Singularity Review

By Abbie Heppe - Posted Jul 09, 2010

Singularity is a first-person sci-fi shooter that puts you on a mysterious island that it appears time forgot. Of course, nothing is as it seems, but the game's tension and potential are ultimately squandered. If you're looking for a fairly mindless shooter, you could do worse, but it never lives up to the superior games that it liberally borrows from to contruct its mechanics.

The Pros
  • Great concept
  • First half of game is interesting, scary, and fun
The Cons
  • Intrigue of the game tapers away as it progresses
  • Gameplay variety is lacking
  • Multiplayer is too simplistic to warrant much playtime

Singularity is a first-person sci-fi shooter that puts you on a mysterious island that it appears time forgot. Of course, nothing is as it seems, but unfortunately, the game’s tension and potential are ultimately squandered. If you’re looking for a fairly mindless shooter, you could do worse, but it never lives up to the superior games that it liberally borrows from to contruct its mechanics.

Singularity begins when a US patrol helicopter, investigating the source of a powerful surge that destroyed a military satellite crash, lands near Katorga-12, a mysterious island that seems to have been devoid of life since 1955. It's a striking intro, though unashamedly, the Bioshock comparisons will flow freely, as your character spends the first part of the game in a pseudo-survival horror nightmare fighting the hideously mutated denizens of the island while collecting audio recordings and self-upgrading with the scientific breakthroughs that are clearly the reason everything went to hell in the first place.

Sometimes - History Needs a Push

No pun intended, I was enraptured by the iconic Communist-era Russia motif, which colors Katorga-12, where scientists discovered a new element dubbed E99 to be used for Cold War weaponry and ultimately, time travel. Though graphically, the game’s nothing to call home about, the world presented in Singularity is eerie, has spectacular audio and helps the plotline grow more fascinating through ghostly images of the horrible past that unfold as you progress through the schools and living quarters of its previous inhabitants. The image I carried with me for the duration of the game was that of little children crawling under their desks in the way we were all taught to do in case of nuclear annihilation, only for the real world to reveal their corpses still tucked carefully away for future explorers to discover. Furniture? Not as safe as we all were taught.

Clearly, something is very wrong on Katorga-12 and you discover very quickly that the warring scientists on the island have (inadvertently?) re-written history in a rather unpleasant fashion and it is up to you to make things right. It’s a bit like the lesson we learned from “Back to the Future,” but with communism and crazy weapons. Your guidance in the game comes from a mysterious organization called Mir-12 and their operative, Kathryn. After completing the game, I’m still not sure the origins of Mir-12 or why there was a British lady waiting for me in the basement of an abandoned Russian mining facility, but she did bring along a convincing PowerPoint presentation and wasn’t trying to shoot me, so I accepted her mission. After all, the only thing warning me against Mir-12 was hastily scribbled chalk messages on the walls. I think I made a good choice.  You'll also collect notes from the island's inhabitants, some were so funny that I couldn't help but collect more -- I tip my hat to the writer who came up with these. As far as the rest of the plot, it’s best you discover it on your own.

Political Power Comes From the Barrel of a Gun

As you’d expect in any sci-fi shooter, Singularity has quite an arsenal. The Seeker allows you to control its bullet trajectory, though sadly, it stops upon contact, negating any double or triple kills, though it contacts with glorious slo-mo, limb-exploding gore. The time-toying TMD, also used in puzzle solving sequences, can revert enemies into mutated monsters (though not into easily squish-able infants, sadly) or age them into ash. I was initially afraid its main use would be to revert broken boxes back into box form (which happens), but it lends itself quite handily to combat.

Most of Singularity’s standard weapons (i.e. shotgun, assault rifle, pistol) become fairly useless once you acquire the auto-cannon (mini-gun) and the high-tech weapons. One of Singularity’s biggest shortcomings is that it never provides much incentive for you to use cool and creative ways to dispatch of your enemies; instead, you’ll often go for the simplest and most rote kill methods, since there’s nothing encouraging you to do otherwise. On a related side note, I was never sure how “in the know” the game’s silent protagonist was, but at the point, early on (pre-delving into the time travel aspects of the plot), where he picks up a sniper rifle that slows time, that would have been a good point for him to say “What the ****?”

