A relatively routine flight ends in a fiery crash, stranding a lone protagonist at the gates of an abandoned, decaying research facility where the ambitions of science went horribly awry; the facility is in shambles, its denizens supernatural husks of human beings, and forward is the only way out. The millions of gamers familiar with Bioshock will recognize this introduction — as will anyone who decides to play Singularity.
Although Singularity offers unique gameplay and does a good job differentiating itself, its thematic and structural influences are strong enough to compel frequent comparison to the source material – it’s like standing someone who looks like a celebrity up alongside the celebrity they resemble; the effect seldom works out in Singularity’s favor. From the 50’s instructional videos that are more informative than entertaining to the weapon upgrade stations that fail to capitalize on the unique qualities of each weapon, Singularity emulates Bioshock, but generally comes up short, albeit by narrow margins. Though the island of Katorga-12 carves out its own personality, it never entirely emerges from Rapture’s shadow.
The best parts of Singularity are those that it definitively owns. The game’s claim to fame begins with time travel and ends with the use of the TMD (Time Manipulation Device), the wrist-mounted tool the player must rely on to ravage enemies and solve most of the game’s puzzles. The TMD is upgraded as the game unfolds, eventually allowing players to age or revitalize both enemies and inanimate objects, slow time within a sphere, and move or throw small objects (like the Grav Gun from Half Life), all in the pursuit of correcting the dire consequences of a seemingly innocuous action taken when the player is first thrust into the past.
When the TMD is combined with environmental factors and the wide variety of weapons, combat is consistently interesting. New weapons and abilities are introduced alongside increasingly numerous and formidable enemies, keeping things fresh while preserving the sense of progression. In its opening chapters, Singularity feels like a survival horror game, where even the lowliest ghoul poses the threat of imminent death to the pistol-wielding protagonist. By Singularity’s conclusion, the player can leisurely freeze and dispatch half a dozen enemies while being flanked or bombarded by rockets, all the while enjoying crisp visuals and a flawless frame rate.
Boss battles are creative and well-scripted, and enemy design is both cosmetically and mechanically refreshing. As Captain Renko, players face off against a wide variety of mutated monsters in addition to Spetsnaz soldiers. The mutants, in particular, keep gameplay fresh, usually requiring quick thinking with the TMD to defend against. Environments are unique and usually compliment the challenges within, ranging from tense games of avoidance in narrow tunnels populated with blind mutants poised to swarm Renko if he makes a sound, to full blown combat with hordes of Spetsnaz in more conventionally open, urban FPS fare.
Singularity is great the first time through, but doesn’t offer much in replay value aside from the additional challenge of a new difficulty level. For all its focus on manipulating time and timelines, it’s a remarkably linear game. The only plot-altering decision occurs at the game’s conclusion, and the folks at Raven were courteous enough to allow players to reload from the final check point to experience all three endings in one sitting. Since 1) TMD upgrades are automatic, 2) weapon upgrades affect damage, clip size, or reload time on every single weapon, and 3) only one or two of the game’s creative passive abilities can be equipped at once, Renko isn’t particularly customizable, either. Veteran FPS players will discover and unlock most of the interesting upgrades during the first playthough, leaving only the sparsely populated, mediocre multiplayer mode to entertain them.
Although some players will find themselves hooked on the game’s atmosphere and unique gameplay, frugal players should consider renting first.