Singularity

I don’t play video games like a reviewer. I just don’t operate that way. The thought of being handed a game and tasked with marching through it without fail, clinically analyzing details and dropping endless notes on relative subjective qualities sounds like a great way to kill a fun game in the best of circumstances, and a march through hell in the worst. Besides, I am a finicky consumer of digital entertainment, easily distracted away from the tenuous thread of continuity that fuels my play. Even games I very much like are left half finished, like last week’s Olive Garden never-ending pasta bowl.

Oh, it was delicious, thank you, but I’m positively stuffed. I couldn’t possibly go down one more dark hallway or assign even the tiniest skill point.

So, when I finish any game’s single player entree, that means something. Even if it’s hard to quantify or measure exactly what that “something” may be, I have to recognize and appreciate the work of a game that can convince me to ride the long wave all the way in to shore. That is why, despite its many faults and shortcomings, I have to admit that Singularity will likely go down as one of my more enjoyable gaming experiences this year.

Now if only I could put my finger on why.

Singularity is a deeply flawed game. In fact, if I wanted to write a negative review of Raven’s most recent effort, I could do that pretty easily. Achingly linear and with a time-bending story that is best appreciated with minimal analysis from a distance on a day when you forgot your reading glasses at work, Singularity is a straight-down-the-line shooter with some cool super powers. I’m not entirely sure what innovation is in gaming anymore, but I suspect that even the most liberal definitions would still not apply here.

In the grand catalog of more of the same — assuming that this edition of more of the same called from around the year 2002 — Singularity has a secure entry.

But it ends not there, for this is game no one will call an exemplar of technical proficiency. The PC version of Singularity is plagued with texture streaming problems resulting in a game that all too frequently visually describes the world as a blurry and indistinct shadow of itself. Imagine if Monet were a KGB sleeper agent and you get the idea. And, the enemy AI’s skillful aptitude at getting themselves shot suggests that the real downfall of the Soviet military was born from the mismanagement of training which focused far too little on combat tactics and far too much on English as a Second Language. In short, the game is constantly pushing back against its own shortcomings like Sisyphus as played by Yakov Smirnoff. In Soviet Russia, boulder pushes you!

It is not the game that will make you learn to love PC shooters unless you are already a fan. So it's probably a damn good thing that I am.

Whatever negatives I may be able to conjure to convince you to save your money, you also need to know this. The legacy of Singularity is born from a heritage steeped in PC shooters. While widespread mood and setting comparisons to Bioshock are not without merit, the game that constantly sprung to my mind as I let slip my temporal wrath on the lost Soviet island of Katorga 12 was Half-Life 2.

What works in Singularity and rises above those problems are the controls and the pacing. No where to be found is that all too familiar muddy mechanics of the typical ported shooter. The mouse is no mere excuse for a left thumbstick. It is an extension of my character that moves sharply and precisely in just the ways that make sense to my primitive PC brain. These are the kind of keyboard and mouse controls that vigorously stoke my eternal flame of distaste for console shooter to burn so bright that I want to hire the Bangles out of retirement to sing about it.

The centerpiece of Singularity is the Time Manipulation Device (TMD), which thankfully retrieves this game from the brink of being too-ordinary after the first hour or so. The device, which gains new powers throughout the game to ultimately become the mainstay of your arsenal, can perform some lovely parlor tricks such as force push, — which is probably called something else, but is functionally identical — moving objects back and forth through time, telekinesis, and the indispensible time lock.

Because of this device and the skill increases that scale logarithmically throughout, the game evolves from tense and strategic firefights early on into a late-game run-and-gun action fest. While not everyone will find it as enduring as I, the fact is that as you become more powerful throughout the seven or eight hours it will take to finish the single player campaign, you will reach a point where you fear neither the bullets of men nor the claws of whatever-the-hell-those-mutant-things-are. If you are a disoriented military man trapped in causalities funhouse at the beginning, you are a stone-fisted old-testament god to be feared by the end.

