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When I played Singularity, I didn’t expect much. I expected another one-shot fps with forgettable characters, barren gameplay and a worse plot. While some predictions were true, many were not, as this game maintains a vibrant and engaging atmosphere as soon as you begin. Singularity provides us with a smattering of genre conventions and gimmicks, but manages to present each one with perfect timing and execution. The enemies are varied and force you to adopt new tactics, from teleporting phase zombies, to Russian soldiers, to E99 ticks that attempt to swarm you with sheer number. It’s actually a pretty good game and ends right around the time it begins to get monotonous (thanks to that kickass minigun).
Singularity’s plot is fairly engaging, if a bit one-dimensional and corny. Your player character is a US soldier by the name of Nate Renko, sent as part of a team to investigate a lone island, Katorga-12, off Russia that has been emitting a strange energy. Apparently the island is rich with a mineral known as Element 99, a substance that when properly manipulated can alter time. A Soviet installation was built in the 1950s in order to study this E99 but after a terrible accident the project was cancelled. However, the player’s actions shortly after landing alter this timeline to accidentally make radical changes to the present. In order to rectify the situation, the player is granted the TMD (Time Manipulation Device), a wrist mounted tool that provides the user with a variety of time powers that runs on E99. The TMD is a vital tool if you are to successfully navigate Katorga-12. As you progress through the stages, your TMD will gain an array of abilities, from time-reverting destroyed environment objects to a viable state, to creating pockets of slow-time (to stop bullets and fast-moving objects), to exploding and zombifying enemies.
The material that is scattered all over the island isn’t just for the former residents to enjoy. Element 99 serves as the game’s currency and can be found throughout in caches to be found by the player. As E99 is accumulated, the player is allowed to buy upgrades to a variety of aspects of the player’s character, such as health, TMD power capacity, specific bonuses and several others. The TMD is limited by a E99 bar, acting like the EVE bar from Bioshock or a mana bar in other games; this meter is depleted by power use and is recharged through items or allowing it to regenerate. It is not connected to your currency E99, despite the names. There is not enough E99 to gain everything, so it is important to target powers that support your playing style. The last resource the player collects are weapon upgrade cases, a vital requirement for the more difficult areas. Each case found allows the player to make one upgrade to a chosen weapon in different categories: one increases damage, another capacity, and sometimes specific upgrades to special weapons.
While paced well, with suspense-building sequences spaced in-between intense combat segments, the objectives are often not particularly impressive. The game feeds you micromanaged instructions that feel like hand-holding; the objectives themselves mostly concern flipping a switch or accomplishing some other mundane task. Despite this, the level design is creative and fantastic, with exciting encounters and set-piece boss battles that never quite wear out their welcome or become stale or boring. The challenges that you face are different and intelligent enough that it requires you to change up your weapons and powers to find one that works in a given situation. There are some situations that required clever manipulation of a remote controlled grenade; it had to be rolled through a tiny hole in a wall to blow up a target that was invulnerable to any other attacks. Another has you fight a massive E99 mutant on a rail bridge over a cloudy canyon, forcing you to continually advance to avoid being thrown off AND shoot the mutant’s giant glowing weak spots.
Singularity appropriates many features from other popular games in order to provide a polished and smooth experience. There are audio tapes scattered around like in System Shock, Doom 3, Bioshock, etc. that provide you with background and personality for the inhabitants of K-12. The TMD allows you to pick up objects and move them around the Gravity Gun from HL2. For a game that is very conventional in that most of these features are becoming common, the health system is refreshingly old-school and similar to Bioshock’s health packs and upgradeable health bars. While the game uses the Unreal 3 engine, it unfortunately doesn’t use it to the fullest, as it uses flat lighting and often uses low resolution textures; it looks dated in comparison to other current-gen titles.
The multiplayer is as diverse as the single-player, allowing you to take the form of either a human or one of the mutants roaming the island in a team-based deathmatch and attack and defend scenario. In each match, players can choose special perks and bonuses to customize their character, allowing for different powers with the TMD if human or enhanced strengths for the mutants. While the humans get the TMD to use as a unique power, the mutants are granted an impressive array of skills that are reflected in the single-player campaign. The players take the form of Reverts (which heal and inflict status effects on enemies), Zeks (which can create and throw barrels) and E99 Ticks (which can mind control opponents if they can avoid being destroyed). It’s fast and furious and the variety of options keeps the strategies fresh.
Singularity takes many elements from more original and successful games to create a matrix of popular features. The game transcends this to become greater than the sum of its parts, forming a fun and entertaining experience on its own. Despite this, it still carries some problems that detract; it has dated graphics that don’t show off as well as it could, as well as a shallow story that lasts just long enough to not become boring and repetitive. The tools are varied and entertaining, and puzzles force the player to reconsider tactics and think in creative ways. While it doesn’t aspire to depth or replayability, the multiplayer is interesting enough to last a while. For this reason, it would definitely qualify as a rental if not a purchase.