Singularity (PS3) Review

Singularity (PS3) Review
Dead Rising 2 (XBOX 360) Review 3

Singularity is essentially Half-Life lite. It’s a first-person shooter that combines conventional military hardware with abstract futuristic weaponry in a battle against faceless soldiers and nuclear mutants. You take orders from an old scientist and his attractive yet pragmatic sidekick while using a gravity gun to work your way through a series of fading post-apocalyptic environments. In fact, time is all that separates one game from the other.

In Singularity, you play Nate Renko, an American soldier who stumbles through a time warp in an abandoned Soviet research facility and inadvertently saves the life of a Communist dictator in 1955. The ensuing fallout results in a Russian victory in the Cold War, so it’s up to you to go back and restore the world to its original state. The whole endeavor is a massive Back to the Future-like time paradox, but it’s easy enough to follow if you’re willing to swallow a lot of pseudo-scientific gobbledygook.

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A wonderful gadget called the Time Manipulation Device ties the story and gameplay together. The TMD is not a time machine, so you can’t travel through time at will. You can, however, manipulate the chronological composition of your surroundings, which mainly involves tinkering with objects in various states of decay. Repairing collapsed stairwells and restoring broken machinery are just a few of the possibilities, and it’s all seamlessly integrated into the natural flow of the game. Experimenting with your arsenal is a real treat that only gets better as you spend more time on the battlefield.

The energy-infused rifle that allows you to direct bullets in slow motion is just the beginning. Zapping people with the TMD instantly turns them to dust, while zapping them twice turns soldiers into slobbering mutants who rip their comrades to shreds while you patiently munch on popcorn. The gravity gun allows you to shoot rockets and grenades back at enemies, while gas canisters, propane tanks and liquid nitrogen all make for very serviceable projectiles.

Unfortunately, the practical realities of warfare prevent combat from fulfilling its variable potential. Battles tend to steer you toward using a particular weapon, and the mechanics aren’t smooth enough to allow for a particularly dynamic strategy; switching from a shotgun to the TMD takes several agonizing half-seconds longer than it should, so you’ll take a lot of punishment if you try to get too clever. You’re usually better off unloading with whatever weapon you’re carrying.

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The combat is still functional, and it eventually becomes possible to mix and match as you get more familiar with the timing of the controls, but it’s just not as good as it could have been, which is an apt summary for the entire game. Singularity sets itself up as a multigenerational sci-fi caper in which you must use the past to change the present. The game never fully materializes.

It’s a shame because the sections where you do get to jump through time stand out as some of the best shooter stages in recent memory. Sliding fifty-five years from a crumbling chamber to a busy break room full of guards creates some unexpectedly exciting set pieces, and there are enough tense moments to make Singularity worthwhile. Raven just doesn’t develop any of the more interesting mechanics; the chrono-light, for example, is forgotten almost as soon as it’s introduced, giving Singularity the incomplete feel of a project that was rushed out the door so the designers could go to lunch.

“This half-hearted design philosophy is reflected in Singularity’s flat difficulty curve.”

This half-hearted design philosophy is reflected in Singularity’s flat difficulty curve. You’ll beat it in about eight hours, which is disappointing, considering that the challenges are scaled for a game twice that length. An obstacle about three-quarters of the way through illustrates the problem. You’re trapped in a room with an inaccessible elevator and must carry a brick through a time rift to move forward.

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The solution is perfectly satisfying, but the blocked portal is an introductory puzzle designed to tease more complex temporal platforming. Unfortunately, it’s the only multidimensional task in the entire game, and earlier scenarios are similarly rudimentary. The complicated situations usually saved for later chapters are conspicuously absent, leaving you wanting more even after you’ve conquered everything the Singularity has to offer.

Enemy encounters don’t pose much of a threat. The Soviet soldiers are always wildly incompetent, though some of the mutants are surprisingly aggressive. Nevertheless, health kits are so plentiful that your life bar might as well regenerate, and the more dangerous enemies only appear for cameo appearances. One intense fight with a creature that resurrects other monsters is never repeated, even though it’s not a boss fight, and it’s not too hard to figure out that you should kill the medic first.

“Ultimately, Raven deserves credit for introducing some fun innovations to a stagnant first-person genre.”

There are some RPG elements, but they’re completely unremarkable and have a mediocre impact on the gameplay. The same goes for the lacklustre multiplayer, which won’t make anyone forget Call of Duty. Singularity also contains some spectacular instances of skull violence. A well-placed sniper shot will cause an enemy’s head to erupt in a torrent of bone shards and blood, and it remains awesome every time.

Ultimately, Raven deserves credit for introducing some fun innovations to a stagnant first-person genre. A 15-hour version of Singularity, with more complex chronological gameplay, would be a worthy rival to Half-Life 2 and BioShock in the pantheon of great sci-fi shooters. As it stands, Singularity is merely a good game with a slightly below-average execution of a slightly above-average idea. The rich material deserves a more ambitious presentation, and Singularity is too short to warrant anything more than a rental.

Final Thoughts

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