For example, a typical late game scenario may find you trapped in a room with five or six lurching monsters whose terrifying speed would have once had you firing randomly into the air. Now you simply drop a hemispherical timelock on to the ground and capture your enemies in a frozen moment of time. Then, in what could probably be describes as a leisurely stroll, you move an explosive barrel into the heart of the paralyzed congregation, and fire point blank into the great metal canister of potential energy. The explosion, just beginning to bloom from the barrel but itself now locked inside an Einsteinian wet dream, waits obediently for your signal.

As you stroll out, leaving behind a few timelocked bullets behind right next to the squishy brains of these monsters just to be sure, you get to a safe distance, dispel the timelock and let the havoc you so precisely sculpted result in a big old festival of dead monsters.

For someone like me, this is very fun indeed, but I realize it’s not for everyone.

I believe I have spilled more words that the game truly deserves. This is no modern masterpiece, no work that will redefine any segment of gaming. This is a video game that constantly puts itself in the position of having to prove its worth despite its constant missteps. It is the guy at work that everybody kinda likes, but who never really succeeds at his job the way you might expect. It is a better than average episode of Dollhouse, a reminder of something that used to be great, but that still seems deeply flawed at its core.

If you are willing to forgive the shortcomings, and you come from a heritage of shooters, then there is good to be found here. If you are in the mood to be unrelentingly critical, there will be plenty of room to indulge. For everyone else, the best solution may be a console rental.

Comments

In short, the game is constantly pushing back against its own shortcomings like Sisyphus as played by Yakov Smirnoff. In Soviet Russia, boulder pushes you!

What a great quote.

I am super excited for this game, and am not expecting a reinvention of the wheel - just a passable shooter with a Russian vibe.

SallyNasty wrote:
In short, the game is constantly pushing back against its own shortcomings like Sisyphus as played by Yakov Smirnoff. In Soviet Russia, boulder pushes you!

What a great quote.

I am super excited for this game, and am not expecting a reinvention of the wheel - just a passable shooter with a Russian vibe.

Yeah I agree..The game looks good, but i am just waiting on a price drop.

From what I've seen (which, admittedly, isn't much) this plays a lot like Wolfenstein, also by Raven. Am I right? Even the colours when you use the powers seem the same. Not that this is a bad thing - despite it's flaws I enjoyed the hell out of Wolfenstein. The only thing is that this seems more linear where Wolfenstein had aspirations towards being 'open world'. Either way, I look forward to playing this game soon!

From what I've seen (which, admittedly, isn't much) this plays a lot like Wolfenstein, also by Raven.

I'd say that's a pretty fair comparison in a lot of ways.

I recently finished the 360 version of the game and just wanted to drop a thumbs-up for that version as well. The controller gets in the way a bit before you get all your powers, but it works.

This game is a great mix of Bioshock, Half-Life 2, and Dead Space. It was a fun ride. As Elysium said, a good rental.

Y'know I would really love to play this game...except despite it's release date being a good...three? weeks ago it's STILL not available in stores for the PC (despite being available online from the like of Amazon - at a ridiculous price last time I checked).

It's also, bizarrely not out on Steam in the UK either.

I figured this was just a local anomaly but I've read a fair few comments online saying the same thing.

What the hell Activision? If you don't give a monkey's arse about retail PC games anymore - at least put the sodding thing on STEAM! It's like they're deliberately trying to get people to pirate the damned thing (not that I ever would - but I'm damned well refusing to settle for a console version this time around).

Oh well, maybe by the time it materalises from whatever quantum singularity it's fallen into it'll at least have dropped down to normal PC game prices rather than Activision PC game prices.

/rant

It is a better than average episode of Dollhouse, a reminder of something that used to be great, but that still seems deeply flawed at its core.

Hm, Dollhouse reference... intriguing.

