Written : Friday, July 16, 2010
By: Lee Abrahams (GT: jackanape)
The concept of time travel has made for a number of great films and books, but far fewer truly memorable games. There are titles that have dabbled with the idea to good effect, such as Prince of Persia, but for the full blown effect you would have to look at something like Timeshift or even Braid. How can such a great concept be so underused? Here then is the answer to that question, in both the positive and negative respects, as we have a tightly paced shooter that does not quite make the most of its time controlling potential. Ladies and gents, meet Singularity.
Would it be too late to shout “He’s behind you”?
Raven Software are no strangers to shooters dealing with weird subject matter, after all they handled the latest Wolfenstein game – a series well known for its mix of Nazis and supernatural powers. On this occasion it is time to create beautiful music out of a medley of Soviet evildoers and time bending shenanigans. Considering the Cold War no doubt led to an endless race for new technologies and ideas, this seems to be the perfect setting to revive old rivalries and indulge in a bit of scientific melodrama.
The opening of Singularity introduces you to our hero, the bizarrely named Nate Renko, and his checkered past. Your current assignment is to investigate the source of a mysterious radiation coming from a Russian island. Obviously things take a turn for the worst when it's discovered that scientists there were toying haphazardly with time via a mysterious material, Element 99. Considering they were doing this work back in the 1950s, you can imagine what kind of chaos ensued. Unfortunately those effects are seeping into the current time frame and it's up to you to clean them up, which results in a ruckus with Soviet soldiers, reverted humans and bizarre creatures. All in a day's work.
What follows is a tightly controlled shooter that is made more interesting by the addition of a Time Manipulation Device. This little gizmo allows you to age or revert items in order to solve puzzles, acquire ammo or even wreak havoc on your enemies. Time bubbles to slow down your foes, aging them into dust and controlling bullets are all part and parcel of your unique arsenal. It is these powers that help to differentiate Singularity from any number of like minded titles, although by the same token, it is here that some of the limitations shine through as well. While the mix of enemies and powers do manage to keep things interesting, and the variety of both is nicely balanced as is the number of ways at your disposal to offing said foes, the puzzle aspect of the game is a bit more hit and miss. Some of them are genuinely intriguing while others are mind bogglingly simple, though at least they always serve to break up the action and raise the game above the norm. After half an hour blazing away at troops and crazed creatures, it is nice to have a few moments when you use that bit of grey matter, although it is always apparent that the action takes precedence over the thinking aspects.
How to look like a generic soldier 101.
Still, the game plays out superbly aside from that and the mix of time related puzzles and out-and-out blasting sessions are superbly played out. The story tends to become ridiculous at times, and the Russian accents hardly help matters either as they border on the absurd, but at least the narrative makes for some impressive set pieces. It's easy to see where some of the inspiration has come from, at times too easy, as the game draws on elements from any number of other titles most notably Bioshock – although it never quite manages to hit the same giddy heights as the games it so readily apes.
Regardless, you will find the whole story keeps you entertained from start to finish though probably not enough to warrant a second playthrough. It is certainly clever to be able to age locks into dust or age crates into pieces and then reassemble them, but when that is all you are doing, over and over, then the novelty soon begins to wear off. The whole game runs along smoothly and you are drip-fed powers to keep things interesting, but those powers feel secondary to the actual shooting. Almost as if they were added in as a slight afterthought rather than being the main focus. It's a shame that a bit more imagination could not have been shown really.
The eerie, frozen nature of combat.
Once you have sampled the delights of the single player, you can head online and enjoy something a bit different. First up, the bad news: there are only two games modes and not really enough maps. The two modes are Extermination, whereby teams duke it out attacking and defending objectives. The other is more of a straight up deathmatch between squads of troops and some of the game's fun creature classes. What makes the online so interesting is the class system of the two sides. The soldiers can use time powers to varying degrees, for example, for a speed boost or to heal teammates. All hunky dory. The real fun comes from the creatures though, who, while a bit tougher to get to grips with, provide much more entertainment when you do. Spawning barrels to lob at enemies, vomiting over friend and foe alike to either slow them down or heal them, and, best of all, being able to possess the opposition and turn them on your foes. All good fun, although sadly the limited number of modes and fairly small community at present mean you might not get as many kicks out of it as you'd quite like.
On the achievements side of things, this is a fairly manageable 1k, if a touch on the predictable side. You will be awarded for using certain weapons so many times, certain powers so many times and just generally making it through the game. Those wanting a swift resolution had better begin the game on hard difficulty as well or they can look forward to a second playthrough. Multiplayer will also require a good investment of your time as cranking out 100 Extermination matches will be a nice time sink. Nothing too taxing on the whole, but barring a couple of fun references that see you rewarded with an achievement, there is nothing to write home about. Especially considering with the time style shenanigans, there was a real chance for some clever ideas here too.
At first Singularity will be a case of ‘seen it all before’ and some of the similarities can be striking when you compare the title to other games. However, beneath the surface lurks a thoroughly enjoyable shooter that is a little less cerebral than perhaps it hoped to be. Still, with a solid single player and a fun multiplayer offering, it would not be hard to get sucked into this game for a while. Go into it without any prejudice or preconceived notions and you will have a ball.
Is it possible to portray Russians without giving them ridiculously over the top accents? Maybe one day we will find out. Couple the vocals with some dull music and it's a fairly rough package.
Superb at times and yet choppy at others. Aside from a few animation glitches, you should be able to really enjoy the action. A good variety of foes and some neat one off moments really stand out.
A well paced, fraught shooter that has enough to see and do to keep you interested, not to mention the fact the pacing and careful introduction of powers is expertly controlled.
A little hackneyed in places and the time powers never feel that innovative, still there are some superb one off moments and the game as a whole zips along nicely. The multiplayer is also fun, if a touch lacking in variety once the initial novelty wears off.
A fairly drab list mainly comprised of getting kills with certain weapons and powers, as well as getting through the story of course. You will also have to sink a fair bit of time into the online modes as well, which would not be so bad if there were a few more players to actually go up against.
A frenetic and fun title that is held short of true greatness by a lack of imagination in places, with a story that is only so-so and a multiplayer that needs a few more modes (and players) to be truly satisfying. Having said that, for a good old fashioned bit of entertainment, Singularity will not steer you far wrong.