Bizarrely, Singularity has been one of the least hyped games of 2010. That wouldn’t be a concern to us if it was just another mediocre first person shooter, but it’s not. Raven Software’s first brand-new IP for ten years is actually one of the better first person shooters that we’ve played in recent years. It would therefore be a real travesty if its lack of publicity meant that some fans of the genre miss it.
Why Activision didn’t shout from the roof-tops about Singularity’s impressive weapon-set, well-paced action sequences and intriguing storyline we’ll never know. But in hindsight, when it reads many of the positive reviews that will undoubtedly be written about the game, it will probably wish it could get its hands on the FPS’s master weapon, the Time Manipulation Device (TMD,) to rewind time and do things differently. Okay, so there’s nothing remarkable about Singularity, but it does what it does very, very well to deliver a highly entertaining action game.
In many ways Singularity is a typical, old-school, fast-paced, first person shooter where blasting monsters and blowing heads clean off their shoulders is essentially what it’s all about. Also, like many other shooters, it lacks innovation and gains its influence from other games in the genre rather than conjuring up a batch of new ideas. In this case though, that’s not a criticism, because it borrows concepts from some great franchises. Furthermore, it implements them tremendously while building a world around some solid mechanics with impressive graphics, clever level design and enjoyable boss fights.
At times, Singularity mimics Bioshock’s appealing aesthetic, as does elements of the gameplay, such as collecting audio logs, or stopping off to use the Augmentor to upgrade weapons and gain perks. You’ll see Half Life’s influence in the way that you can manipulate objects (gravity gun style) and solve environmental puzzles, plus you’ll experience FEAR in its dimly lit corridors and occasional frights. It’s no coincidence either that you’ll also feel the studio’s Wolfenstein influence in its pacing, aggression and visual impact as you blow limbs clean off enemies.
Despite these similarities, Singularity still manages to feel fresh and exciting due to how well the developer has blended these ideas together and created an intuitive control scheme and appealing aesthetic. Even the storyline, despite being clichéd and over-the-top, drives things along nicely and is drip-fed to you through notes, audio logs, film clippings and well produced cut-scenes that do a great job to retain your interest and keep you eager enough to want to find out more.
The backdrop to the events in Singularity is the Russian’s search for Uranium in the 1950’s during The Cold War. Back then, the Russian government stumbled upon a powerful and rare element, codenamed E-99, and subsequently built a facility called Katarga-12 which they used to conduct field experiments in an attempt to harness its power. The Russians discovered that E-99 was also very volatile and, for reasons that you’ll be trying to uncover throughout the game, abandoned their secret experiments and buried the facility in the hope that it would never be found.
Fast forward to the present day and the Americans detect heavy radiation over the area where the facility is buried and fearing another Chernobyl disaster decides to investigate. They discover that the facility is riddled with flesh-eating monsters and full of secrets that you have to unveil. It’s a storyline that provides the perfect excuse to use a variety of human and high-tech weaponry to eliminate anything that stands in your way as you seek to uncover what the Russians were really up to.
What makes things a little different from many first person shooters is that you find yourself at points in the game passing through time rifts from the present day, killing mutants and scary big bosses one minute, before being transported back to the 1950s where Russian soldiers guard the facility. You move seamlessly between the two timelines and the experience is gelled together wonderfully by the intriguing storyline that sees you meeting up with an underground group called MIR-12 who are also seeking to expose Russia’s secret experiments.
Just one part of Singularity’s appeal is the brilliantly designed secret Russian facility of Katurga-12. This is a linear adventure, but there’s plenty of opportunity to stray off the beaten track to watch old film footage on projectors, search for notes from citizens who’ve since abandoned the facility (or been turned into monsters) and listen to audio logs that help to build the storyline very nicely. It’s an environment that contains some surprises and there’s always a sense that you’ll find something new to experience just around the corner.
