Like science fiction novels and films, video games have had a long-standing fascination with time and time manipulation. From the early arcade games like Time Pilot to recent titles like TimeShift, the idea of being able to go backward in time and control a force that only goes forward has never ceased to capture an audience. The veteran developers at Raven Software have been itching to try their hands at a time travel game, and after a few delays, Singularity has finally been released to the masses. While the game carries an all-too-familiar vibe when compared to some recent games, it doesn't make Singularity any less fun.
The plot isn't terribly complicated, but it starts to contain some depth as it progresses. In the 1950s, as the Cold War was ramping up, Russian scientists discovered a new element, Katorga-12, dubbed E99. The Russian government felt that the element could be more powerful than the atomic bomb and also benefit Russia's non-military activities. Unfortunately, there were adverse side effects found during the element's research, and after a string of disastrous experiments, the Russian government evacuated who they could and buried the island to the best of their ability. In the present, a U.S. military satellite was knocked offline after a radiation blast originated from the island. As military specialist Capt. Renko, your mission is to find out what knocked the satellite offline.
That's how things start off. The minute you get within the island's vicinity, a large EMP wave knocks down the chopper fleet, leaving you and your team scattered through the island. As you traverse the island ruins, you notice peculiar things, like tattered, typed notes and small audio journals littering just about every spot you visit. You also hear voices, some reminding you of echoing children while others are more guttural. Then come the waves of energy followed by the ghostly images of the island inhabitants. Finally, a mysterious wave sends you back in time to an explosion and burning building. With the event over, you return to slowly learn about a few changes that have happened in the world and learn about the existence of a device called the TMD, which can be used on anything to turn the clock backward or forward on the aging process. From here, your new objective is to survive the island inhabitants, the Russian army, and figure out how to bring everything back to normal.
At first, Singularity plays out like any other shooter. You've got your standard military arsenal of guns, you can crouch, you've got a good melee attack, you have limited sprinting, and the enemies don't go down with just one hit unless you happen to score headshots. Time anomalies aside, things don't get interesting until you get the TMD. From here, the ability to make things crumble or make them new again becomes fun and adds a little twist to the standard puzzles you've come to expect in a first-person shooter. That ability also translates into fun ways to kill enemies, since you can use them on humans to make them crumble into dust or use them on the E99-mutated creatures to slow them down or make them explosive. Things get even more intriguing once you begin to power-up the TMD to give it new abilities. Gravity Hold lets you grab objects and pull them toward you or hurl them at others. Deadlock lets you freeze time in a given area for a short duration. The impulse wave replaces the standard knife melee attack and is much more powerful, making human soldiers collapse into pieces when hit.
Once you begin playing the game, you can't help but feel like you've played something like it before. The more you play, the more you realize that this is a different take on the BioShock blueprint. The broken atmosphere could have been taken from just about any game, but the presence of written notes and audio logs from characters you never meet adds to envisioning the plight of those living here before you arrived, just like 2K Games' modern masterpiece. The writing on the walls and the old propaganda films and posters perform the same task as the notes and logs. Even the method for upgrading the TMD and weaponry as well as the timing with which this stuff is given to you feels like BioShock.
There are a few differences, though, aside from using time as a game mechanic. The most important change is in the pacing. You'll actually be spending a decent amount of time without the TMD and the powers it holds. Once you get the TMD, you still don't have all of the powers right away. The drip feeding of the TMD powers and different guns in the game is rather nice, since it ensures that once you seem like you're getting bored of one gun or power, something new pops up to get you interested again. The game may be taking a slow, deliberate pace, but it never feels boring.
Singularity feels familiar and plays rather well. That doesn't mean there aren't issues. The attempts at providing the game with a plot twist just aren't that surprising. Once you see the first twist occur, you'll know exactly what it'll take to get the better ending. While the TMD powers are good, the weaponry is pretty standard stuff. When the weaponry begins to deviate from the norm, the results are more miss than hit. The seeker, for example, is a great weapon since you can manipulate the direction of the bullet, and the shot is probably the most powerful one in the game. Most of the time, you get guns like the Spikeshot, which doesn't seem very powerful no matter how long you power up the shot, and the Dethex launcher, which lets you control a grenade as it rolls on the ground but leaves you vulnerable to distant attacks. Finally, the melee attacks of some of the creatures tend to be far-reaching. The Zek, for example, can slash you, but the slashes done just in front of you seem to hit for damage, while melee attacks from soldiers must be done at a closer range before they make contact. The inconsistency between melee ranges makes for some tough fights early on and is a very noticeable flaw when the rest of the game plays out fine.
