Singularity Review

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Since 1992, Raven Software has been at the helm of some of the most entertaining and engaging FPS titles to hit the PC platform.  From the Soldier of Fortune series, Elite Force series, and two of the famed Jedi Knight games, Raven has vast experience at crafting violent but engaging shooters with just the right amount of innovation and different styles of gameplay.   While some of their releases have been plagued with day one glitches and bugs, they still have a steady record of releasing quality shooters, which bring me to a discussion of Singularity.

Singularity, is an original story-driven FPS game that was first announced as a multi-platform release by Activision during E3 of 2008.  Originally the game was slated to be released during the jam-packed fall/winter season of 2009, before being quietly delayed and nearly forgotten.  In fact, when Singularity was released back at the end of this past June, it was less of a release and more of a dumping the title out into the stores and onto Steam and Direct2Drive.  Gone were the hype, billboards, web ads, and media coverage that had been prevalent just a year ago.  For reasons that only Activision can explain, Singularity limped across the starting line and onto my PC.

The story goes like this.  You are Nate Renko, an American Special Forces operative for an American Black Ops unit.  You have been dispatched with your team to investigate some strange energy readings at the island of Katorga-12, a former Russian research station that has supposedly been closed since the Cold War.  Prior to reaching the island, an energy discharge brings down your helicopter, and when you regain consciousness, you find yourself separated from the rest of your unit, alone on the strange and desolate shores of Katorga-12.

 

The story of Singularity is by far its strongest selling point and makes discussing it very difficult to do without ruining the experience for those who have yet to play the game.  Suffice it to say that the game makes use of time travel and deals with the consequences of changes in the timeline, changes that affect the entire course of history, changes that you will soon be forced to try and correct. 


"…Singularity really is more about your experiences at the desolate Katorga-12 facility than anything else."

Story-wise, I feel like Singularity plays like a hybrid of Half-Life 2 and BioShock.  By this I mean the game includes some serious use of physics, as well as a slowly revealed back story brought to you courtesy of tapes scattered throughout the island.  While you will certainly meet and interact with a few different characters, Singularity really is more about your experiences at the desolate Katorga-12 facility than anything else.  This island is a major character in and of itself, and the desolation that is created by your isolation really helps create a captivating experience.  The various tape recordings you find will really lend a voice to the overwhelming tragedies that you bear witness to, both in the past and present.  Throughout your journeys, you will occasionally be affected by a type of time wave, where you will see echoes of what has occurred in certain areas decades prior to your arrival there.  These are often horrific and sad but really help you to see firsthand what has caused Katorga-12 to be the ravaged graveyard it now appears to be.

Your foes in Singularity will range from Russian soldiers of both the past and present to mutated creatures that appear to have been the result of experimental exposure to an element known as E-99, the very element that has caused nearly all of the death and destruction around you.  The enemy soldiers make use of a variety of weapons, from your standard shock troopers to snipers and riot soldiers.  The mutants range from swarming ticks and zombie-like mutants to huge mutants that can resurrect the dead and the nasty phasing mutants that swarm you with deadly hit and run tactics.  There is a rather large variety of enemies to be found on all sides, using various forms of weaponry and tactics. 

 

The A.I.  is fairly standard, ranging from sitting targets to swarming enemies that are known to try and flank you, which means a certain amount of tactical planning may be required during some of your firefights.  This disparity will keep you on edge and ensure that you die your share of deaths throughout the campaign.

Your weaponry also goes from the standard pistol, shotgun, rifle, and assault rifle to the fascinating and deadly Seeker gun.  This weapon fires a round that you can steer with your mouse and offers up a deadly, powerful effect that can take down an enemy force trying to make use of cover.  The real star, though, is your Time Manipulation Device or TMD.  The TMD carries a variety of abilities, like the ability to age and destroy structures as well as to reverse the aging process, which repairs structures like staircases and equipment containers.  Also included is the ability to create a wall of force that can stun and throw enemies from your path and in some cases kill them.   Another fairly wicked ability involves using the TMD on your standard troops, which causes them to die a horrific death right in front of you.  It’s also possible to cause an enemy to revert into a mutant creature.  The TMD also allows you to use telekinesis, evoking memories of the legendary gravity gun from Half-Life 2.  This ability along with your other TMD skills is often required during the many puzzle solving portions of the game.

The puzzles vary throughout the game and range from using the TMD to help you create jumping platforms or manipulate the environment to using your abilities to freeze time in certain areas, which can be used to slow propellers or cause doors to remain open.  Singularity, despite being fairly linear, does actually reward a careful exploration of surroundings.  Pressing the F key creates a chronometric wave that reveals footsteps on the ground that serve to show you the route you need to follow to advance the story.  This ability, while seemingly cheap, does give you an idea of where to go if you want to explore the map for more recordings or messages left on blackboards that have been left behind by some mysterious force to assist you. 

