Those who watched any of the coverage of this year's E3, are probably aware of the rather large amount of first person shooters due out in the months ahead. Each of those games, some associated with big name franchises, will be doing their best to set themselves apart from the crowd, in one way or another. So what does Singularity, the new time-twisting FPS from Raven Software, makers of some of the latter Jedi Knight games and Marvel: Ultimate Alliance, do to set itself apart from other storied shooters? The answer is, virtually nothing. One could actually call it highly derivative of a couple other obvious game influences. It is, however, reasonably entertainingto play through, at least once. As much as you might be aware of the lost potential in Singularity, it is not without charm.
I don't always fight the Soviet army, but when I do, I prefer they wear capes.
The player is Nate Renko, U.S. Special Forces type sent to investigate strange reports on the island Kotorga-12. After the obligatory crash landing, he comes across the ruins of a facility where it turns out that the Soviets (the go-to antagonist favorites for when the trope warehouse is out of stock on Nazis) had been doing failed experiments with the mysterious Element-99 during the height of the Cold War, in attempts to develop various super-science technologies like, for instance, time-control. Being the hapless imperialist dog of decadent western culture that he is, Renko doesn't lose a step in accidentally altering the timeline, and soon there are radioactive mutants everywhere, as he is bounced back and forth between the past and present, trying to put right what has gone wrong. Silly Renko.
Aiding Renko in his time-twisting adventure, is an arsenal of standard but appealing weaponry, and eventually, a handy little device that manipulates time known as the TMD. You'll have to play the game to unravel that mysterious acronym. The TMD looks sort of like a flux capacitor that you wear on your wrist, and bestows Renko with an ever-growing array of powers, including the ability to age or revert individual objects, crumble enemy soldiers into dust, and even stop time altogether.
Singularity is rated Mature (17+) for Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, and Strong Language
Gameplay - 80 / 100
Singularity is, perhaps disappointingly to some, a fairly conventional first person corridor shooter on tight rails. In many ways, it bears more than a passing resemblance to Bioshock, both mechanically and in terms of narrative elements. Along the way the player will encounter various notes and tape recordings giving them little bits of backstory, as well as mechanical stations at which they can purchase upgrades for their weapons, and new abilities for themselves. The story moves along at a good pace, and it does a good job at breaking up the character's progression with different types of sequences, from all out action in some great set pieces and boss battles, to simple puzzle solving, and even some sneaking around, with some genuinely good scares to be had now and then.
The enemy A.I. in the game has some flaws, but for the most part enemies will attack you in a number of interesting and convincing ways. Terrain permitting, soldiers will take cover and try to flank you, pitch grenades, and sometimes advance on you from behind riot shields and react convincingly when you shoot their feet out from under them. Some mutants will rush directly at you with terrifying shrieks, others will teleport around, stalking you until they are right on top of you, and phasing in and out of time along the way, causing your shots to miss.
The weapons Renko accumulates consist of pretty standard fare with a couple exceptions. The weapons all have a good feel to them, and, for the most part, seem plenty powerful...perhaps too much so. You can only carry two standard weapons at a time, but once you have ditched the game's strangely pointless early handgun, and gained the assault rifle and obligatory shotgun, there seems to be little incentive to make much use of the game's other weapons. The assault rifle is the best all around weapon in the game, boasting adequate power (or better once upgraded), good range and accuracy (with a sight), and a good ammo count with plentiful ammo found for it. You could easily complete the entire game with only this weapon, though the shotgun is nice for mutants that close the distance on you quickly. Occasionally, though, the game will provide you with a special weapon that you can use on top of your other weapons, like the “Seeker”, which is a sniper rifle that launches an explosive bullet you can steer into an enemy, around obstacles, all the way across the battlefield. It is quite fun, but only really usable at certain times.
Wait, this isn't the Blue Man Group! This isn't the Blue Man Group at all!
More interesting, is the TMD. It provides Renko with a means to solve the simple puzzles the game offers, as well as providing offensive capability. In terms of the game's limited puzzles, the time-control mechanics end up fairly disappointing, not really living up to the potential of the premise. Interaction is limited to a few objects at deliberately placed locations, with a relatively simple range of situations you'll encounter. It never really becomes the all-purpose wonder tool of something like the gravity gun in Half-Life 2, though clearly this was the direction the developers wanted to go in.
