Singularity Review

Singularity was an overlooked shooter released a whole six years ago on June 29, 2010 which also happened to be the day after my dad’s birthday. I remember hearing about this somewhat unconventional shooter being published by Activision. Considering how tired I had grown at that point of Activision milking certain franchises like Call of Duty and Tony Hawk, I kept my eyes peeled for that game. Singularity was set to release during the holiday season of 2009. Much to my dismay, the game was pushed back because either Raven Software or Activision were uncertain of the success the game would have stacked up to the impending juggernaut, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. With that delay, my anticipation waned and I never ended up buying it at launch.

Only recently have I bought the game and given it a chance. I was honestly surprised. Singularity is one of the more underrated games of the previous generation. It might have gotten a good enough critical reception with a Metacritic average of 77/100, but it under-performed in sales. If VGChartz can be trusted, then the game only sold 0.44 million copies worldwide across all three platforms. It deserved much more sales, but nothing can be done about that now.

In Singularity, you control Captain Nathaniel Renko whom is making a trip to an island called Katorga-12 to investigate a disturbance. A surge ends up disabling the helicopter, leaving you stranded on the island. You then stumble across a time shift and travel back into the year 1955. You end up saving Nikolai Demichev, a scientist that in the future thanks to Renko’s action, has taken control of the world.

You later come across the Time Manipulation Device and use it to travel back to 1955 to prevent Demichev from killing Victor Barisov, another scientist. Barisov has the knowledge necessary to fix the wrong Renko has made as he was the lead scientist on a project involving time manipulation.

The set up is intriguing and has the makings of an elaborate, engaging story line. It’s too bad that the writers over at Raven Software squandered such an opportunity. In the hands of a more skilled team of writers, Singularity could have had an unforgettable story rife with emotion and metaphysical ideologies. This is not the case with Singularity. It has a cool set up with a poor execution.

Thankfully the gameplay takes precedent above the over the top story and is it ever satisfying. It’s more varied than your typical modern day shooter. Over the course of the adventure you gain upgrades to your TMD whenever it is convenient to the plot. These powers your given range from aging or reverting objects/enemies, to charging up a “time ball” in which all time is slowed down within the ball, to a magnetic force-like push, to acting as a gravity gun a la Half Life 2.

This brings me to the so called inspiration Singularity has culled from other accomplished shooters. Around release, Singularity was compared by many to Half Life 2 and Bioshock. Some even went as far as to call the game a blatant Bioshock rip off.

I honestly never understood why so many people were so bent on repudiating this game. It does share some similarities to those other two games but it is far from being a rip off of either. I will admit that the game initially gave off a very Half Life and Bioshock inspired feel during the first several minutes of the game.

The opening of Singularity, much like the aforementioned games, is slow. You begin with no weapons and stroll through the environment which gives off a very atmospheric feel it making you believe you are in for something special. In Singularity‘s case, the opening did not really reflect the mood of the game. Singularity is not a slower-paced, atmospheric, narrative driven shooter in the vein of its supposed spiritual fore-bearers. It is instead a “classic” shooter in the sense that story is a secondary device whose only purpose is to serve the gameplay-centric structure.

Singularity succeeds here. As I mentioned previously, the TMD plays a big role in the gameplay. Most of it is fairly simple stuff. You will usually come across an obstacle and only need to press a button to revert or age said obstacle to get past it. Some other uses of the device are more involved such as their use in puzzles.

Occassionally, you will come across puzzles that use both the “time ball”, aging/reverting, and gravity mechanics of the Time Manipulation Device. Most of these are simple. The most usual puzzle type you come across involves using gravity to move a crate to another location and then either aging or reverting it to get past an area. Any normal person should be able to figure out the solutions, but I did encounter two roadblocks that made me feel like a complete ignoramous once I finally found the solution.

