Singularity is one of those titles that sort of slipped under everyone’s radar. It got a decent amount of press (being featured in Game Informer) but then we didn’t hear much more about it and it was released with very little fanfare. Despite this error by Activision (color me surprised), Singularity was regarded as one of the more underrated titles of 2010. Having finally worked my way through it I have to agree. It reminds me a lot of the instant classic BioShock, something that was espoused by a great number of said critics for better or worse (some gave the game harsher scores because of the unmistakable similarities). But considering BioShock is one of my favorite games anything that follows along similar lines, even if is an unabashed rip-off, is okay with me…
During the worst years of the Cold War, Russian scientists have discovered a new element called E-99 on the hidden island of Katorga-12. This astonishing substance has some interesting properties, but there is an accident that virtually destroys the island. Flash forward 50 years, and a team of American special forces is sent in to see about a disturbance that was picked up via satellite. Naturally, your chopper crashes and you, playing as one Captain Renko, begin to search the island alone. As you explore the ruins you learn more about the horrors that happened there (via audio diaries and movies, again, very reminiscent of BioShock)… and soon discover that they never left… Renko isn’t alone on the island after all, here there be monsters... E-99 has mutated, well, pretty much everything
The singularity at the heart of Singularity allows events from the past to permeate the present, and even allows time travel by passing through rents in the space-time continuum. As Renko flits around the island and through time, you gradually uncover the truth about what happened there, but by doing so you MIGHT irrevocably change the present… er, future. Remember that scene in Back to the Future where Marty tells the Doc how he might have "accidentally bumped into his parents" and thus set off a chain of events that change the course of everything that follows? Similar thing here, although the consequences are slightly more severe... world domination by a mad Soviet dictator who rules through fear of an E-99 super weapon. I believe the term would be "whoops."
While the time traveling tale is cleverly told (with multiple possible endings that you can see without needing to play the game multiple times... thank you developer Raven, that's much appreciated), Renko suffers from what I'm going to start calling "silent protagonist syndrome." Without a voice of his own, you start to see him as more of an errand boy, constantly doing the whim of others. It leaves me muttering "Why can't you do some of this, huh?" under my breath, and I'm fairly sure Renko would be as well. This becomes a more glaring issue during the middle third of the game where, for me, the plot dragged a bit before reaching a satisfying conclusion.
The biggest draw of Singularity is one that you don’t receive initially… the TMD or Time Manipulation Device, which is powered by E-99. The TMD allows you to manipulate specific objects in time. For example, say your way is blocked by a rusty, broken staircase. By using the TMD you can revert the staircase backward through time till it’s brand new, allowing you to continue on your merry way. As you can imagine, this creates the opportunity for all sorts of ‘time’ related puzzles, not to mention interesting ways of dealing with enemies. Blasting a soldier with the TMD forward in time will age them rapidly to dust, while reversing the field, well… leaves a bit of a mess to clean up.
The gameplay is standard FPS, although the variety added by the TMD (again, much like the plasmids in BioShock) gives you more options. The guns themselves pack a satisfying wallop even if they are a bit twitchy. I’m particularly fond of the sniper rifle. Because of your ability to manipulate time, you can momentarily slow down time to line up headshot after headshot, popping them like watermelons. Then there is the 'Seeker' rifle which allows you to actually steer an explosive bullet in slow motion into your target… never ceased to leave a smile on my face. And those are just two examples, there are several other clever designs.
With so many cool weapons it's a pity you can only carry two at a time. However, there are plenty of weapons stations scattered about so you can change them up and try them all. At these stations you can also upgrade your weapons with the 'weapon tech' cases you find, or purchase them from the 'Augmentor.' This device is where you upgrade your TMD with the caches of E-99 that are scattered about the island and blueprints that were left behind. Sadly, I feel in both cases these were a bit too limited. You can only upgrade each weapon the same way (damage, clip size, and reload speed) which felt like a lost opportunity. Upgrading the TMD gives you some cool options but after I got the 'Scientist' upgrade which allows the possibility of getting double value when you find E-99 (and the fact that E-99 is such a valuable commodity) I never used another one.
As for the graphics they are decent, but by no means great. Functional would be the term I’d use… much like BioShock, although there are some texture loading issues. The sound work though, is excellent. The monsters that inhabit the island are constantly wailing and moaning, or knocking things over just out of sight. It really lends to the overall atmosphere which is certainly oppressive, that odd duality of utilitarian structure and nationalist propaganda, blown up and left to deteriorate. There are even film projectors that show 1950's era cartoons demonizing the United States and touting the righteousness of the Soviet Union.
As I've mentioned several times now, it's pretty obvious that Singularity has borrowed a lot from better known titles. The similarities to Bioshock for one are unavoidable. Audio logs, dual wielding guns and the TMD, even the graphics are familiar. The environment of Katorga-12, and the atmosphere that is created reminds me, in an overly sort of obvious way, a great deal of Rapture. The 'bullet-time' mechanic and steering in slow-mo have been done before as well. There is even a grenade launcher that, if you hold down the aim button, allows you to roll the explosive ball around and jump it. It's exactly the same mechanic as the morph ball in Metroid Prime.
That's not to say the the time travel story isn't clever and original in it's own way, nor the the horrors of Katorga-12 and the underlying message thought provoking. But due to the overly familiar mechanics, Singularity might lose a bit of it's character since it's difficult to not think of where you saw them first.
But you know what? I’m okay with all that… using such great games as inspiration, even in such an obvious, shameless way, is fine as long as it is a good game! It's been done, but with Singularity it's been done again well. Truth be told, I really enjoyed Singularity because of this rather than in-spite of it.
Score = 8.8 / 10