System(s): Xbox 360, Playstation 3, PC
Genre: First Person Shooter
Developer: Raven Software
Release Date: June 2010
Note: Review is of the Xbox 360 version only
Developed by Raven Software, the company behind the first reboot of the Wolfenstein series and published by parent company Activision, Singularity is a Sci-Fi First Person Shooter. The story of Singularity begins when an electromagnetic surge from a fictional island called Katorga-12, once belonging to the Soviet Union, damages an American spy satellite. A group of American soldiers, which includes the protagonist, Captain Nate Renko, go to investigate, when another surge causes their helicopter’s engine to fail. Renko is cut off from the outside and under attack by citizens who have been mutated by an element found only on the island. Renko is forced to battle his way through the abandoned island armed with the TMD (Time Manipulation Device) – a time altering weapon created over 50 years ago by a brilliant researcher.
The first thing to be said about Singularity is how well it makes use of setting to draw the player in. The first level sees the protagonist wander through an abandoned village. The narrative uses recorded messages, propaganda videos and written messages scattered around the various locations to enhance the feeling that something terrible has happened on Katorga-12. The films found in projectors and the propaganda posters in particular are nicely designed, and have an air of socialist realism about them, in addition to the statues of Soviet leaders. Taken together, it evokes memories of Bioshock‘s initial scenes. If we cast aside the cheesy, stereotyped Russian accents and the cliché’ Cold War “what if?” scenario, Singularity has an interesting, though not quite revolutionary plot. It serves as yet another warning for how badly things can go wrong should time travel technology be abused, with the bespectacled Dr. Barisov serving as a Doc Brown of sorts, attempting to prevent his creation from wreaking havoc on the world.
Singularity is about silly fun, which the time travel plot allows you to indulge in. The TMD is the main focus of the gameplay, and with this handy little toy, you can perform all sorts of neat tricks. This is what makes the game so ridiculously fun. You can use the TMD to age enemies and reduce them to dust at the press of a button, create a time bubble that slows down anything inside it and more. The most hilariously juvenile ability that the TMD grants you though is turning soldiers into ‘Reverts’, horrible creatures that have been distorted by the rapid fluctuation of time. You can even use the TMD a second time to turn them into walking bombs as they attack their former AI squad mates.
Again, there are inevitable comparisons with Bioshock and it’s creative use of combining plasmids for different effects. In addition to cruelly dispatching foes, you will also need the TMD to solve puzzles. Use your TMD on the blackboards you find scattered around the environments to reveal the message they once contained, which can be hints for solving puzzles or revelations about the plot. Other uses for the TMD include repairing crumbling staircases or restoring crates to grab items or even to use them to wedge shutters open. The puzzles are not outrageously challenging or memorable, but they do provide a nice break from the shooting segments.
But as fun as the TMD is, it doesn’t exactly run on batteries. You need to pick up energy to replenish the TMD’s power bar, much like you do for health. In addition, you need to upgrade your TMD in order to unleash the full potential of it’s powers. You do this by picking up E-99 technology scattered around the levels, which encourages you to explore every nook and cranny to get the best out of your upgrades.
Upgrade stations you find along the way let you upgrade health or the amount of oxygen while swimming in addition to the more funky powers and abilities. This also applies to weapons, as you find upgrade kits to make them stronger. Speaking of weapons – it’s not just the TMD that is fun to play with, which is just as well, as you can’t solely rely on the TMD to get you out of a tight spot. The weapons in Singularity feel powerful and are fun to shoot. You get your basic pistols, rifles and shotguns, but some weapons have unique abilities. For example, there is a sniper rifle that lets you slow down time, allowing you to easily get a headshot. Another weapon lets you guide your bullet to its target manually. If this sounds somewhat overpowered, it is. Sometimes it does too good a job of making you feel like an overpowered badass, and one section even gives you unlimited TMD energy (although I won’t lie - I had a blast during this part of the game).