Even though the story is not very integral to the experience, the developers take pages from countless other shooters with notes and tape recordings strewn about the environments. Even something as trivial as this was done worse here than in other games. You can only read notes where you find them. They are not added to a collection that can be viewed at any time. The same principle applies to the tape recordings along with the inability to hear them wherever you go. You can only listen to the tape recordings if you are within a short parameter of it. This slows down the pacing of the game because you must stand still to listen to them.

The shooting mechanics on display are solid. Shooting at enemies feels satisfying whether you are using a pistol or an automatic weapon. The feedback is great and mixing in human soldiers with an assortment of creatures, which are really humans mutated by radiation, further adds to the variety and fun of combat. The weaponry while not completely outlandish is more creative than at least than standard first person shooter fare. Some of the standouts include the Seeker,allowing you to direct your bullet in slow motion after it as fired and a sniper rifle granting the ability to use slow motion for lining up perfect shots. Another nifty weapon is the Spikeshot. This gun must be fully charged up to fire an explosive round, sticking to whatever surface or enemy it was shot at before exploding.

Each of the weapons in the game save for the Seeker, Spikeshot, and Rocket Launcher can be upgraded with weapon kits found in the levels. The three tiers of upgrades are clip size, reload speed, and damage. Each category can be upgraded twice. You also find a plethora of E99 which is a rare element serving as currency to purchase various upgrades not relating to the weapons.

They can include the ability to increase typical stuff like maximum health or first aid effectiveness. Yes. Singularity uses first aid kits in favor the regenerative health that has become such a mainstay in mainstream shooters nowadays so it is refreshing to see the return of the health system gamers saw all the time prior to Halo: Combat Evolved.

That does not mean the game is any harder than other shooters. On the contrary, it is actually quite easy, handing out first aid kits later in the game as if it’s nobodies business. The AI is also not very smart. It is usually par for the course with other games in the genre, but they do exhibit extreme stupidity at points, being unable to make efficient use of cover or advanced tactics that do not involve running straight for you. Some of the bigger creatures that seem like they would be tough mini bosses in other games are minor inconveniences here.

With all that is said and done, I fell in love with the combat itself. It may not make up for the shortcomings, but the simple, satisfying nature of combining gravity to redirect rockets back at enemies while picking off others with slightly unconventional weapons rarely gets old.

A lot of shooters fall into a repetitive rut in their single player campaigns and Singularity doesn’t ever feel repetitive. It isn’t necessarily introducing new, mind-bendingly awesome concepts throughout. It simply provides fun, refined gunplay through an average length game of about 7-8 hours. I should mention the single player has a total of three endings. Don’t get your hopes up because this isn’t a prodigious part of the experience.

The endings are not determined by play style and various choices made in the entire game. The three endings are just a byproduct of choosing to do one of three things at the very end.

The game also has surprisingly good multiplayer. the two modes, extermination and creatures vs. humans are riffs on conventional multiplayer modes. I found myself pleasantly surprised and hooked onto the multiplayer portion of this game. It’s very chaotic and fast paced, much as multiplayer experiences of the creature vs human variety tend to be.

There is good fun in using each creatures abilities and attributes to their strength and the human side has a few different classes. There is a leveling up system, but in this game it is useless. You don’t unlock anything for leveling up. It is simply an indicator of how good you are or how much you play. I don’t exactly mind this because multiplayer games were like this prior to the explosion of popularity that was Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare.

In a world filled with multiplayer juggernauts such as Call of Duty, Battlefield, and the entire Tom Clancy line of games I feel Singularity could stand as a good alternative to any of these titles. That is if you can find people. My first attempt at getting into a match took around 40 minutes, but once I got in I experienced several matches of smooth play. It also isn’t very balanced, but then multiplayer games that have a human vs monster dynamic are not meant to be competitive. They are meant to be fun, chaotic distractions.

Singularity is an underrated game. It sold nowhere near as much as it should have. If you have avoided this near-gem all this time for one reason or another, please do give Singularity a chance and pick it up. It may not set your world on fire or stick with you for years to come, but it is nonetheless an accomplished shooter that may surprise you.

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