Not the best in its genre, but definitely ahead of its time.
Ritual Entertainment never got any respect. Sure, they never made games that won millions of awards, but what games they did release were fun and entertaining. Just after completing a Quake expansion, they start their first big solo project: SiN. A spiritual successor to Duke Nukem 3D, it was to be a first-person shooter with interactivity and partially dynamic level structure. All was going well for the team.
Then Valve's Half-Life came into the fray. Publisher Activision decided to push the game out the door before it was finished, as a chance to go against Valve's game, but what resulted was a buggy, partially unfinished mess. While SiN did get some positive reception, it was thoroughly beaten by Valve's freshman effort receiving loads of accolade and awards. Now, about ten years and a couple patches later, SiN gets a second chance, ironically on a platform whose developers were competing against them back long ago, Valve's Steam.
You play as John Blade, who seems to be the bastard child of Duke Nukem. Slightly womanizing, smack-talking and running around with big guns. Blade has to stop Elexis Sinclaire, a megalomaniac with huge breasts from releasing U4, a mutagen virus that makes humans into superpowered monsters. While there, you visit various locations such as a bank, a construction yard, subways and laboratories. Your objective is simply killing anything you can and occasionally do side missions to get to your destination. It's fairly simple for the genre, but it's nothing extremely mind-blowing.
One of the features the game was toting at the time was that it had semi-dynamic situations. If you destroy a portion of a rooftop, it would appear as rubble in the next stage. Stuff like that. It's very nice, even if it's scripted to do so. There's no points during the course of SiN where you can skip whole levels due to shortcuts, but finding these can result in bonus goodies and secret levels. It's a nice idea, even for its time. SiN also adds in occasional segments where you have to interact with something. Yes, there's the commonplace levers and buttons, but SiN also took it up a notch by having GUI and DOS prompt-like commands. Sometimes you had to activate and deactivate items and such by using these GUIs. It's pretty creative. Seriously, more games should utilize interactivity like this, we didn't get anything close to this again until Doom 3 almost six years later.
SiN uses the Quake II engine, and much like any game that uses that engine, there are items to collect and use at any time, like in that game. The problem is, like in those games, it's very cumbersome to do. There is an inventory screen, but it's only accessible by pressing one of the function keys. Most of the items are simple powerups to game crucial items like keycards and... well, actual keys. In addition, there are a few segments where you get to drive a vehicle, but the problem with this is that it's very unwieldy, as any vehicle tends to turn too quickly, resulting in crashing into curbs and bumpers frequently. It kills the fast pace that Ritual was aiming for in stages with the vehicles. Of course, vehicles in shooters weren't commonplace yet, so it's forgivable. Since it uses the same engine with Quake II, it also seems to have kept the braindead A.I. from that game. Enemies may occasionally use cover, but it's all scripted. They'll keep shooting you until they die or you die, whichever comes first. There should've been a more dynamic approach to how they attack, but they appear to just attack in droves with little strategy. It seems that the Quake II engine was not known for good A.I., as several games that used it decided to go for Rambo tactics rather than enemies with any strategy.
SiN also tries to do a few other interesting ways to bring variety into the game, including one brief rail shooter segment, a segment where you're underwater shooting enemies with a spear gun, reminiscent of James Bond movies, as well as very rudimentary stealth segments. I love how Ritual put in loads of variety to make the game feel less stale, but it's still a shooter at heart. There are also loads of easter eggs and references to other games, including Duke Nukem, Tomb Raider, one jab at Valve, as well as references to some movies of the time. These little touches show how tongue-in-cheek the game itself is. However, the Steam release seems to censor some references and sexual pictures with less offensive art, as well as replacing it with some art from the game's episodic sequel, SiN Episodes. It's not really explained why this is changed, but probably due to some cultural references as well as avoiding copyright infringement. It's sad, because some of the in-jokes make the game a little more funny. Thankfully, nothing else is severely changed.
Most of the game's weapons are standard FPS fare: A pistol, a shotgun, and a rocket launcher. But there are some interesting ones, including a moving proximity mine called a "spider mine," a machine gun that doubles as a grenade launcher, and much later in the game; a pulse rifle that works like Half-Life's gluon gun. They're nothing to really write home about, but it's an eclectic mix, much like Half-Life's Glock, SPAS-12 and MP5 mixed with the gauss gun and snarks.
One thing I do have problems with is the difficulty. Even on "Normal", in later segments of the game, I was struggling through with little health and loads of enemies that do lethal amounts of damage with sniper rifles. By no means am I a professional gamer, but I usually don't have that many problems with shooters unless the game designers made it that way. There always needs to be a balance between making the game a cakewalk and making the game impossible even on Easy. And while it starts out tolerable, it ends up being too frustrating towards the end. I usually discourage having to cheat, but there were several segments later on in the game where I had no choice but to turn on god mode because I was almost dead and loads of enemies were pumping hot lead into my character's black ass. And that's never fun.
The game looks acceptable for a game made in 1998, but still has a few quirks of the game's engine, such as weirdly warping models to simulate "breathing" or moving. It looks a little jerky. SiN also has pretty decent voice acting. Most of the characters sound convincing enough, and Blade seems to get the Duke Nukem attitude down pat, touting lines like "Who's your daddy?!" to "DIE, YOU UGLY SON OF A B****!" upon killing enemies, as well as retorting comments made by his tech geek assistant JC. The music is catchy in some parts but dissonant in others. In addition, music and some voice acting seems to use random pitch variations when played, so sometimes a sound will play slower or faster than it normally does. It's pretty impressive.
SiN shows how much Ritual is a singleplayer company at heart, as the game lasts a good 7-8 hours. Multiplayer is mostly dead these days, with only 2-3 empty servers. It just has deathmatch and capture-the-flag, which was standard with the FPS genre for its time. SiN also introduced something that would be common in some multiplayer games: A small character in an enlarged room. This you can thank "the Levelord" for, as it's appeared in several other games.
Is SiN better than Half-Life? No, but it's certainly a good game in its own right. It's tongue-in-cheek, it's cheesy, it's action-packed. It does some things right and others done a little haphazardly. It's definitely a game to check out if you're looking for some bright ideas for a game that was a bit ahead of its time.
Pros: Tongue-in-cheek jokes, interactivity, fun shooting.
Cons: Forgettable story, some concepts not fleshed out, weak multiplayer.