How do you choose which new shooters to play? If I didn’t just play all of them, which I do, I would look for something with inventive combat and a compelling plot. A lot of gamers would argue that plot is unimportant, but with so many decently produced shooters out there, you might as well go for the ones that really draw you in.
Singularity (PC, PlayStation 3 [reviewed], Xbox 360)
Developer: Raven Software
Released: June 25, 2011
Singularity, from the reliably not-terrible Raven, gives you an interesting array of weapons and powers, and it could by some stretch of the imagination (a not very creative imagination) be seen as having unique and innovative combat. You’ve got your old standards: pistol, assault rifle, shotgun, sniper rifle, rocket launcher. You’ve got some other weapons: a rifle that lets you steer the explosive rounds it fires; a grenade launcher; a gun that shoots spikes that explode about a second after they stick in the baddies. And you’ve got powers granted by a time machine on your wrist: you can “age” and “de-age” objects and enemies; you throw things; you can create a bubble that stops time inside it; you can fire off a telekinetic blast that knocks people down.
But all that is in service to one of the worst stories I’ve seen in a game on top of design work I would kindly describe as derivative. And it all goes wrong from the very beginning.
Singularity opens with a briefing about what you’re getting into: there’s an island off the eastern coast of Russia where the Soviet Union discovered a powerful new element called E99 in the 50s, and they did all kinds of weird experiments there until a huge accident of some sort destroyed it all. The US detected an energy source coming from it recently, and so they’re sending you in to see what’s up. Then you’re on a helicopter with Nolan North flying in, and a blue explosion knocks you out of the sky, and you find yourself on a burning dock. From the very beginning, because there is no lead-in whatsoever, I felt intense ennui toward the game.
In order to avoid any spoilers, I’ll just nitpick my way through the rest of this, point by point.
Singularity is a first person shooter, and in one of the grand and arbitrary FPS traditions, your character does not speak. From the moment you hit that dock, this is a problem, because Nolan North begins yelling in your ear for any survivors to meet up with him. But because you’re mute, you give no response, ruining the player’s suspension of disbelief from the first moments of the game.
Being marooned on a secret Soviet island will naturally lead gamers to be curious about it, and Raven places notes and audio recordings all around to satisfy that curiosity. Unfortunately, the game often has you travelling around with an NPC on some urgent mission, and so it makes little sense for you to stop and listen to audio logs while these NPCs yell at you to keep going.
You’ll find yourself time travelling several times in this game and drastically altering the world outside the island. One-hundred percent of the stakes in the game involve off-island events. Yet there are monsters on the island. The monsters, you learn early on, were created by the radiation fallout caused by the E99-powered singularity machine exploding, an event that ended the island’s experiments by way of killing most of the people and destroying most everything on the island. But beyond that, the monsters have no reason to exist. They aren’t relevent to the plot even a little bit, because they are only a side effect of events in the 50s, and the consequences of history being changed has nothing to do with them.
So radiation created the monsters, but with your wrist time machine can also create some of the exact same mutants the radiation made. And when you, late in the game, encounter an area flooded with poison gas, you see that the gas also created some of these exact mutants. Why would these three very different things all manage to turn people into this very specific type of mutants?
It may be fun that your time machine allows you to pick up and throw large objects, but why does it do that? It’s a time-altering device.
So aging and de-aging things sounds cool, huh? But while it may be an aid in combat, the other uses for it are very mundane, like fixing stairs and solving box puzzles. And the box puzzles, holy s**t. Every time you think you’re stuck in the game, your problems can be solved by moving a box so you can climb on something, or making the box small, putting it under a garage door and then making it big again to open the door. And you use the exact same kind of empty box every time.
And the whole time travel thing. The entirety of the plot hinges on it, and after the first instance of it, in which you save a guy who would have died in a fire, it doesn’t hold up to even a small amount of scrutiny. The points in time to which you travel, though they are all in the same year, are completely arbitrary and no one ever says it can be controlled, despite your character occasionally being able to travel to a specific point in time and space when the plot demands it.
