Monday, July 23, 2012

Back to the Singularity

I always meant to play Singularity. I remember seeing the trailer at one E3 and thinking “Yes! I want to play that!” Especially with it being Raven Software being behind it. I loved their early FPS but had forgotten about them in the deluge of X-Men games they did post Jedi Academy. Somehow though I lost track of it. It came out and I just never got round to it. When GAME had its financial woes near the start of the year I finally managed to get hold of a copy.

Singularity is one of those first person shooters that wears its Half-Life 2 and BioShock influences clearly on its sleeve. It even has a crazy device that takes inspiration from the gravity gun and bits of the story slowly unfolding by sound recordings scattered about the island. There's even a twist just like the “Would you kindly” that doesn't quite work as well. It wasn't helped that I'd guessed it already either.

It starts with you crash landing at an abandoned Soviet testing facility and something clearly is quite screwy. Suddenly, and quite unexpectedly, its November 5th 1955 (I'm ashamed to admit it was quite late in the game that I realised that was a Back to the Future reference) and you accidentally alter history for the worse by trying to help. On your return to the present the game begins properly, and its bloody scary to start with. Wonderful music, brief glimpses of what-the-fuck-was-that, your only weapon a pistol with limited bullets, chilling tales from the civilians on the island that didn't have a clue what was happening. The only bit that falls flat during all this is the well used trek through a school.

Once you meet up with the only surviving member of your squad the tension drops a little, mainly because you now have an automatic weapon in your hands. By the time you get the Time Manipulation Device it more or less totally disappears, because lets face it, it's hard to be scared when you have a super weapon strapped to your arm.

That's not to say the game falls apart at this point, quite the opposite, it just changes why it's awesome. With the TMD in hand you slowly start to uncover what the hell is going on and set about fixing your massive cock up. You also gain some serious time powers, from ageing soldiers to creating pockets of stopped time, that make for some fun gameplay.

Your early jaunts between past and present are done brilliantly, the world changing to reflect your interference and you really feel the joy of a time travel story done well. However, after the third trip back its a device that isn't played with quite enough. It's then made all the worse when the mysterious person leaving messages for you says “only you and me know about the changes” except the very next NPC around the corner just rolls with the whole thing and isn't surprised at all by you turning up and is ready to proceed with the plan.

It also suffers from the Silent Protagonist problem. I understand why some games do this, but here I really felt the story could have been helped with your own character at first being completely lost as to what was going on and slowly becoming the only person that has a real handle on how things progress.

Singularity is a solid game, and a damn sight lot of fun. It doesn't push the genre forward, just plays off factors that other games brought to the party. But in today's world of constant military shooters it reminds us what else first person shooters can be. It's a shame that after Singularity Activision have stuck Raven with developing UI and DLC for the behemoth that is Call of Duty. This shows they can do a damn fine job when they're allowed to stretch their wings a little.
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