As a weapon, the TMD is a little more fun. You'll acquire a variety of abilities with offensive applications, from being able to rapidly age an enemy into dust and bones before your eyes to launching giant balls of energy that stop time. The TMD has the ability launch explosive barrels at opponents, or even snatch incoming grenades out of the air to hurl back at your foes. At one point you'll even gain the ability to transform an enemy soldier into a mutant, and watch with amusement as they tear apart their former comrades.
However, most of the time you'll not find yourself using these abilities except for kicks. Despite providing advantages against some enemies, the game never really makes you feel like you need to use them, because basic gunplay is perfectly effective in most situations. As with many shooters designed with consoles in mind, the difficulty seems adjusted downwards to accommodate the limitations of the console control scheme. On the PC, with the responsiveness of genre's native mouse and keyboard control scheme, veterans of PC shooters will find little real challenge on the default difficulty. Ammo is plentiful, and soldiers, the most common enemy type in the game, will drop with a couple very quick bursts of assault rifle fire even without headshots (to say nothing of the powerful auto-cannon), and the shotgun is generally a good answer for the most aggressive mutants.
Graphics - 82 / 100
Singularity loses a few points in the graphics department. It shows some unfortunate signs of being a console port. The textures seem a bit low resolution by the standards of modern PC shooters, with no real way to adjust them, unlike in most shooters designed with the PC in mind. The graphics in general seem like they're a couple years behind the technical curve for other games of this nature. In addition to seeming a bit on the low resolution side during optimal conditions, the game also has occasional glitches with textures not loading, an issue seemingly common to other recent games that also use the Unreal engine technology.
However, on the artistic side of things, Singularity is still a reasonably appealing game, visually. The creature animations in particular are dynamic and varied. Enemy soldiers will react in many different and satisfying ways when taking damage. The various mutant enemies will stalk you with an exciting variety of behaviors, big chunks of their bodies to flying through the air upon taking a mortal wound. Blind ghoul-like creatures will contort in tortured sleep patterns on the ground when you try to sneak past them.
Sound - 90 / 100
The sound in Singularity is generally great. The score picks up in exciting fashion or subsides when appropriate. Chilling use of ambient creature sounds help set the mood for some well engineered scares in some areas. You'll often hear signs of mutants before you see them, setting you on edge. The spoken dialogue, while sometimes cheesy and melodramatic, is adequate to the task, and feels appropriate to the game. Occasionally, the sound set of the soldier enemies can feel a bit repetitive; you'll hear the same exclamation in Russian frequently. One thing that is missing, though, is an option for text subtitles in the game options, which are helpful for people that aren't playing the game at full blast, or that occasionally miss a bit of muffled dialogue.
Value - 65 / 100
The single player game in Singularity can be finished in well under ten hours. This is short, but regrettably within the norm for other modern shooters. In addition there is a multiplayer mode with limited gameplay modes available, but many options within those modes for class and custom abilities. You can even choose to play as the mutants.
Lasting Appeal - 65 / 100
Festive decorations for the mutant's ball
There is, unfortunately, not much case to be made for replay value in the single player game of Singularity. The quirky storyline, while entertaining enough for a single playthrough, is far from a “classic”. Likewise, the gameplay, while effective enough the first time through, doesn't inspire much reason for repeat visits. You are likely to accumulate most of the abilities in the game you are really interested in exploring by the end of the game, and the tight rails the game is on doesn't provide much opportunity for missed exploration. There are a few possible endings to the game, but all of them come down to a moment of choice after the game's final save point, and all of them can be experienced by simply re-loading that save. Any replay value derived is entirely based on how appealing the multiplayer mode is to you. On the console version, one might call this a rental.
Pros and Cons
- Quirky storyline with some exciting sequences
- Solid and varied action gameplay
- Graphics somewhat lacking. Texture glitches.
- Time control powers fail to really live up to potential
- Offers little new.
Singularity is not a great game by the standards of some of the FPS classics it borrows heavily from. It is a fairly conventional shooter experience with little new under the sun, and a somewhat disappointing visual presentation. The most promising aspects of the game, the time manipulation mechanics, never seem quite as fully realized as they could be. However, the basic game experience is solid and entertaining, if quickly forgotten. On a console, rent Singularity. On the PC, look for a sale.