 

Your abilities and weapons are all capable of being upgraded, and this will allow you to do things like upgrade your health, make your weapons more deadly, as well as to increase the amount of TMD actions you can take.  While interesting, I never felt that the difficulty was such that I really needed to rely on upgrading my weapons and equipment.  Singularity is also fairly generous with the amount of weapons and ammunition you will find lying around, often finding more powerful weapons just in time to face a huge force of enemies.  While not very difficult overall, the game goes from being fairly challenging early on to fairly easy towards the end.  Fortunately, by the time the difficulty falls in your favor, the story will have captured you enough to see you through to the end.


"It is truly tragic that this graphical glitch could not have been fixed prior to releasing the game."

Graphically, Singularity is a type of Jekyll and Hyde scenario.  While it clearly has been crafted on a strong graphics engine, it was released with a host of graphical issues and glitches, one of which causes the detail of the textures to drop from high to low in a moment’s notice.  It was odd to be running by a dark and crumbling hallway, only to come across a locker that looks terribly blurry only to encounter the same locker in the next room, this time so detailed that you can practically read the stickers on it.  There appear to have been some fixes that other users on the Steam forums found, but using a hex editor in order to fix Raven Software’s mistake was not something I was interested in doing.  When they are on, the enemies and environments are dark and beautiful.  The TMD device allows for some amazing effects, especially when you take a broken stairwell and use the device to repair it.  It is truly tragic that this graphical glitch could not have been fixed prior to releasing the game.

The sound effects, music, and voice acting, are as solid as you could imagine.  The voice actors bring to life some fairly underdeveloped characters and make their actions interesting and truly help set the stage for the compelling story that is being told.  The various sound effects seem to mark the presence of your enemies and help lend a creepy atmosphere.  There were even a few scenes where I jumped a little bit. 

While Singularity does feature a multiplayer component, my short time with it didn’t leave me with much of an impression, and it felt to me like this was another single player game that had a multiplayer component thrown on just as a bullet point to investors and the media.

In the annals of the story-driven FPS games, Singularity deserves mention in the list of the greats.  It belongs at least in the same discussions as Half-Life and BioShock, when we discuss the great ones.  I fear that Activision truly missed out on an opportunity to market and generate hype for a fascinating new IP.  Instead, this game will find itself quietly arriving on the underrated greats list, full of games about which gamers just never had a chance to get excited.  As a single player experience, I found Singularity to be exciting, innovative, and ultimately featuring a well-written story with some truly memorable set pieces that will rank amongst some of my favorites in the genre.  Despite some graphical setbacks, Singularity overcomes its inadequacies to present a solid and worthwhile experience for fans of story-driven gaming.

 

Note: I neglected to mention that Singularity actually contains three different endings, and they all deserve to be seen, as they all feature some fairly cleverly writing.

 
8.3/10
Gameplay: 9


Graphics: 7


Sound: 9


Value: 9


 

One Response to Singularity Review

  1. youreviltwin says:

    Excellent review.
    Just to let you know, the texture bug you mentioned has been fixed by an official 1.1 patch, released several weeks ago. (Though the Steam version was only updated recently.)
    Your description that the Katorga-12 facility feels like a character in itself really hit the nail on the head. When it comes to the gameplay mechanics Raven Software recycled their favourite features of Half-Life and Bioshock, but they really put their heart and soul into creating a creepy but convincing environment full of strange phenomena. It oozes atmosphere, and there is great attention to detail. And since the shooter market is currently dominated by "realistic" Modern Warfare clones, a game that apes Half-Life and Bioshock is no bad thing. Valve seems to be in no hurry to release Half-Life 2: Episode Two, so I'm happy to get my Half-Lifey goodness where I can get it. And I found Singularity to be a far more interesting spiritual succesor to Bioshock than the official Bioshock 2!
    It is worth checking out Raven Software's official Singularity developer blog, some facinating stuff about the game's design.
    I was pleasantly surprised by the multiplayer. Rather than an obvious deathmatch game, they went with a humans versus creatures scenario like Natural Selection or Left 4 Dead or Aliens vs Predator. It is especially fun playing as a Revert and vomiting on your enemies and planting deadly biological proximity mines in sneaky places. Or being a Phase Tick that crawls around on the walls and ceiling and then leaps onto a soldier and posesses him, gaining his appearence, weapons and abilities. (And the human weapons are actually deadlier when used against other humans!) Each game has two rounds, so everyone gets a chance to be both human and creature. Of the two gameplay modes the objective-based Extermination mode is the more fun as a wider range of player classes, weapons and abilities are more useful when trying to capture/defend objectives.
    It's tricky getting into a multiplayer game as there are only enough players at certain times of the day. I think this problem got worse after the version 1.1 patch, as the game does not have an auto-update feature and many people do not know about the patch. Also, for some reason the Steam version of the game was not updated until a couple of weeks later.

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Singularity Boxart

Info

  • Developer: Raven Software
  • Publisher: Activision
  • Genre: FPS
  • Release Date: January 28, 2015
  • Link: The Official Site
  • ESRB Rating:
Mature

Minimum Requirements

• Win XP/Vista/7
• Intel Pentium D (dual core) 2.8GHz or AMD Athlon X2 4800+ CPU
• 1GB of RAM
• DirectX 9.0c-compliant 256MB GPU
• DirectX 9.0c
• 8GB HDD Space

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