On top of that, so many characters seem to know exactly what is going on and how time has been changed, even though there’s no reason for a scientist in the 50s to know that. There is some hint that your character tells them what’s up at some point, but since the entire game takes place from your perspective and you don’t speak, this merely comes off as a giant continuity error.
So the whole game revolves around a pair of dueling scientists who were working on the island in 1955. And they’re still alive and as vital as ever in 2010. At first I assumed this was because of the time machine stuff, but the game never even hints at this being the case, and they even marvel aloud at how you haven’t aged since they saw you in your time-traveling adventures. These two were the highest ranking folks on the island in ’55, and the game wants you to assume that 55 years later, they aren’t old as hell or dead of natural causes.
Eh, who cares about spoilers? Highlight the following text for spoilers. [spoilers] It seems like, after everything changed because you saved a guy from dying 1955, the solution to this would be obvious: go back and kill the guy. Yet no one in the game thinks of this, and instead you’re sent around on all sorts of errands in order to destroy the the singularity machine that brought the bad guy into power. You go back to 1955 and do this, and when you come back to the present, the villain shows up and gloats that, derp, all he had to do was rebuild it. Then it’s pointed out to you that all you have to do is go back and prevent yourself from saving the villain in the first place. That’s what kind of dumb game this is. But wait. The singularity machine exploding is what caused the whole island to be all f**ked up anyway, and it’s still f**ked up, so I guess it blew up a second time. And if the singularity machine is what gave the bad guy his power, then why does he have power even though the machine is still broken because it exploded? Jesus.[/spoilers]
Alright, so those design issues I mentioned earlier. If you’ve played Bioshock, you’ve played this game. Audio logs? Check. Gather’s Garden and Power to the People machines? Check. Textures and water effects that look like they were stolen from the 2K servers? Check. Right hand for shooting guns and left hand for using powers? Check. Power cells for your left-hand time machine scattered around the island? Check. An identical HUD? Check. A mute player character dropped unceremoniously into a crazy mess? Check.
Bioshock may be the main game they borrowed from, but it’s not the only one. It’s got the Half-Life 2 gravity gun, as mentioned, and there’s a beam of energy flying into a hole in the sky that looks suspiciously like the Combine portal from Episode Two. And then the time machine powers and their progression is basically what Raven gave us in Wolfenstein.
OK, but you just wanna know how it plays. Well, it plays exactly like last year’s Wolfenstein, which Raven also developed, down to the powers you use, and that’s not bad at all, because I mostly enjoyed that game. Your weapons work like they’re supposed to, and you never feel like you’re battling the controls as much are you’re battling the bad guys. Fighting the creatures, on the other hand, is less exciting. Look, developers, when a shotgun blast to the face doesn’t take down an enemy, it really ought to at least knock it back or something, like in Uncharted. But when you’ve got four mutants charging at you in this game, those shotgun blasts do nothing, which means you’re definitely going to get mauled as the environments are too small to allow you to run in circles to avoid them. You’ll get powers as the game progresses that help you with this, but that doesn’t make the earlier sections less annoying.
But, yeah, once you’re fully powered up, the game can be a blast, when it isn’t hitting you with legions of exploding bugs. It becomes a perfectly adequate and fun shooter in the end.
And beyond that you’ve got a pretty barebones creatures vs. soldiers multiplayer aspect that takes away the cool powers and is basically a bore. The very definition of tacked-on multiplayer.
In the end, I can’t recommend this game. There’s so little original thought and the story is just so awful from the start that I just can’t find a good reason to play this game. There are legions of shooters out there with gameplay as good as or better, and most of them have the good graces to provide you with, if not a great story, at least one that is barebones enough that it doesn’t get in the way.
I never felt like I was wasting my time with this game. That’s actually high praise considering how many games I typically juggle. But the problem is that I don’t feel like I got anything out of playing it either.
If you get Singularity, you’ll get an mostly average but at times excellent shooter. If that sounds good to you, buy it. Otherwise, just keep on moving and save your money for something else.
- A fun shooter once you’re powered up
- Good weapon variety
- Compelling idea
- Awful and confusing story rife with continuity and logical errors
- Fighting monsters is not enjoyable
- Derivative design
- Tacked-on multiplayer
- Pointlessly mute protagonist