Genre: First Person Shooter Developer: Raven Software Publisher: Activision Classification: MA15+ Release Date: 29th Jun 2010 Platforms:
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The Good bits
Gun-fighting is good.
The Bad stuff
The game's treatment of time travel is too simple.
The story is beyond poor.
Apparently the team gave up half-way through.
Singularity sees you occupy the shoes of Nate Renko, a Special Ops soldier sent to investigate EMP blasts which destroyed a satellite - coming from an island off the coast of Russia. On route an EMP blast takes out your helicopter, killing all bar you and your team leader. Perhaps next time they’re investigating an invisible force which can
crash a satellite they should... take a boat?
Anyway, your team leader beckons you to come find him, leading you into a museum/carnival. I say museum/carnival because apparently they do exhibits with some flair on remote islands off the coast of Russia. It has a very eerie vibe to it - like you’re wandering through BioShock 2’s theme park - and then suddenly you watch your leader die, you warp back to 1950 and this is where things should start getting confusing.
Instead though, they start getting dull. Time travel is the focal point for the game - the plot and the gameplay mechanics both deal heavily in elements of controlling time - and yet it’s treated almost with disdain. When you’re stuck on an island which is constantly skipping between 2010 and 1950, the possibilities are virtually limitless.
Well, they’re limitless except for the very real and very numerous limitations imposed on you by Raven Software. The way I see it, either Nate Renko suffers from a severe lack of imagination - one which stops him from being able to explore the many potential uses for his “TMD” or Time Manipulation Device - or the developers ran out of time/gave up on the idea half way through.
You could be forgiven for thinking it might be the former - that Nate Renko is incapable of using his imagination on anything. After all, for a good amount of time you only ever really manipulate the age of either enemies or crates. Crates apparently crumple when they get older, and soldiers turn to dust. Eventually Nate gets told he can manipulate the age of safes to gain access to their (miraculously untouched) contents - before this though, he can’t actually
If I had to guess though I’d say it’s the latter. At one point in Singularity you get to read a newspaper which features headlines in Russian, and all other text in... gibberish. Literally it’s paragraph after paragraph of (approx.) “jjjjjsdadaja jaskdjakdjad aaweioquej”.
This half-arsed effort sums up so much of Singularity - that the team couldn’t even be bothered to find filler text explains why the time travelling game features only the bare minimum in interactivity, and why the game’s multiple endings might as well not exist at all.
You can experience each ending by reloading the final save game - demonstrating both how pointless the ending differences are and how linear the game really is.
I would be remiss to pretend like the game had no redeeming features though. The reality is that Raven Software has long mastered gunplay in first person shooters. They’ve got visceral gunfighting refined to an Epic (games) level.
The best weapons have extra utility beyond their normal function - the sniper rifle lets you slow time when you’re scoped in, the grenade launcher drops remote control grenades (which you can roll around the world and use to blow up unaware commies).
The other great weapon is The Seeker - a semi-auto rifle which lets you fire bullets... and then control their path, Redeemer style. You can’t keep The Seeker though - you get it for very limited times - probably so as to not unbalance the entire game.
Limbs and heads fly off and enemies scream in pain when you destroy them. The TMD, attached to your left hand, aims and casts nicely. It’s a throwback to Raven Software’s two greatest achievements - Soldier of Fortune and Hexen - and in this, the game is actually a lot of fun.
The TMD is better used to throw up giant time slowing spheres - inside these, bullets and enemies move slower. It’s possible to throw a sphere on three enemies, jump inside and fire off a clip at them and then dissolve the sphere to watch them explode in a shower of blood as bullets rip through them.
You can upgrade your weapons, and your TMD abilities, but all of this is rendered essentially moot by the end of the game when you’re given unlimited TMD abilities. By then the game is unbelievably easy - and the game even tries to challenge you by throwing you up against a monster which can’t be affected by most of your TMD attacks.
The mistake it makes is throwing this phasing, warping monster at you just before you have unlimited power as well - again destroying any potential tension simply because you’ve been there and done that already.
The graphics in the game are a mixture between viciously average and... graphic. The most attention (game wide, it seems) has been paid to making enemies explode and tear apart realistically. Well, in the case of the guys being subjected to your TMD aging attack, it’s realistic when compared to the only other rapid aging yardstick - Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade.
Outside of maiming and killing though the game looks like it would have rated as above average pre-every other game out last year featuring the same Unreal Engine 3 looks - with UE3 now occupying so much of the norm the game doesn’t do anything especially interesting with its environments to warrant further attention.
The sound is... well, the voice acting is competent, and the sound effects are consistent. There’s no wowing soundtrack or outstanding sound effects, but it works fine and it’s never noticeably phoned in or left unfinished - as the story was.
Ultimately, I’m reminded of a common paradox in time travel fiction - depending on your concept of time travel. If I could travel back in time to stop Singularity from being crap, I would. The paradox is that if I did this the game wouldn’t ever suck, and I’d have no reason to travel back in time (except to hang out with dinosaurs).
Singularity is a game which uses the concept of time travel less as a game mechanic, plot driver or interesting concept and more as a distraction. This philosophy carries across the entire title - graphics, story and puzzles all seem to simply serve as filler to keep your attention between shooting things.