Game Review: Singularity
Release: June 29, 2010
Genre: First-Person Shooter, Action Adventure
Developer: Raven Software
Available Platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC
Players: 1 (single-player), 2-12 (multiplayer)
ESRB Rating: M
It’s a pity Singularity entered the playing field with little fanfare. I initially heard about the game during Activision’s E3 2008 press conference. The premise sounded promising and my interest was piqued. Just as suddenly, things became quiet on the Raven Software front. There was barely a peep regarding the development and release of Singularity. It was so quiet the game slipped beneath my radar. It wasn’t until a good week after the title’s release that I had heard about it. This struck me as a surprising move considering the sizable power behind Activision’s marketing department. Despite the lack of buzz, I picked up the game anyway.
The game takes place on a mysterious island known as “Katorga-12,” isolated and abandoned due to Russian experiments involving “Element 99” (E99) that took place during the Cold War. Some time during 1955, a terrible disaster, known as the “Singularity,” occurred on the island, prompting the Russian government to cover up the island’s very existence. Fastforward to 2010 when Nate Renko, a Black Ops soldier, is sent to investigate the bizarre radiation emissions coming from the island. Unfortunately, his crew crash lands on the island. When Renko regains consciousness, it becomes a fight for survival. Due to the “Singularity,” the island is constantly shifting between the Cold War era and 2010. Along the way, he encounters Victor Barisov, the scientist in charge of the Katorga-12 experiments. Renko learns about Nikolai Demichev, who is bent on restarting experiments on a much larger scale. Renko’s quest changes from escaping the island to stopping Demichev at all costs.
If you’ve played through the BioShock series, Singularity will feel instantly familiar. The game’s controls are fairly standard among first-person shooters. Left trigger to aim. Right trigger to shoot. Left bumper to control TMD. Right joystick to sprint. You get the idea. As Renko starts his journey, he’s only armed with the Centurion Revolver. Eventually, Renko acquires bigger firepower and the illustrious TMD. As with any gadgets and weapons, the game offers a currency system — you just need to go out on the island and find bits of E99 scattered throughout. E99 can provide you with weapon upgrades, ammo or additional TMD powers. Health is found through syringes and first aid kits. Besides taking down enemy Russian soldiers and the island’s beastly residents, there are some clever puzzles you must solve to move on.
While the standard weapons help Renko survive dangerous encounters, the real gem of the title involves E99-enhanced weapons. TMD becomes a fun exercise of aging enemies and turning them to nothing but dust in the wind. Or creating a time-lapse bubble to ensnare enemies and riddling them with bullets to your liking. Charmers like the Seeker, charged with E99 bullets, are awesome when taking down enemies from long-range. Like heat-seeker missiles, you can guide these bullets to take down enemies by carefully guiding it through the map. While you can’t cycle through weapons, and can only carry two at a time, there are weapon lockers available if you need to change up the pace.
There is an undeniable parallel between Singularity and BioShock, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. From the protagonist crash landing on a mysterious world to alternate Cold War realities, the beginning feels incredibly similar. The voice recorders help reinforce that feeling. However, Singularity veers slightly away from BioShock in many ways as well. On Katorga-12, I did not want to explore the island. Rapture had an eerie beauty that drew me in, but Katorga-12 looked creepy. All I wanted to do was guide Renko quickly through the island to freedom. There was no sense of morality bearing down on me; I just wanted to maim, beat or kill everything in my way to progress.
Singularity has its own charms, certainly. I felt like such a badass, almost godlike, when I used the TMD to turn enemy soldiers to dust! Or how about trapping enemies in time and pumping them with bullets? Like taking candy from a baby. The creepy ambiance works well in the game. Instead of just outright sending mutated beasts left and right, it makes attempts to really draw you into the dreadful environment. Mutants ramming against windows without attacking you as a scare tactic was a nice touch. Or beasts crawling through fences as a not-so-subtle warning. While it’s not necessarily a groundbreaking shooter, Singularity offers an interesting background on E99, some unique combat features of the TMD and a solid shooter experience.
It’s a solid shooter experience. That’s the thing. It doesn’t quite live up to its potential. As one of few games that successfully gives the wielder the ability to manipulate time, I’m somewhat underwhelmed. The excitement of time manipulation is severely limited; that, I will chalk up to either limited resources or development deadline. It would have been interesting for the game to explore time manipulation further with the island switching between different eras, for example, just to drive home the full extent of the “Singularity.”
To its credit, my only real complaint is that the game doesn’t excite me as much as other titles; it gets the job done. I just want to kill my way to the next checkpoint, and the game delivers. It’s a solid experience buoyed by excellent combat and an intriguing enough story.
Jinkwell’s final say: It could be underwhelming at times, but Singularity has enough unique features to set it somewhat apart from the pack. TMD and E99-infused weapons are definitely fun to trigger. For a game without much fanfare, it delivers a solid experience. The potential for alternate endings is a nice touch.