Singularity Review (PS3)

When game scoring comes into question, the factors generally revolve around gameplay, story, graphics, sound…a usual gamut of one overall point, how immersive the experience is. But what if I were to tell you that immersion can make a normally bland game absolutely stunning? You may not believe me, but fear not, for I present proof: Singularity.

Singularity comes from Raven Software, who has long created sequels to id Software franchises, and it really shines a spectacular light onto the development team. They liberally take from the finest games, most notably Half-Life 2 and Bioshock. The entire introductory is a homage to the latter, and yet it’s done so well that even knowing how similar it is to Irrational Games’ creation doesn’t take away from the experience.

Playing as a Captain Nathan Renko, a Special Forces operative, players are tasked to investigate an anomaly off an imaginary island off the far eastern coast of Russia named Katorga-12. Crash landing due to a radiation spike, effectively acting as an EMP (electro-magnetic pulse) that crashes your team’s helicopters, only two people survive the crash, Renko and a Captain Devlin, his immediate superior. Within that first 20 minute period, there’s no shooting or killing, just taking in an entire world, traveling back in time, and changing history forever.

Interestingly, and unlike most games that involve time travel or manipulation, the plot is very simple: accidentally change past, try to correct future. Renko is constantly ordered by a Dr. Barisov, the Russian physicist previously in charge of Katorga-12, Devlin, or Kathryn, a throw-away British hotty thrown in for nothing but the faintest sense of sex appeal. Following orders blindly like this is somewhat tedious, but the gameplay makes the almost idiotic nature of the missions worthwhile. In fact, players are more likely to never question the orders given because the missions, and the world itself, is simply so immersive that the experience of playing is worth more than listening to meaningless characters babble.

You’re probably asking what makes the game so immersive. Graphically, there’s nothing special about Singularity. It looks and feels like a typical FPS, and there is nothing that stands out visually. Some of the later enemies are gruesome, but not nearly as bad as what we’ve already seen for a few years now. The musical score, on the other hand, is brilliantly done. There’s little strolling around and feeling invincible (except towards the end of the game), because the sounds indicate that something is always looming around the next corner. There's rarely ever hope in the music, instead a constant drum of melancholy murder.

Finally, there are the beasts which inhabit Singularity’s enemy database, monsters of transformed humans, warped by time so much that they’re effectively very strong, very deadly zombies. These Zek, as they’re called only once in the game, come in many forms both big and small, and make the traditional and normally bland shooter unique. Sure, there’s also both past and present Russian soldiers to fight against, but there’s a good 60-40 balance in favor of the Zek, with some overlap. It’s even more fun when they’re both together, so players can watch both sides duke it out, or perhaps intervene and wipe them both out in one fowl swoop.

But what really makes the game immersive is the combination of all the small parts together, that works almost perfectly. The TMD (Time Manipulation Device) offers tremendous power but for a hefty price, paid for by collectable E-99, the unstable element which makes time manipulation possible. The TMD allows players to renew or age a wide range of items, and of course all enemies, in the game. See a rumpled or badly damaged crate? Turn it to the past where it was in good shape and take whatever’s inside for yourself. Perhaps thankfully, it’s not possible to turn enemy soldiers into infants, nor can Zek be returned to human form…though humans can be turned into Zek for tremendous strategic value and fun.

With immersion as the selling point, and really the best part of Singularity, there are a few issues that take players out of the moment and back into the real world. First and foremost, stray pixels litter the world, where a path may be blocked though nothing is physically visible in the game world, yet jumping over or side-stepping this invisible obstacle solves the problem. Russian soldiers have almost pathetic AI, where they refuse to attack and almost always wait to get shot, and while they wait they repeat the same lines in Russian over and over and over again. Combat scenarios with soldiers, if the player so chooses to sit and wait, could literally last forever. Of course, towards the end of the game players become so powerful that almost nothing can stand up to you and combat just becomes a joke.

In a completely odd fashion, Singularity has three endings, two of which require the player to be bad, and one good. The problem is that, in an almost Russian dystopian and depressive fashion, all answers are wrong and it’s only a matter of which is a worse ending. Then again, thinking about the plot only brings to light how many plot holes there actually are, so it’s better to avoid the matter entirely.

Multiplayer is almost throwaway, and from the menu screens appear to be just that. Playing them, however, is surprisingly fun. Players fight either as modern-day soldiers with weapons, or as any of the Zek creatures they wish to play as, with a number of different attacks of their own. With enough players, this turns into a completely disorganized firefight between man and beast, and it’s glorious. The problem is that no one’s playing Singularity online, and that getting a full game together without the option of split screen (not available) is really hard.

What Singularity is is a AAA title masked behind a lack of commercialism, which is completely out of style for Activision, and not nearly enough time to polish the game. With another two-three months, Singularity could probably have been the best shooter of the year, though I suspect at least one title seen at E3 will change that later this year. Still, Singularity is the best FPS we’ve seen this year thus far, and I highly recommend it. Just don’t think about it too hard.

Top Game Moment: Turning one of six soldiers in a small corridor into a blind Zek and letting it kill the rest, then creeping up behind it and disintegrating it with the TMD.

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By Wowerine (SI Elite) on Aug 05, 2010
Good game. Much like Bioshock
By BoneArc (SI Elite) on Aug 06, 2010
Too ..... how can i put this ... it looks like bioshock but it has zombies and Nazis ..... I wont pick this up any time soon
By CATAB (SI Veteran Newbie) on Aug 09, 2010
I put a few hours into singularity and all i can say is that the story is kinda neat...but overall it's not something i come back to play again in every weekend
By Wowerine (SI Elite) on Aug 09, 2010
It's a game you can finish once... Why play a game every weekend lol