Singularity, the latest title from developers Raven Software, mysteriously appeared on shelves with virtually no publicity or fanfare. With very few trailers and a general lack of hype, the game was certainly intriguing and was backed by a potentially unique concept. Promising to provide time changing gameplay, a complex science fiction narrative and unusual first-person combat, there was a lot to suggest this could become a cult classic. However, has Singularity managed to stand out in an already overcrowded genre?
Events kick off in 2010 where a highly generic American Black Ops team are sent to Katorga-12, an island off the coast of Russia. During the 1950s the Soviet Union conducted a series of experiments to attempt to create a weapon more powerful than the atomic bomb. A new and unstable source of power, a substance labelled “Element 99”, was discovered to exist only on Katorga-12. However, sometime during the 1950s a catastrophic accident occurred, prompting the Soviet government to wipe out all traces of the research and quarantine the island. The Black Ops team are tasked with investigating a mysterious power surge on the deserted island and are flown in on a helicopter. Before you can say “sinister government experimentation” the chopper has crashed and you’re fighting off hordes of flesh-eating mutants.
As you work your way through the levels the plot unfolds by reading notes and listening to more tape recorders than a 1980s Comet stock room. The story covers the events of the experimentation, which focuses on the work of two rival scientists and their work developing a device capable of distorting and controlling time itself. This creation, the Time Manipulation Device (TMD) inevitably comes into your possession and acts as the game’s unique gameplay mechanic. The device has the ability to create a bubble in which time stands still, it can age people to dust and also move objects around in the same way as Half Life 2’s Gravity Gun. Initially this is rather fun as you use it to solve some rudimentary puzzles in order to progress and access hidden areas, but it mainly comes into its own in the combat.
Fighting either the troops of a renegade Russian general or the bizarre creatures created in the aftermath of the accident, the TMD is a valuable asset. The device enables you to grab and throw back enemy projectiles and it can even transform soldiers into mutants, turning them against their former allies. There are a few different functions, many of which become unlocked as the game progresses either through specific machines or purchasing them at stations using energy found in the levels. You only have limited power to use the TMD and must wait for it to regenerate or use special cells which act like a health kit, refreshing the energy bar.
The enemies are intriguingly designed and there is a decent variety to them. At first encounters are distinctly divided into either creature or human opponents, but as the title progresses you face mixtures of the two, which makes the battles more interesting. The first-person controls and shooting mechanics are competent and solid, but even with the TMD the encounters lack polish and sparkle and are seldom memorable. There are a handful of nice weapons, including an explosive spike launcher and a rifle with a controllable bullet, but most of your arsenal is made up of standard genre tools.
Thankfully there are a few interesting sections to hold your interest, mainly those which take place during the 1950s accessed through rifts created by “The Singularity”, a large structure in the centre of Katorga-12 responsible for the accident. The pacing in the title is generally well managed, with some fairly simple puzzles breaking up the combat, but this is mainly a game about shooting people in the face or aging them to dust. Some sections can feel a tad repetitive and often you’ll face groups of similar enemies who are wheeled out once or twice a level, before the same happens with each successive mission.
Perhaps the main problem with Singularity’s single player campaign is how unoriginal it feels. The story telling is directly lifted from Bioshock, right down to the ghostly echo events that happen. Even the TMD borrows many ideas from Half Life 2 and the lesser known Timeshift, down to the puzzles and how it can be used in combat. Generally, the ambience and atmosphere of the island and setting takes inspiration from Metro 2033 and S.T.A.L.K.E.R. While being inspired by other games isn’t always a negative, it feels that these ideas were handled better in the titles they originated from and Singularity rarely adds anything new to them. Both the visuals and the level design also lacks the degree of polish found in many of its competitors, giving it a raw and slightly unrefined feel to it.
Singularity’s multiplayer is at least a little different to a simple, generic addition and pits the game’s Russian soldiers against the mutants. Choosing from four classes on each side, you can then select perks and benefits allowing you to tailor the experience to your play style. The games then take on a standard deathmatch format or a capture the point game mode, with the two teams playing to attack or defend. This is pretty entertaining, using the creature’s unique abilities and there was a pretty lively online presence so finding a match was never difficult. However, even this mode feels a lot like other games, most notably Left 4 Dead’s multiplayer element which is a feeling that you can seldom escape.
As such, Singularity offers a dependable and relatively solid first-person shooter which knows exactly what it is doing and what it needs to provide. Yet, you cannot escape the feeling that the title was designed to try and incorporate elements of other popular and successful games into a new one. There is some originality here, the story has an enjoyable science fiction plot and having a multitude of endings to choose from is certainly a nice touch. However, at its core, the gameplay feels unoriginal and somehow fails to be as satisfying as you would expect. If you’re a big first-person shooter fan then you’ll find something here to satisfy and the game has some longevity in the multiplayer. However, it is difficult to see Singularity standing the test of time, even with its TMD to help.
Singularity (Reviewed on Xbox 360)
This game is good, with a few negatives.