The multiplayer is limited to two modes, and while that seems sparse in a gaming landscape where multiple modes are the norm, what is provided here is quite good. Creatures vs. Soldiers is your standard team deathmatch mode that pits a team of E99-mutated creatures against a team of TMD-bearing human soldiers. Extermination is a multiround mode where the humans need to activate three beacons to clear the area of E99-mutated creatures while the creatures do their best to stop their progress.
Again, the modes are pretty standard when held up against similar games, but the difference is in the characters. The humans are exactly how you expect them to be, but their TMD powers seem to be neutered to prevent them from being as powerful as Renko in the single-player game. The creatures are vastly different and require different ways of playing in order to be successful. The Zek have the ability to phase in and out of time as well as conjure barrels from thin air. The Reverts deal out puke that doles out damage over time. The Raidon is your tank creature that lobs out highly damaging fireballs and takes a good amount of damage before dying. Finally, the Phase Tick is easy to kill but can possess any enemy. The differences with each creature make playing on the Creature team a much different experience than playing as the standard soldiers. While the differences ensure that you'll lose your first few matches as a creature, once you're skilled with one, you'll realize that they can be just as good, if not a little better, than a regular soldier. The experience was lag-free during the games played for this review, though finding a game online isn't consistent. Also, while the game has a ranking system for your character, you don't seem to gain anything for ascending the ranks.
The controls are good, if not standard, first-person shooter fare. The controls are responsive and because the layout is fairly familiar, you'll rarely be wondering which button performs which specific task. One thing that is missing is grenades. Enemies have them, and while you're powerful enough that you won't miss them, it is interesting that such a standard field item for a video game soldier is completely missing from your arsenal.
Raven Software has rarely faltered when it comes to a game's graphics, and Singularity is no exception. The human character models may not be the best in any game, but they hold their own and look pleasing enough to the eyes. The enemy creatures look much better in contrast, even if they are designed to be putrid mutations of existing creatures, and this is all thanks to the texture work. From the almost-human form of some enemies that sport gray skin to the flesh-colored quadrupeds that seem to have no coherent structure, all of the non-human enemies look menacingly good.
The environments tend to blend into each other, since the whole game takes place at night and everything is in a dire state of neglect. The feeling of similarity from one location to another doesn't take away from the fact that the environments sport some nice detail, like the torn propaganda posters and rusted remains of buildings. The effects, such as the time energy wave that permeates through the level, look fine. The disintegration of enemies to dust with the TMD also looks amazing, and it never ceases to look great no matter how many times you see it. There are still a few issues of environment clipping, especially with fresh corpses cutting through objects, and there are a few instances where the more detailed textures tend to pop in a little after you see an object on-screen. It's a small thing to nitpick, but compared to the rest of the game from a visual standpoint, it is noticeable.
The sound is great, though it falters every now and then. The effects are excellent, with each sound coming in clearly as the subsequent hum of the TMD and sharp explosions rattle the speakers. The music rides the line well between eerie and action-inducing. While it makes for some good listening material, it also knows when to turn itself off in favor of the effects and voices better conveying the intended mood. Speaking of voices, your character never does, falling in line with the long line of shooter heroes who prefer silence over catchphrases. Everyone else does speak, and the voice work for the human characters and monsters is well done. There are a few times when the accents seem forced, and the foreboding voice in the MIR-12 video borders on being unintentionally humorous but everything mostly sounds fine.
At the end of the day, Singularity is a flat-out fun experience. It may feel like the developers have been a little too inspired by some other games, but it is constructed in such a way that you don't mind the somewhat familiar vibe. The pacing is nicely done, the graphics and sound are great, and the limited multiplayer is fun. It's an overall good game that gets a little help by coming out at a time generally ignored by publishers. Fans of first-person shooters and action would do well to pick up Singularity, as it's a great title to fill up your time before the inevitable game onslaught begins.
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