Like in the F.E.A.R series you will come up against enemy squads geared up to take you down, and only on rare occasions come up against monsters and soldiers in the same area. The monster enemies are interesting and the alternation of gunplay against human and monster enemies mixes up the action nicely between straight up blasting everything that moves and using cover to fight waves of soldiers. Boss fights are breathtaking, with bosses that take up the size of the screen and more. They are very well designed, imaginative and the arenas are well thought out. One fight sees you shooting at a gigantic mantis-like mutant on a collapsing train. Luckily, the powers don’t make the boss fights too easy, which mostly rely on classic shoot-the-weak point mechanics. It may not be cutting edge, but it’s no less enjoyable for it. You might notice I have name-dropped a couple of obvious influences here, but although derivative, Singularity never feels worse off for it. If anything, this game is worth more than the sum of it’s parts, and few games can so blatantly rip-off the competition in different areas and yet make everything fit together so well.
Singularity doesn’t have the most fantastical visuals you’ve ever seen. There is a nice amount of detail, and the art style is a particular visual strength, but the graphics are not the most cutting edge you will find. In addition, there are moments when you will encounter some texture pop-in and some blurred textures here and there. With that said, you will likely be too busy blasting monsters to notice, and when you do take note of the graphics, it will most likely be the disgusting monster designs or the eerie orange glow of E-99 in the mining areas. The main highlights from the graphics are the time distortion effects. The wormholes look amazing, as does the singularity itself, which you can see in the featured review picture above. Watching a chalkboard hanging on a wall straighten up and the rubbed out chalk re-form words is also a nice visual effect.
In fact it highlights the excellent production values of Singularity, which is surprising despite the fact it’s a title with modest ambitions. Singularity is all about outrageous, juvenile fun, and is certainly not going to make the case for video games as art, but it’s in a nicely presented package. In terms of the sound, Singularity has a nice up tempo soundtrack, perfect for blasting ugly mutants. In one tense scene, Phase Ticks, small insects that explode on contact with the player, swarm the room. You have limited time to fight them off before they blow you to smithereens, and the music during this section ramps the tension up considerably. Most of the time the music will be fairly mellow and won’t come into play much, but it’s during these action sequences that it really comes to life and it does add to the atmosphere and gives a sense of urgency to proceedings.
The campaign is fun – while it lasts. Sadly it’s over all too quickly, clocking in at around 6 or 7 hours, with not much beyond the strengths of it’s gameplay to keep you going back. Fortunately, there is a multiplayer mode to keep you going for a while longer. This takes the form of class-based warfare, with monsters taking on TMD-armed super soldiers. Unfortunately it only features two modes, Creatures vs. Soldiers, which is a basic team death match mode, and Extermination. Extermination is like a ‘conquest’ mode, where soldiers need to repair, capture and hold beacons to progress through the map, with the creatures fighting them off.
I found it easy to get a game going for Extermination, but not so much for Creatures vs. Soldiers, and sometimes the play just degenerates into mindless point scoring rather than opponents or team-mates sticking to the objectives. Not that this isn't sadly a common problem in multiplayer games in general. Playing as the creatures is tremendous fun, and the powers are great to mess round with. Reverts heal allies and hurt enemies by puking on them, Phase Ticks take over enemy soldiers bodies, Radions are like huge ranged tanks and Zeks have a cloaking ability. All in all, the classes are fairly well balanced, and even the soldier classes can be fun to play as. It’s not like, say, Left 4 Dead‘s multiplayer, where players regularly quit and spoil the fun because they want to be the monsters. You will genuinely enjoy playing both sides of the conflict.
Singularity is definitely a game to check out if you want some mindless fun. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, the plot is over the top, the accents are corny, the monsters are crazy, but it’s all about having a blast – literally. Ultimately it wont last you long, and the multiplayer may or may not be enough to keep you going. There are some graphical hitches, but the art style keeps the game looking good, and the good pacing of the action combined with a fun gimmick in the TMD will keep you enthralled. Raven Software has shown that you don’t need to be original to make a game that promises a damn good time and delivers.
+ Weapons feel powerful to use and the TMD is great fun to play with
+ Well paced action with a good mix of gameplay
+ Beautiful art style makes the setting come alive
+ Terrific boss fights
+ Multiplayer keeps you coming back
- Small number of multiplayer modes
- Short game, only lasts 6-7 hours
- Derivative, much of it's better ideas came from elsewhere