Singularity Review

By on July 26, 2010

Collapse space, time and sci-fi shooter conventions in this fun but unremarkable game from Raven software.

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First Impressions
My reaction is

With so many different first person shooters available on the market these days, it is often difficult to stand out. Game designers and developers often need to explore new gameplay mechanics to differentiate their product. And while innovation can lead to great things, there are always risks involved. This brings us to another approach available to developers, one that involves ‘borrowing’ from tried and tested games in the attempt to curb the risk factor. This is the approach that, I feel, best describes Singularity. An amalgamation that is by no means terrible, but far from original.

In Singularity, you play as the face-less, voice-less Nate Renko – an American Black Ops soldier sent to investigate mysterious radiation emissions from an abandoned ex-Soviet research facility site: Katorga-12.

Katorga-12 is an isolated island that is rich in a element called E99. During the 1950s, this E99 was harvested and harnessed for scientific research into developing weapons that would make the Soviet Union the dominate force in the world. Developments, however, came to a halt after a catastrophe known as the Singularity devastated Katorga-12. The power of E99 is not only destructive but has the capacity to alter time itself. After Renko’s helicopter crashes on Katorga-12, he finds himself pitted against strange and powerful E99 mutants in an island that is constantly shifting between 1955 and 2010. With a device known as the TMD (Time Manipulation Device) Renko must discover the secret behind the Singularity as the fate of the world hangs in the balance.

Beyond the obvious backstory similarities to BioShock (The harnessing of Adam and the downfall of Rapture) there are also similarities in the story-telling itself. For example, Katorga-12 is riddled with audio recordings that shed light of different characters and situations and you’ll also find movie-projector clips designed in that vintage ‘black-humor’ manner we’ve come to associate with BioShock.

Singularity is definitely a slow starter. It can take around 20mins or so before you’re actually given a weapon and longer still before you get your hands on the TMD. This would be okay if the early standard weapons were interesting to use but they are not. In fact, prior to acquiring the TMD, you’ll wonder why Singularity was even released as it seems so utterly uninspired. Yet, despite my doubts, the game did eventually pick up and while it never reached the heights of a masterpiece, it maintained itself at a level slightly above entertaining. This is indisputably due to the TMD and its various abilities.

The TMD (Time Manipulation Device) has both utilitarian and combat functionality. You can open a locker by aging the padlock, you can revert a rusty and destroyed barrel back to its ‘brand-new’ state or you can use it to lift and throw objects in the environment ( á la Half-Life’s gravity gun) . The game also has some ‘puzzles’ that involve aging and reverting objects to access different areas. The TMD can also be used against enemies, like aging a soldier, for example, and turning him to dust. Unfortunately however TMD usage is not without restrictions. First of all, not all objects you see are interact-able with the TMD. This anomaly is given a story-based rationale when the TMD inventor, Dr. Barisov, tells you that only objects augmented with E99 will react to the TMD. You can tell which items these are via visual cues that let you know if the item can be aged or reverted. Ultimately these objects are quite limited in both quantity and variety though all types of enemies are affected by the TMD in one way or another. The TMD does not require ammo but E99 energy (which functions almost exactly like EVE in BioShock). New TMD upgrades and powers can be purchased from Augmentor stations by exchanging E99 tech points (which can be found scattered all around Katorga-12).

If you like your shooters bloody, then your Singularity experience may be bitter-sweet. While most guns can really decimate human soldiers and cause limbs to go flying along with a  silly amount of blood…mutants perish in a much less animated manner. Most of them just kind of fall over in an underwhelming fashion. Still alot of the later guns like the grenade launcher and the seeker are quite fun to use. What I would have wished to see more of through-out the game is TMD related puzzles, which are way too few and never require more than a fraction of a second to figure out. It is a real missed opportunity as far as I am considered especially considering that it Singularity is not the most convincing FPS out there.

If single player campaigns are not your cup of tea, the game boasts various online multiplayer modes. Successfully connecting to a game can be frustrating. You may encounter the phenomenon that I’ve dubbed the “Best match curse” which is when the game claims to be “finding best match” but in fact goes into an eternal slumber. Whether or not the game actually crashed, I could never tell. But if it didn’t, then it requires levels of patience that I cannot even fathom. Believe it or not this was a regular occurrence, but the few times I managed to escape the “Best match curse”  (perhaps the few times it settled for 2nd best) I had a generally decent time – in fact “decent” pretty much sums up my entire game experience.

Singularity is not a beautiful game and doesn’t quite meet the standards you’d expect from a 2010 release. While the BioShock sequel that came out earlier this year wasn’t a particularly gorgeous game either, it’s brilliant visual design and atmosphere made it visually appealing all the same. Singularity, on the other hand, is lacking in all visual departments. Some of the enemies, particularly the big bosses, are not bad but they are not quite memorable either. What’s alarming is that, it does not look like the developers tried to make a stunner and failed or unsuccessfully attempted to cover up their visual shortcomings with clever design choices. Instead, it looks like the guys at Raven just didn’t really try at all…opting for the bare minimum to get the job done. The soundtrack features a few musical tracks that generally play over and over and perhaps some of the worst Russian English I’ve ever heard (think Harrison Ford in “K-19 The Widow-maker”).

Worse yet, there is no subtitle option so I often missed what was being said, especially with gunfire drowning out the audio recordings. There is one line in particular that enemy soldiers tend to shout over and over again and though I must of heard it over 100 times throughout the game, I still have no damn idea what they were saying.

While Singularity is a fun game, it stops a good deal short of being a great game and  gives off the impression that it’s content with its own mediocrity. It doesn’t really lack imagination as much as innovation. They’ve clearly taken various aspects of touted sci-fi shooters and mixed them together to yield an unspectacular but decent gaming experience.

The Scorecard
Made interesting thanks to the Time Manipulation Device but quite tame as an FPS otherwise.
Bland and often behind the times.
The accents are pretty ludicrous in true ‘Hollywood’ fashion.
The single-player campaign is of appropriate length and the multiplayer can add more playability...assuming it functions for you.
Surprisingly difficult to drag yourself away from, despite its obvious flaws.
While the game is, at times, almost a celebration of mediocrity, it manages to entertain and amuse just enough to make it a fairly enjoyable experience.


As an opinionated young gamer many years ago, I made three predictions: 1- Sega would dominate the console wars for 50 years. 2- Simon's Quest would be remembered as the definitive NES game. 3- I would be gaming even more as an adult. I suppose one out of three isn't bad.

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