Reviewed: July 2, 2010
Released: June 29, 2010
Singularity is one of those games that achieved near cult-like status even before it shipped thanks to a complete lack of information or typical pre-release coverage and hype we normally get from an Activision title. With release dates that kept getting pushed and the eventually stealth release of the game (I still haven’t seen a commercial), it’s almost as if somebody is ashamed of the final game, and I’m not sure why because Singularity is one of the best FPS games I have played, both in action and especially in story, in several years. If this game fails financially the blame is entirely on the marketing.|
And what’s not to like. We have our old enemies, the Russians back in their traditional role of protagonist – something that hasn’t been politically correct for entertainment purposes for many years now. We have some cool time travel elements that combine the best parts of Back to the Future and Lost Season 5, and what Raven game would be complete without some flesh-eating mutants.
The story is efficiently setup in the opening movie where we learn that the Soviets have discovered a rare element, Element-99, a source of power that will surely tip the scales of global domination against the evil USA. But scientists let their experiments get out of control, there is an explosion, everyone dies, and the island research center and its former inhabitants are abandoned and forgotten…until 2010 when a U.S. spy satellite is blasted by a power surge coming from the island.
An American team of soldiers including Nate Renko (you) is sent to investigate. As your chopper swoops down to skim the ocean surf an EMP pulse knocks your transportation out of the sky. You wake up on the docks of the island base, your team either dead or separated, leaving you alone to discover the secrets if the island.
From the opening level to the closing credits, Singularity oozes with the familiar and signature style of past classics like BioShock and even Raven’s own, Wolfenstein, both visually and in various gameplay choices and design elements. You can interact with just about anything, even if clicking on a phone or typewriter earns you the same dial tone or ding each time. Other interactions are more rewarding such as the numerous notes and reel-to-reel tape recordings scattered around the island that will flesh out the backstory and heighten the tension.
You quickly realize that those EMP pulses that are washing over the island are actually time ripples and when you get caught up in one early in the game you are transported back to 1955 at the moment of a major catastrophy. As you dash around a raging inferno dodging explosions and falling debris you come across and save a seeming innocent scientist. You carrying him back to safety, lying him at the foot of a statue of Stalin, but when time reverts to 2010 the Stalin statue has been replaced with a statue of the man you just saved. Oops. Way to screw up the time line Renko!
You now find yourself in an alternate 2010, one where the Russians are the global dominate power, and they like it that way. Expect plenty of Soviet troops to come swarming onto the island to try and stop you from correcting your mistake, but you have a few tricks up your sleeve as well. As quickly as you are attacked, you are also aided by a mysterious female who works for a covert operation who is also trying to correct the time line with the aid of one of the key E99 scientists. Your first task is to locate a special invention, the TMD (Time Manipulation Device). You will then use that device and all of its subsequent upgrades and powers to complement the typical gunplay and save the world, as we once knew it.
The TMD is pretty cool, allowing you to shift items forward and back in time. Aim it at a human attacker and watch him scream in agony as he rapidly ages and turns to bones and dust. Aim it at a broken or erased chalkboard and watch it revert to its original contents. You can turn a smashed ammo or health crate into a brand new box to claim its contents or even expand a metal box to use as a jack to lift a gate or metal door or use as a step to reach a higher ledge. You can age a safe or a padlock to gain valuable items such as ammo and the frequent E99 source material drops. Later in the game you will use the powers of the TMD to rebuild a train, a ship, and even a massive suspension bridge.
E99 is the “currency” of the game, used to upgrade the powers of the TMD at various stations across the island. You can upgrade your own personal attributes such as health and stamina as well as those of the TMD itself, and then you have passive rewards such as finding bonus E99 or ammo when you find a loot drop.
