is it a fragfest of Quake-proportions. Emergence proves a far more considered affair, and as a result, it's way more challenging than the majority of shooters you've played. If you want to be a gung-ho hero, then you'd be better off looking somewhere else.
Of course, this extra level of challenge means you have to play smart. Finding cover, strafing, pulling off pinpoint headshots and intelligently using your surroundings are all essential skills to master if you want to stand a chance of making it through to Episode 2, as you'll soon find that Emergence's enemies are every bit as savvy as you are. Aim at their heads and they duck, hide and flush you out with grenades; charge at them and they retreat. Plus, if they aren't armed - like the clawed mutations you come across later on - they kick and hurl objects at you, before moving in close to rake out your eyes.
YOU ARE NOT ALONE
With action this challenging, it might come as a relief to know that you don't always have to work alone. Fighting by your side throughout the course of several levels is Jessica Cannon, a gun-loving tomboy who strangely, also seems to be indestructible.