Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Review: Singularity (Xbox 360, Playstation 3, PC)

The difficulty that lies in reviewing a game like Singularity is that it’s impossible not to reference other, higher profiles in the first-person shooter genre to the point where it seems like the game is not being judged on it’s own merits. Indeed, players familiar with the Bioshock, Half-Life and F.E.A.R. games will immediately see similarities when playing Singularity, but where it succeeds is combining some of the best elements of all aforementioned games and creating a fun and engrossing FPS experience. Tired of multiplayer-focused shooters with a tacked-on campaign? Singularity might just be the game for you.

The backdrop to Singularity is the bleak and murky terrain of Katorga-12, a remote and largely unknown island in the Soviet Union on which the Stalin regime performed disastrous scientific experiments during the Cold War. They were experimenting with an unknown substance called E99 that would give them the most powerful weapon in the world and shift the balance of power and advance the Soviet Union. Unfortunately, E99 proved to be more volatile than anyone had imagined and the inhabitants of Katorga-12 have been transformed into mutants and psychos as a result. Flash forward to 2010 and you play as a US Air Force Pilot who investigates the strong radiation coming from the island and the game begins proper, with you having to unravel the history of Katorga-12 by traveling between the 1950’s and the present day with the aid of time portals and your Time Manipulation Device (TMD), a device attached to your left wrist that allows you to move time forward or backwards depending on your objectives. The story is further progressed through flashbacks and audio devices, wall scribblings and dilapidated chalk boards scattered throughout the game, giving fans of Bioshock a serious case of deja-vu.

The story involves the typical stock villains, double-crosses and some interesting sci-fi elements, but it’s nothing you haven’t seen before. In truth, the stories in most FPS games serves as little more than a binding element to tie the action and setpiece battles together, so Singularity must rely on it’s gameplay to sustain it as a worthy title. In that capacity, it succeeds in giving players an immersive FPS experience that is more focused on a single player campaign than a chaotic multiplayer that other shooters have on offer. The weapons are the usual mix of pistols, shotguns, assault rifles and explosives launchers, all of which can be upgraded by collecting E99 throughout the levels. The unique addition is the TMD, which allows you to rewind time and repair broken stairs and manipulate environmental obstacles, or move time ahead to rot the doors off of safes or turn enemies into dust. The most useful addition is the force field that throws down a bubble that slows down enemies and allows you to shoot them with ease, though this allows you to be cheap and lazily rely on it. The enemies you fight are a mix of mutants, army soldiers and a few bosses that are noticeably easier than the enemies you find throughout the game. The most difficult enemies by far are the exploding ticks that swarm you and explode, draining large quantities of your health. Strategic gameplay and smart use of your TMD is key to survival.

The gameplay and control scheme in Singularity is similar to other FPS titles, so genre veterans will have no trouble jumping into the action. Compared to other shooters, Singularity stands out as more of a story-based action game, very much in the vein of Bioshock and F.E.A.R. 2. The murky environments you traverse are effectively creepy, the open spaces and dilapidated buildings provide some variety in the setting and the on-rails segments do provide some heart-pumping moments. If there is a problem with the gameplay, it’s the static difficulty that doesn’t really ramp up as you progress through the game, so the multiple upgrades and character perks you obtain will leave you grossly overpowered and the enemies you encounter late in the game will pose little challenge. Even on the higher difficulty levels, most gamers of any skill level should be able to make it through unscathed.

Visually, Singularity is not going to win any awards for design or sound, and those weaned on the cinematic qualities of Call of Duty will no doubt find this game to be dated. However, the smoothness of the Unreal 3 game engine and the stutter-free gameplay makes up for any graphical shortcomings. The music in the game is understated but effective in accenting the mood of the particular scene, while the voice acting is a laughable mix of stereotypical Russian accents and poorly written dialogue, but it is forgivable given that the other elements in the game are more up to par.

The order of the day for most FPS titles is a robust multiplayer component, but sadly this is exactly what Singularity lacks. There are a few modes along the line of team death match and capture the flag, and the ability to play as both human and monsters is novel, but it doesn’t work well here. Playing as humans will leave you feeling underpowered and weak, plus the level progression does not provide any real sense of becoming more powerful. The same can be said for playing as the monsters, since the learning curve for using their abilities is high and their special attacks don’t seem as powerful as one would expect. Compounding this problem is the fact that the servers are sparsely populated, so you will be waiting a long time to find a match and even longer to get into one. This is clearly not the game of choice for those competitive players looking for a rich multiplayer experience.

Singularity is a solid shooter that most players have overlooked in favour of other, higher-profile titles, so hopefully more will give this a chance and enjoy the great gaming experience that it offers. In truth, it is derivative and does nothing new or innovative, but not every game has to; sometimes being good is good enough. Given that this is a budget title now and available across multiple platforms, there is little to lose in giving Singularity a chance. Multipayer-obsessed gamers need not apply, but those looking for a good single-player experience will be well served with this title.

Rating: 7.5/10

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