This review was originally published at Aeropause.
I was pleasantly surprised at how much I liked Singularity – Raven Software’s first original IP in over a decade, which looked good in trailers, but was led out to die by Activision, to the point where I only realised it was out a few days ago, ironically because someone mentioned what a shame it was that it had been marketed so poorly since it was really good, etc. Lucky I did realise, because Singularity is probably the best first-person shooter I’ve played all year. Hit the link for my full review!
You play as Captain Nathaniel Renko, a Special Forces operative, and, after the explanatory intro cinematic about the island you’re on, Katorga-12, site of some rather dodgy Russian experiments, find yourself sitting in a helicopter, with your teammate telling you how easy this is going to be. Big mistake. Some time-pulse goes off, your helicopter crashes, and you find yourself in a derelict settlement. You wander into a building, where another time pulse sends you back to 1955, where you change time, and you spend the rest of the game trying to put it right.
You’ll spend most of the game in 2010, with occasional excursions back to 1955. The story isn’t a masterpiece, but it’s reasonably compelling, and you’ll want to find out what happens to the villainous Doctor Demichev, the helpful Doctor Berisov, and the Alyx Vance-a-like Kathryn. The story is as much about the people as the island itself, where Russians were messing with a mysterious element called E99, which facilitates your time-hopping antics, and powered the Singularity, the explosion of which seems to have been the cause of many of the island’s problems. Large parts the story are told through ghost sequences and carelessly discarded audio recordings (a la Bioshock) , roughly 90% of which end on the death of the person making the recording. Usually along the lines of “We should never have done these experiments… what? What’s that sound? AAAARGH! (messy dismemberment)”
If you’re trying to sell someone on a game, a good move is to compare it to a game they already like. Singularity can be described as ‘like Bioshock, with additional mechanics redolent of the conceptually fantastic but unfortunately awful Timeshift/the critically acclaimed, damn-near-perfect Half-Life 2, and comedy Russian accents’. Well, I say it’s ‘like’ these games, but it’s so close to these games that at some points it crosses over from ‘imitation’ to ‘wholesale copying’. Again, that’s not a bad thing – think of it as a ‘greatest hits’ compilation of the popular band Corridor Shooter.
The game’s ‘unique’ selling point is the Time Manipulation Device, or TMD, which you get about an hour or so into the game. Like the Plasmids in Bioshock, it’s something utilised by your left hand which supplements your guns in combat, often with much more amusing results. It has several different functions – reversing or accelerating the passage of time for certain objects (or enemies, for that matter), ‘impulse’, which knocks back enemies (kills them if they’re weak enough), ‘deadlock’, which creates a bubble of slowed time (of which more in a moment) and the gravity gun feature. It’s got a different name, but to be honest, it does exactly the same thing. Even down to glowing blue and going supercharged at the end.
Of these, by far my favourite is the deadlock. You can throw down a bubble around a squad of Russian soldiers, wildly spray machine-gun fire toward them, shrink the bubble with a wave of the TMD and blammo! they all fall down dead. Efficient and awesome. And consistent – peculiarly, some of the other powers have different effects on different enemies. Aging one type of enemy causes them to slow down, but using the same power on a different enemy causes them to explode.
The difficulty curve is odd as well – a well-balanced beginning gives way to an incredibly punishing, ammo-starved second act. At one point, I had to make my way through a sewer full of mutants. Ostensibly, you’re meant to sneak past them, but after the first four or five tries, this proved to be impossible, and I had to zap the enemies with my glove, then run back to the beginning of the level, wait for my glove to recharge, and repeat with the next enemy. There are ten enemies. Then, in the final third, you’re practically tripping over ammo and health packs.
The game is very linear, with practically no back-tracking. This could be a problem, but ultimately works out in the game’s favour, as it ensures less tiresome repetition – you’re always moving on, there’s a feeling of constant progress, and you do lots of different and interesting things in different environment (similar, but distinct enough). One minute you’ll be fighting mutants in a tunnel, the next fighting soldiers as an enormous ship ages around you, the next fighting a giant monster on top of a railway bridge. The progress is mirrored in your abilities and equipment. There are bits of ‘E99 tech’ which can be used at stations dotted throughout the levels to update your TMD, and rarer weapon upgrade cases, with which you can improve your chosen firearms.
The weapons, such as they are, are pretty good. There’s the standard pistol, shotgun, assault rifle, but also some more esoteric weapons with interesting functions. The sniper rifle which can slow time allowing you to better line up shots; the grenade launcher which allows you to fire grenades and control them by rolling them around until you get them where you want them; and best of all, the Seeker, which allows you to control the (exploding) bullets you fire – a gun so awesome you can’t keep it with you as a permanent part of your arsenal, and can only pick it up in particularly heated combat zones. The combat in this game is one of the high points – nearly always entertaining, and if you get bored, you can always throw a tank of liquid nitrogen at them, which causes them to freeze, then shatter them.
They attempt to put in some puzzles, although nine times out of ten, the puzzle is ‘push old, broken, crumpled crate under nearly-open gate, de-age to lift open’. The repetition can get a little irritating, although at least you’re not likely to get stuck. The main irritation the game offers are monsters called Phase Ticks, essentially little suicide bugs, which swarm up to you and explode, sometimes ten or more at a time. It’s cheap, it’s unnecessary, and it’s unbelievably frustrating.
Thankfully, there are other, more interesting enemies for you to fight. Beyond the usual Russian soldiers (and their subset, ‘Russian soldiers with better armour and miniguns/rocket launchers’), there are Reverts, freakish mutants reminiscent of Fallout 3, Zeks, half-human trogs who can phase shift and teleport, and the rather large Radions, who can shoot laser beams from their mouths. No kidding. In addition to fighting them in the single-player, there’s a (fairly limited, if I’m honest) multiplayer mode, which is primarily a mildly diverting (though not-at-all balanced) soldiers-vs-monsters mode. It’s underdeveloped, lacks long-term appeal and has clearly been appended late in development, which is a shame, as it clearly has potential, and Phase Ticks are much more fun to play than to fight.
The games’ problems are few (other than those I haven’t already mentioned). It looks pretty good for the most part, but in places textures were either not loading or atrocious (I’m not sure which is worse). The game gets too easy near the end, with you absurdly outclassing every enemy you come across, and the finale is an anticlimax, with a ‘choice’ to be made, which, in all honestly feels a bit rushed, which is a shame, because it does rather detract from what is, in most other respects, an excellent, if unoriginal, game. Should you buy it? Yes you should!
This review was originally published at Aeropause.