The main bulk of gameplay involves moving through Katarga-12 taking down enemies, but what makes things more interesting is your ability to manipulate time. Time can be used as a weapon, or to overcome obstacles and work your way from one area to the next. There’s the standard weapon set here, including sniper rifles, shotguns and assault rifles – and they all handle impeccably well – but it’s really when you get your hands on the high tech prototypes and special time manipulating powers that things get really interesting.
Weapons, such as the "Seeker," which activates slow-mo and allows you to steer the bullet with the right analog stick, or "Deadlock" which gives you the ability to freeze time, all add an extra layer of strategy to the action. There’s the “Impulse,” that shoots a burst of energy at enemies throwing them backwards or blasting their limbs off. You can levitate and move objects around, such as exploding barrels that you can chuck at enemies, and you can rewind time to age objects to bring them back to a working state or fast forward time to perhaps turn an enemy into dust. Though you’re generally battling your way through either mutants or soldiers, there’s a nice variation to the combat and the mechanics and control scheme are spot on, ensuring that you can switch in between weapons swiftly and intuitively.
These are all features we’ve seen before in other shooters, but Singularity is at its very best when you have to use a blend of different weapons and special powers together in order to get through an area. Ammo is deliberately scarce which means that you often have to switch between weapons and use a range of the powers given to you to progress. During intense moments, for example, you might want to use" Deadlock" to freeze things giving you vital moments to switch to your shotgun and take down enemies with ease. Or you might want to rewind time to fix a broken crate so that you can then pilfer its original contents, such as a med-pack or the precious E-99 that you collect on your journey allowing you to upgrade weapons.
You also have to use a combination of your powers to solve environmental puzzles, for example, rewinding time to fix a broken crate so you can stand on it to hop over a fence, and then fast-forwarding it to break it again to make it smaller, allowing you to then levitate it through a small gap to bring it through to the next area where you’ll need it to progress. These moments provide an entertaining respite in between bouts of fast-paced action and though you’re often just simply shifting crates around there’s a number of challenging and enjoyable scenarios.
So, it’s fair to say we’ve had a lot of fun playing Singularity, but that doesn’t mean it’s perfect. The A.I., for example, lacks different behavioral patterns and can therefore be quite predictable. You expect mutants to rush toward you haphazardly at any given opportunity, but the Russian soldiers tend to do the same, taking up identical positions time and time again – you’ll notice this when you die and have to replay an area. When you know where they’re going to spring from it makes it pretty simple to work out what you need to do to get past them.
Knowing what you need to do though doesn’t always mean it’s going to be easy in practice. This is because there’s a real lack of ammo lying around for many of your weapons. Though it’s probably a deliberate move to ensure that you have to use special powers alongside the standard weapons, the lack of ammo can be frustrating. Even on Easy setting, we’ve had to revert back to previous save points because we’ve totally ran out of ammo and been surrounded by enemies with no place to go.
It’s a good job then that the upgrade system was included. You’ll see fairly early on, when soldiers and mutants descend on your position rapidly, that you’ll need to work on upgrades and collect E-99 as much as possible. The upgrade system is simple (larger clips, quicker re-loads etc.,) but works very well and you can really see how much difference it makes, for example, in the amount of hit damage you’ll cause as a result of upgrading.
It’s clear that Raven Software has tried hard to create an all-round enjoyable experience, and it’s really paid dividends. Blowing heads and limbs off soldiers has never been so much fun and the uncluttered HUD, coupled with the pacy gameplay lends in hand in providing a level of immersion that will soon have you plowing through the game without even looking at the clock. Singularity has really surprised us. It feels like you’re playing a classic shooter from many years ago, and we love that. Throw in the fact that it has a decent storyline, solid graphics, silky smooth gameplay, great weapons and a multiplayer component to jump into once you’ve finished the campaign, and it’s difficult to see why this hasn’t received more attention pre-launch. Buy it, play it, enjoy it.