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Your in-game technological advancement doesn't just come from weaponry. You can upgrade your TMD device to trap enemies in balls of stopped time, push them back with the item's melee and acquire perks that enhance its capabilities. I’m usually very reserved in upgrading weapons in shooters, saving resources for when they're needed, but I found it wasn’t necessary in Singularity. You could probably upgrade nothing, save one point when you're needlessly forced to, and still complete the game on normal with little difficulty. The most shameless annoyance is that restocking ammo in your guns costs resources, even though ammo is plentiful in the world and you probably won't run out.

Waiting for the Great Leap Forward

After some tense and fascinating hours and one clearly programmed scare that is rather clever (plus another where I'll admit I screamed), Singularity seems to lose its momentum. Potential is clearly established from the onset and the TMD allows tantalizing glimpses into how weird and twisted Singularity could get with its time travel mechanic. However, it feels underutilized and the game takes a turn for the generic. It never gets downright awful, but it never does anything special, either. With the elements inarguably borrowed from core action and shooter titles like Bioshock, Dead Space, and Half-Life 2, you'd expect the plot to turn into something mind-blowingly fantastic. Instead, you run through buildings and kill things (and if you forget where to go, there's a Dead Space-ish ability that shows you). The enemies never get too impressive and the end-game, which is the first time choice is introduced to the player, belies what could have been with a bit more time, money or more importantly, creativity, whichever of those crippled the latter part of the game.

I've read gaming statistic reports indicating that many times, only 20% of people finish a game and that seems what Singularity is banking on. I actually like the pay-off, but nothing the main character does in the game, even if he's just a grunt used to further the plotline, actually lends any weight to the final moments. For a game that is so initially engaging, it’s solely due to the world and not the characters. Ultimately, it is the mindless shooter fun (and abbreviated length) of Singularity that encourages replayability and not the alternate endings, which you can experience by loading the last save of the game three times. 

Each According to His Abilities

It's always gratifying to see a shooter take a deviation from the standard auspices of FPS multiplayer, mostly because practiced players only recognize the strongest of contenders.  Singularity offers two modes, both class-based: One is straight deathmatch -- soldiers vs. creatures -- and Extermination is a “capture the points” objective-based mode with the same premise.

Off the bat, there needed to be some tutorial regarding the Creature classes, as you don't play them in the single-player campaign, but the learning process is quick. It’s rather barebones. There’s no stat-tracking. It’s a lot less like Left 4 Dead and a lot more like The Darkness' tepid multiplayer mode. As a soldier, you can choose from weapons available in single-player with various mild perks and the creature classes, though far more interesting, are relegated to vomiting, throwing explosive barrels, and functioning as a Headcrab or a Tank. I'm very drawn towards healer classes, which exist on both sides; It ended up being the weakest selection, point-wise, but the most gratifying personally.  There is some mindless potential in all of it, but it’ll never take you away from your main multiplayer shooters of choice. Given more time, or just some slight alterations to lobbies, class selection (which trying to change mid-game failed multiple times for me) or an attempt to flesh it out beyond “tacked-on” would have furthered its longevity, but as it stands, Singularity’s single player campaign outstrips its multiplayer.

I've Run Out of Short-Winded Quotes About Communism

Singularity takes great cues from popular FPS titles and a significant portion of the experience is tense, intriguing and makes you feel like something spectacular is around the corner. Unfortunately, the opposite happens as you start to hit the finish line. The environments become blander, the gameplay more repetitive and the potential is ultimately squandered. The rifts in time and playful nature of the game makes it seem like Singularity could have taken a far more ambitious path but never does. That also goes for its multiplayer, which doesn’t do much to pull you away from your favorite online shooter. While I personally felt cheated by Singularity’s failure to deliver on its promise, if you’re one of those aforementioned gamers who never play to completion, you might not be disappointed. What Singularity does right, it does very well, but it needed to evolve into something far more unique and interesting than what it ultimately is.

Still want to play it? Why not rent it at Gamefly?