As usual with short FPS games I will be waiting for a sale. Nothing annoys me more than paying $50 for something and finishing it in 8 hours.

I was totally ready to let this one pass me by, your analysis put it into a definite "intrigued rental" category. Curses! The pile straineth!

"assuming that this edition of more of the same called from around the year 2002" - My mind is telling me you wanted the word "culled" here, but I may just be missing out the new vernacular.

Johnvanjim wrote:

"assuming that this edition of more of the same called from around the year 2002" - My mind is telling me you wanted the word "culled" here, but I may just be missing out the new vernacular.

Called, as in "2002's edition of 'More of the Same' called, they want Singularity back".

Between that old idiom, the Yakov Smirnoff 80's call-back, a late Olive Garden jibe, and the from-another-era mouthful of "But it ends not there, for this is game no one will call an exemplar of technical proficiency", I think this article did an excellent job of conveying Singularity's time-hopping core: fun while it lasted, but not performed well enough to have any lasting impact. Clever, Mr. Sands!

Also:

SIИGULДЯITЧ ≐ Sieeguldyaitch

For shame, Activision. Even THQ didn't subject Metro 2033's design to that cliche.

(I'm sure SallyNasty could offer a better transliteration.)

Gravey wrote:

Also:

SIИGULДЯITЧ ≐ Sieeguldyaitch

For shame, Activision. Even THQ didn't subject Metro 2033's design to that cliche.

(I'm sure SallyNasty could offer a better transliteration.)

This is one of my major pet peeves - the whole "hey guys, let's make it look Russian by flipping around the R! Genius!"

Я in Russian has the phonemic value of 'jah' like the German word for yes. It is just silly. Western developers need to stop trying to shoehorn Cyrillic letters into their designs to impress upon us all "this has to do with Russian kitch - buy it, westerner!"

Seriously, Vodka and bear wrestling would be much more accurate.

That said - that transliteration was pretty accurate.

I would have done 'si'iguldj'aitch' - but they come out to about the same.

Clever, Mr. Sands!

T'was all an elaborate ruse to disguise my consternation at Kotaku for getting to the "wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey" reference before I could.

Played it through on the 360, with the same parallel feelings of "this is kind of fun" alongside "this the most derivative game I've played in a long time." Particularly enjoyed the knockoff gravity gun and low-rent Alyx.

All this talk of derivation makes me want to play it more. I LOVED Darksiders - and Derivation was it's middle name.

Played it, beat it, loved it.

This is classic Raven here, taking existing gameplay elements from other games and mixing them together into a tasty concoction.

There aren't many developers whose name always = fun. I've never played a bad Raven game and this keeps the trend going.

I'm having fun. Just got the TMD.

Adding it to the pile...I plan to play it sometime between Red Dead Redemption and death.

So whats the multiplayer like? Is it just deathmatch or is it actually coop? Coop looks like it could be pretty fun.

PAR

I burned through Singularity in two days flat and had a blast with it. Like Sands, I admittedly didn't find a lot of innovation or anything like that, which only goes to prove to myself that innovation isn't always good. Sometimes, refinement and synthesis is all it takes to make an enjoyable experience and Raven succeeded at both of these things.

Still, I found this to be an ideal rental game. Once I finished the single-player campaign, I felt that I had dove enough into each major mechanic of the game that I really didn't crave too much more. While a lot of the offerings of the multiplayer certainly sounded more diverse than its peers, I didn't want to taint the tight, fun single-player experience with even a mediocre multiplayer experience.

Elysium wrote:

So, when I finish any game’s single player entree, that means something.

But that's completely relative. Some games are 10 hours and some are 50. How long did it take you to finish this game? Since it's a shooter, I expect the number to be on the low end of the spectrum.

The game does look interesting, but because Steam has spoiled me, I'll wait until it shows up for half price or less.

I was really happy to hear the GWJ crew give Singularity a fair shake during the last podcast. I grabbed this game a few days ago and I am having a grand ol' time.

