Sunday, July 11, 2010

Review: Singularity

I left this title languishing at the bottom of my to-do list, mostly because it's gimmick sounded a little too similar to that of Timeshift, a game which thoroughly failed to impress me. Now, after having played it, I must say that was a mistake on my part.

Singularity is a first person shooter that borrows a lot from previous titles. One could almost use the word "derivative" except that this word carries a negative connotation of unoriginality which would not entirely be deserved by the title. Rather, it does what I wish so many other games and genres would do - they take good ideas from myriad previous games and use them all in a new game. Sometimes it gets a little obvious, even egregious, but for the most part it serves to make the player comfortable and pleased with the gaming experience because the damn game plays like it should. I suppose as some others may have pointed out in other reviews, the comparison that most readily leaps to mind is Bioshock, as the game uses the same health meter and first aid kit dynamic as Bioshock, and also has a second bar that is EVE in that game and E99 in this game. You're also gathering a numbered resource to buy upgrades to your equipment and yourself, and there are a number of abilities of Singularity's "Time Manipulation Device," or TMD, that mirror plasmids from Bioshock, such as the ability to catch airborn projectiles and hurl them back at enemies. There's also the fact that everything around you is rusting, falling apart and awash in 50's paraphenalia, but that felt a little more to me like Fallout 3 than Bioshock, slim differentiation though that may be. The game also borrows the "aiming down the barrel turns anything into a sniper rifle" dynamic from Call of Duty, as well as the grenade danger indicator and the ability to only carry two weapons. There's also a heated spike launcher that feels suspiciously like the Half Life 2 crossbow (not to mention you also get a gravity gun power later), a boss fight right out Borderlands, a "sidekick" NPC that looks suspiciously like a certain L4D survivor, the "listening to audio logs that fill in the backstory" dynamic that just about every game has used since Doom 3, quickdraw/shoot sequences like in Call of Juarez, and a weapon called the "Seeker" which fires bullets you remote control in slow motion that brings back memories of the drones you use in Frontlines - Fuels of War. There's even a little bit of "companion cube" type puzzling a-la Portal.

It's all crammed together into the Unreal 3 engine (the prolific nature of which is why so many games these days all feel like each other) in a way that plays well. As much as the game might have borrowed from Bioshock (another U3e game, incidentally), it left behind the clunky, plodding, inaccurate feel of the controls and also reduced the operation of the TMD to one or two context-sensitive keys, making the use of multiple effects easy and intuitive without having to juggle and switch between umpteen plasmids. The conventional weapons also perform well, being as accurate down the sights as in Modern Warfare but unlike it, still being acceptably accurate when fired "from the hip" instead of turning your assault rifle into a rapid fire blunderbuss. The rate of turn feels natural, and the movement speed feels right as well - two areas that bioshock didn't quite feel like it got right.

But enough about what Singularity borrowed, let's talk about its originality. The game takes place on a moon-shaped island called "Katorga 12" just off the Kamchatka Peninsula. Back in the 50s, the Soviets discovered a new element deep underground there called "E-99" which (apparently, apart from displacing Einsteinium in the periodic table) causes chronological distortions in matter. Unfortunately for the Russians, research involving E99 proves to be hazardous and fraught with accidents, and as such the research is suspended indefinitely and the island is abandoned. With anomalous radiation readings coming from the island in 2010, the Americans decide to risk international incident to send a military expedition to the island to investigate. An EMP burst of unknown nature causes the helicopters to crash, and in trying to reach the extraction point after the mission is aborted, the protagonist unknowingly stumbles through a time rift to the past where he saves a Russian scientist who would have otherwise perished in a fire. When returned to the present, suddenly the only two remaining soldiers are unable to contact their base, and the statuary around the island has changed from depicting Stalin to depicting the scientist you rescued. Something in the timeline just got screwed up... and you're about to spend the rest of the game trying to figure out how to fix it.

Soon after, you are contacted by a member of a resistance group who call themselves "MIR-12" who helps explain what is happening and gets you to once again travel to the past to prevent the scientist you rescued from killing another scientist to co-opt his work. This leads to you getting the TMD, which for the rest of the game lets you rejuvinate or decay various objects and organisms around the island (there being a convenient plot device in place that the TMD only affects things that have been "infused" with E99... a plot device it happily ignores whenever convenient). But it seems no matter how much you try to fix the timeline, it only gets more and more screwed up, leading up to a dramatic final confrontation and decision that will decide the fate of the entire world. Not that I'll spoil it any more than I already have.

The trek across Katorga 12 involves a lot of shooting, both of mutant beasties and more mundane soldiery and some basic problem solving, but by and large the path through the game is linear to the point of almost being on rails. What little side-trips there are are extremely short, mostly of the nature of opening a room off the main hallway to loot it for items. The story is interesting (and unlike Timeshift, actually able to be followed) and keeps you wanting to play further. The graphics are excellent, and I am very thankful that the developers saw fit to let you customize your visual experience to your liking (IE, letting me turn off bloom and depth of field, two of the most overrated and overused visual abominations of the current generation of games). I was a little disappointed that there was no subtitles option, but I suppose it didn't hurt too much.

The game does have some shortcomings, even if you don't consider a vast repertoire of borrowed paradigms to be a negative. Sometimes textures are a bit slow to load, some details have been left out (such as walking in front of a movie projector doesn't cast the player's shadow on the screen), and probably the biggest gripe of mine is that the game's autosave points have been tailored in such a way so as to always let you know when something tense is about to happen, even more obviously than the spike in the music's soundtrack. The flashing words "SAVING - DO NOT TURN OFF" at the top of the screen might as well be saying "GET READY TO DO A LOT OF FIGHTING IN A SECOND." On the sound front, Steven Jay Blum is everywhere. He narrates some parts of the game as well as voicing the primary antagonist. Now don't get me wrong, he's a great voice actor and he does a good job, it's just he feels a little overused in this title. And, of course, there's also the fact that as you start to progress through the second half of the game, your character has become so strong that the challenge noticeably depreciates. The game clocks in at about 7 or 8 hours on the single player campaign, which is not as long as some but certainly longer than others... still, it feels like it could have gone on to have a much more epic storyline if it wanted to put in the time.

But all in all, it's an enjoyable experience I recommend to any fan of first person shooters. Your time is not wasted in Singularity.

Verdict: B+. And that's the word from Bandit Camp.


Anonymous said...

i loved the game and i hope there is a deferent story of it and i will be waiting for it because its incredible game

Anonymous said...

this game should be good mimics but half-life 2

Anonymous said...

correction:this game should be good, but mimics half-life 2