On top of its 8-10 hour solo run, Singularity tacks on the requisite multiplayer challenges
- A story-driven shooter in the vein of BioShock that grants gamers with some cool powers and time-twisting abilities, creative combat options, some standout seat-of-your-pants set pieces and scripted moments
- The Time Manipulation Device isn't implemented creatively into puzzles or exploration, not much to the multiplayer, visuals and level design feel familiar
Another solid shooter from Raven Software, Singularity competently marks most of the boxes on the FPS checklist. It won't dethrone the genre's best offerings, but its campy story and fun combat should keep gamers' index fingers flexed and minds engaged throughout.
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Last summer, Activision released Raven Software's Wolfenstein with the sort of hype usually reserved for a straight-to-DVD Steven Seagal film. This past week they took a similar under-the-radar approach with the developer's new FPS Singularity. But a modest marketing budget isn't all these two shooters share in common. Both feature alternate histories, former US-hating international superpowers, and dangerous experiments that turn humans into flesh-eating crazies. Replace Wolfenstein's zombie Nazi's with irradiated Russians and you're half way there.
But it's a stronger similarity to the story-driven BioShock that makes Singularity a better game than its predecessor. Raven's latest borrows heavily from the underwater shooter, using familiar conventions to unspool its tangled yarn. For starters, it begins with an aviation accident over the ocean that leads the lone survivor protagonist to a remote locale brimming with dark secrets, mutants, and plasmid-like powers. In a nutshell, you're a badass on a mysterious island that just happens to be the world's only source of element 99, an all-powerful mineral the Russians were mining with nefarious intentions. Of course, messing with something that makes the atom bomb look like a bottle rocket never works out well, and the E99 experiments, done in 1955, are now your problem in 2010. We discover most of this through a series of BioShock-y storytelling tricks such as audio recordings, cryptic messages scrawled on walls, and ghostly re-enactments.
These devices, although familiar to anyone who's visited Rapture's soggy depths, are still effective; it's pretty chilling to learn the island's leader was sneaking E99 into schoolkids' milk, or to witness a group of desperate men kill themselves because it was the only humane option. Singularity's story doesn't quite nail the depth or inspiration it strives for, but supported by these bread crumb-like narrative nuggets, it keeps you engaged with a campy mix of horror and sci-fi.
Complementing its twisty tale is the Time Manipulation Device (or TMD), a gadget you earn early on that allows occasional travel back to 1955. This too supports some cool story-driving elements, especially when you play a level in its modern dystopian state, then get a flashback peek at its hope-filled heyday; ya know, before its scientists knew E99 would turn citizens into rampaging, two-headed monsters. Time travel is just one perk of the TMD, though; the arm gauntlet-equipped device also ages items, fires an enemy-slamming charge, spits out a time-slowing force field, and grants gravity gun-like powers. The aging ability is the coolest of these, as it turns bad guys to dust -- watching a Russian soldier go from skin to bones in three seconds flat never gets old. The E99-powered toy can also pull the reverse, making destroyed items new again. This trick won't bring back the dead, but it will reassemble broken staircases, turn crushed ammo and health boxes back into replenishing resources, and rewire broken fuse boxes.
It's a fun mechanic that's unfortunately wasted during the title's puzzle-solving sections. For example, you'll reconstruct way too many flattened crates, then use the gravity ability to move them into a spot where they're needed as makeshift ladders. Additionally, you have this mind-blowing ability to age objects, but there's maybe only a half dozen or so items you can use it on. Harnessing the TMD to do your bidding during combat is a blast, but when you're not using it to melt the faces off mutants, you'll find it more gimmicky than groundbreaking.
Thankfully, you do spend most of the game filling baddies full of lead, E99, or some combination thereof. In addition to your not-of-this-world arsenal, you're armed with the expected pistol, shotgun, automatic, sniper rifle, and rocket launcher. These can all be upgraded and some even sport creative tweaks, like the ability to steer sniped bullets right into a baddie's brain pan in slo-mo, gore-gushing glory. The more traditional gunplay feels pretty standard, but there's tons of fun to be had on the battlefield when you combine TMD powers with guns; whether you're returning an RPG back to its sender with telekinesis, shotgun-blasting barely-moving enemies in a slow-timed state, or using the TMD to turn enemies against each other, there's plenty of ways to score creative kills.
In terms of visuals and level design, Singularity's a bit hit or miss. You'll traverse plenty of been-there-blew-up-that areas where everything's bathed in detailed destruction, and crates and barrels are apparently mass produced; not bad, but it'll ring a little too familiar if you've played Wolfenstein, Metro 2033, Half-Life 2, or any one of 100 other shooters where things go bad and mutants show up. On the flip-side, there are a handful of truly inspired sections including a freighter that's rapidly aging as you escape it, and a train being attacked by a bug-like monster that makes those Lost Planet critters look like cockroaches. Slightly cheesy Russian accents withstanding, the voice acting is also good, and the score appropriately spine-chilling.
On top of the 8-10 hour solo run, Singularity tacks on the requisite multiplayer challenges. Aside from a mode that puts you behind the claws of the mutated creatures, the online offerings are pretty average. It's decent weekend fun, but when the fall season's big guns begin siphoning its supporting community, I expect its popularity will fall off the map. Shooter fans waiting for those holiday heavy hitters, though, should check out Singularity's single-player campaign. Raven's crafted a more than competent FPS, combining some great, if underutilised, ideas with a narrative that's a cut above most in the story-starved genre. It won't be showered with any year-end awards, but it definitely deserves attention from gamers and more marketing love from Activision. Maybe their budget ran dry after giving Modern Warfare 2 its own energy drink?
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