There is also plenty of shooting in Singularity and the game packs an impressive arsenal starting with the Centurion pistol and moving on to more powerful weapons like the machine gun, shotgun, mini-gun, rocket launcher, and many others, my favorite being the Seeker, a gun that you can actually steer the bullet after firing and watch the blood and body parts spray in glorious slow-motion. All of these weapons can be upgraded at various weapon lockers assuming you have found the weapon mod briefcases stashed around the island. You can tweak reload times, clip capacity, and damage levels for each weapon and even choose which two guns to take into the next part of the game, although you are free to pick-up guns from fallen enemies. Some guns like the Seeker and RPG are special third weapons and can only be carried until you switch to another gun and then they are dropped.
The game gets quite complex near the end with so many abilities and commands that every button on the controller has some important use. One of my favorite (and most abused) powers is Deadlock where you create and fire a bubble of time-stopping energy. Anyone trapped in the bubble cannot move but you can, allowing you to walk up and fire a few shotgun slugs at point blank into their face, or even better, circle around a guy with a riot shield and unload a clip into his back. The size and duration of the Deadlock bubble is based on your level of TMD upgrade, but nothing is more satisfying than standing back and waiting for that bubble to vanish and seeing six guys heads explode and their bodies sink to the ground. It’s even better when new enemies rush into the bubble and get partially stuck.
Singularity is loaded with moments whether they are epic boss battles, mind-blowing story reveals, or even entire sections of levels. My singular favorite moment in the game was restoring a giant freighter, having it rise from the sunken depths of the dock area then splash back into the water fully rejuvenated, only to find that my TMD powers were never meant to work on an object of this mass. So now it’s a race to the cargo hold to claim my objective as the ship is slowly reverting back to rusty scrap metal – oh yeah, and Russian choppers have just dropped a few dozen troops on the deck to stop me. Fun times!
My biggest compliments for Raven are reserved for a few bold choices in game design, mostly at the end. After 20 years of gaming I have come to expect some massively frustrating and game-ruining boss fight at the end of every game I play. Not so in Singularity. Much like in real life, conclusions don’t have to be these epic Michael Bay productions. I had plenty of boss fights during the game and having one more at the end would have been so cliché. Singularity is all about decisions, and there are three possible outcomes, easily accessed from the final checkpoint in the game, and each with oddly satisfying results. The most obvious choice is also the path to the most shocking reveal in the game. Sure Raven could have made you play the game three times to see all the endings, but they didn’t and I commend them for it.
Singularity is a solid 10-12 hour game loaded with challenges and plenty of scares early on. The first couple of hours rival F.E.A.R. when it comes to setting up a mood and overall tension. Most of the fear is generated through the incredible sound presentation with all sorts of subtle nuances playing in all the surround channels. The voice acting is surprisingly good and effective. I enjoyed the tape recordings but wished their playback volume wasn’t based on my proximity to the deck. I like to click those and keep moving while listening.
Visually, the game has some good effects and a great design, both in architecture and in smaller details such as textures and gun modeling. The colors can be a bit over-saturated at times giving the game a more graphic novel feel, very reminiscent to the art style of Wolfenstein. The character models are excellent as are the creatures, both human and insect, and even the skyscraper size bosses. Ripple effects hint at visionary rifts in the time line, almost like a second sight, and there are some truly epic set pieces. Just wait until you have to take a certain E99 bomb down into this chamber to charge it up. The spinning globe thingy had me picking my jaw up off the floor.
Singularity adds a token multiplayer offering with two modes that have humans battling mutants in straight-up team deathmatch or an objective-based mode where you fight to control locations on the map. Pick your side, pick your class or creature type, and tweak your weapons and abilities then go for it. There are class specific and even game specific elements at work that involve powers and teleporting and healing, and the creatures can possess humans with these little creatures. Actually, there may be a bit too many variables in play because most of my multiplayer games got really confusing really fast. Multiplayer may be a bit shallow but there is enough here to keep most gamers interested, at least long enough to earn the multiplayer achievements.
Singularity arrived with very little fanfare, which is a shame because this is a very good game. It all starts with an engaging story that sucks you in from the opening cinematic and carries you through to each of the three endings with tried and true gunplay and some inventive powers and time manipulation that never gets old. I highly recommend Singularity to fans of FPS games and great science fiction stories.