Singularity Review

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Singularity Publisher: Activision
Developer: Raven

Platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC
Reviewed on Xbox 360

If you encounter a man clinging to a ledge in a burning building, don't save him. At least, if you encounter a crazed Soviet scientist with plans to usurp Khrushchev clinging to a ledge in a burning building, don't save him lest you disrupt the balance of power, ending the Cold War and altering history itself. Just in case you end up in that kind of situation.

Kyle Ackerman

I fear that at some point in the development process, Singularity was better than the state in which it was released. I don't mean to imply that Singularity is bad. In fact, Singularity is one of the better shooters released this year. It's a solid experience, but you won't remember it in three years. The problem with Singularity, to my mind, is that it's as if there was a solid game with a strong narrative, and a bunch of marketing wonks declared, "Hey, this game should be more like BioShock.

"Would You Kindly" Add These Elements to the Game?

The very introduction of Singularity feels like it was cribbed directly from BioShock, with the player crashing into a decayed utopia where workers and scientists pursue the same ideal, replete with ghosts, audio logs, upgradable weapons and mysterious (left-handed) superpowers. It's simply a radically different perspective. Rather than an American Objectivist slant (as in BioShock), Singularity takes a hard-line Stalinist approach. The gung-ho communism of the opening segment and the tongue-in-cheek propaganda films under the massive statues of workers and the glaring visage of Stalin left me scanning the achievement list for a "Mat' Geroina" achievement for when the player bears ten children for the Soviet state.

Despite cribbing directly, Singularity's opening pacing is poor, and left me wondering why I had to stand around listening to old reel-to-reel taped diaries and why paper notes seem to have outlasted concrete pylons, even in the face of something worse than a thermonuclear explosion. Instead of being warped by Adam and Cubist plastic surgery (as in BioShock), there are creatures warped by radiation and exposure to a mysterious element. But once past the first history-changing trip back in time, Singularity becomes the game it feels like it was meant to be.

Does This Say to Add "Egg" to the Children's Food?

Suddenly, I found myself experiencing the introduction I felt like Singularity was meant to have. I was rushing down an abandoned and devastated street of a Soviet research colony on an island in the Pacific. The twisted corpses of children and horrifying ambient sounds left me terrified of what I might encounter. By the time I'd started to venture through the wreckage of a school, it was clear that in its heyday, Katorga-12 did some disturbingly unethical experimentation, and that extremely powerful creatures were hunting me.

Katorga-12 was built so that the Soviets could mine and collect Element 99 and transform it into everything from a devastating bomb to a dust that could rapidly grow crops. This is where you have to stop thinking about the science in Singularity's science fiction, and just enjoy shooting things and being scared by bumps in the night. E99 looks disturbingly like the word "egg" in the many propaganda posters and films scattered around Katorga-12 that are conveniently (for a xenophobic, Soviet facility) in both Russian and English. Anything incorporating E99 (which is apparently not Einsteinium, for whatever reason) can be manipulated so that it progresses forward and backward in time.

The Soviets of Katorga-12 were kind enough to integrate E99 into chalkboards and tape recorders, so that you could learn what they were working on, but only bothered to incorporate E99 into the occasional staircase or crate. That means most of the time-travelling mechanics that distinguish Singularity are only used as plot devices or in extremely limited puzzles. That's actually OK, since you do get to manipulate time to do cool things in combat, like aging soldiers to dust, or reverting humans to their underpublicized zombie-like proto-state. Just don't try to make sense of the time-travel plot. The more you think about it, the more it transforms a fun shooter into a blistering headache of poorly conceived plotlines. Just take the approach of a lobotomized soldier ("he told me... shoot more things").

Steering Bullets is Always Cool!

When it comes to the shooting that is the crux of any first-person SHOOTer, Singularity is rock-solid. I got to shoot a lot of things, and the developers at Raven Software kept things interesting. The pacing switches back and forth so that at one moment it's straight-up survival/horror, then it's a zombie shooter. Suddenly the game becomes a bug hunt... wait, now I'm fighting trained Spetsnaz, and now I'm fighting creatures that warp through space around me. There was quite a lot of variety, and a good sense of pacing. I've never been a fan of boss fights, and the gigantic bug with issues around trains is no exception, but the action in Singularity stayed interesting.

I was disappointed that my favorite guns in the game, the rocket launcher and the gun with bullets the player could curve (through the mysterious power of E99!), were only usable in very specific sequences, and weren't added to my two-gun-at-a-time portfolio. They were great fun, and I would have loved more. I was also disappointed that in a game that has me hunting for collectibles, the developers were quick to seal doors behind me as if to proclaim, "Really! No need to backtrack! Keep going! Even if you have the wrong weapon load-out for this new monster!" Oh, and in case you think that the marketing wonks were done after the BioShock intro, there's a poorly integrated female character that looks a lot like Alyx from Half Life 2.

Have Fun, Until Your Next Game

Perhaps with all the fun I'm poking at Singularity you want to know how it earned so high a score? I meant it when I said that it's one of the better shooters of the year. Even the multiplayer (pitting warped creatures against augmented soldiers) is entertaining for a bit. It's not likely to be the game you pop back into the disc tray this time next year, nor one you just have to show the relatives over the holidays, but it's good fun nonetheless.

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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on August 19, 2010 8:00 PM.

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