I'm not sure where all the judgments of the game being derivative or unoriginal are coming from. In an age where staid military shooters are the norm, a wacky time-bending adventure featuring bad Russian accents and crazy rifles that shoot time bullets is just what the shooter landscape needed.

With some proper marketing and a more fleshed out multiplayer suite, Singularity would be on the lips of a lot more gamers. As it is, it feels like Activision just sent this one out to die a quick death.

This sounds like a neat FPS distraction, but much like Wolfenstein, I can't imagine paying more than 30 dollars for it. I liked Wolfenstein, but I have to admit the last few hours of the game felt like drudgery. It became a game that I was just playing to finish.

I just finished the SP campaign last night on normal. I havent gotten through a game this quick, on pure adrenaline mind you, in a long time. I am the typical "half gamer" which is to say I normally play a game half way or until I am completely worn on it, whichever comes first. Oddly enough, I have recently decided to stop game hopping and start finishing games that at the minimum provide a decent level of entertainment. Singularity not only meets the minimum requirement but is a blast to play. The main point of attraction for me were the weapons and the different ways you can take out enemies. Eventhough the game is on rails and doesnt allow you to revisit any previous locations, once a door shuts behind you it stays closed, the variety of your arsenal provides enough tactical depth to keep the game feeling fresh. Not sure if tactical depth or using strategy make sense for a game like this but I found myself trying different combinations of TMD powers and weapons to take out specific enemies. This mix and match play really entertained me and was enhanced by the fact that weapon lockers were well distributed in the world allowing you to equip any weapon in your arsenal at any time assuming you unlocked them during the game. The enemy types are limited but well placed and rotated in a way that you never feel like you are fighting the same group for too long. The story is cliche and at times confusing but they managed to create a level of fiction that is still engrossing and is helped by really nice art design and creature animations that can provide those creepy moments and shivers up your spine. Not saying this is a horror game but a little shiver every now and then is a good thing. As for the multiplayer, I tried a few matches but was not impressed with how they implemented it. Not too mention the lack of players online really detract from what could have been a pretty cool idea. Overall, worth buying and enjoying, and a really fun 15 hours of play.

Glad you enjoyed it! I really got a kick out of it, too.

I actually really enjoyed the multiplayer as well. It was a little bit hard to get into, as they don't really explain the different class abilities at all - but I put about 10 hours into the multi - and I really liked it.

I thought the campaign was a blast as well. It was kind of ridiculously hard (i played on hard) until I got the TMD, but once I got that - the game was a ton of fun, with a great mechanic.

I am enjoying this much more than Bioshock 2. Bioshock 2 is straying too close to monster closets. I am really tired of the sloppy, cross-the-invisible-trip-wire-that-instaspawns-a-dozen-nasties-on-your-six game design.

But thankfully Singularity does not have that and I love it all the more for it. I guess I am just one of those who "gets" the Raven game "feel". I think most of it has to do with the fact that they don't absolutely starve you for ammunition. There was a very tense spot where I had to crouch by some blind enemies with only 4 assault rifle bullets to my name. Most of the time I had a small surplus of ammo where most of the tension came from small clip sizes and just short enough reload times to get the in-your-face kill shot.

The puzzles aren't very hard and are reused with subtle variation. Yet, there is a sense of accomplishment to them. And there are plenty of nested nuggets for exploration junkies to salivate on.

Some of the in game scripted events can really throw you for a loop too. I'm surprised there aren't more complaints about motion sickness. And the ghosted over flashback story clips are downright creepy.

Picked this up recently in a GameFly sale, and it arrived in the mail just before T-day. I proceeded to play through it in essentially one marathon session, while waiting for my code to compile (telecommuting). Loved it. Loved it! LOVED. IT.

Haven't enjoyed an interactive movie this much in a while.

Youtubed the alternate endings. Nifty!

Hans