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.