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Reviewed: Singularity
Author: Michael Ahlf       Date: September 16th, 2010
Page: 2

The premise for Singularity's storyline is an interesting one, though it borrows a tad heavily on a multitude of tropes that can get a bit overbearing. Bear with me on this one. In an alternate version of 1955, Russian scientists working on an "obscure pacific island" discover an element with curious properties. Ultimately, they discover that the radiation from their applied phlebotinum... er... "Element E-99" can be used to manipulate objects in time, perform a bit of telekinesis, and mutate plants and animals into your basic nasty, evil radiation zombies.

The player, as a US military special forces officer by the name of Renko, sends a team to the island to investigate what appears to be a nuclear explosion in the year 2010. Renko's helicopter is shot down, he swims ashore, and in a strange turn of events, he gets caught in a time rift and saves a scientist named Demichev from dying in a fire in 1955. As it turns out, of course, Demichev is one evil SOB, and the end result is Renko's return to 2010 in a world gone very, very wrong and enslaved by Demichev's army. Renko goes on, aided by a girl named Kathryn, to rescue a Russian scientist named Barisov from one of Demichev's assassination attempts, assembles a device called the TMD, uses it to travel the island, and eventually hits the endpoint of the story where he gets to choose to damn the world one way, another way, or a third way.

At least, that's the bare bones. Raven really did their best to mimic the style of Bioshock and Bioshock 2 here, and it shows - there are plenty of "historical bits", notes, and audio recordings to show what life on the island was like pre-apocalypse, and showcase the horrible things done by Demichev and his men as they experimented on the island's population. The juxtaposition of "real human" enemies and the varying forms of radiation zombies - basic walkers, teleporters, big brutes, nasty spider-looking things, exploding crab "ticks" - works well.

Unfortunately for the player, one big problem with the game is simple controller overload. All in all, Raven managed to come up with a setup that actually requires reusing buttons and button combinations on the button-heavy controllers of the PS3 and Xbox360. Jump and crouch are by themselves, but Reload has to share with actions like opening doors or picking up objects; picking up items via telekinesis has to share with charging a "freeze ray bomb" of sorts, and hides on the stick-click of the right thumbstick; running is done by clicking the left thumbstick; and all in all, there are four "attack" buttons, two for the TMD on the left hand, and two for the fire and alt-fire modes of the weapons. Yes, this is confusing. It gets all the more confusing when, after being told that the TMD only works on "specially treated objects," the rules for what constitutes "specially treated" get thrown right out the window. Barrels full of flammable gases turn out to be treated, wall safes, electrical junction boxes, certain staircases, the occasional cargo liner, an entire train... it gets ridiculous pretty quickly, and the actual rules for what can be manipulated or not seem to have nothing to do with anything except for whether or not the particular level designer working on that hallway intended it to be used or not. There are also significant sections of the game where the player's constrained by invisible walls not to go a certain way, even though it certainly looks passable.

As for actual weapons, there are both good and bad choices. The basic set are all there; handgun, shotgun, assault rifle, sniper rifle, chaingun, and grenade launcher, with the assault rifle and sniper rifle turning out to be the most useful for all but "Mr. Invincible" type players. There's also a weapon called the "spikeshot", which is the odd man out, able to do reasonable damage but annoyingly hard to learn to fire properly. For limited enjoyment there are two "special weapons" that are only usable till they run out of ammo, much to the regret of the player - one is your standard missile launcher, while the other, the "Seeker", is the real beauty. The Seeker is a rifle that fires powerful bullets in its standard fire mode; as an alternate mode, it can fire the bullets with a controllable trajectory viewable through the gun's scope. For the 2-3 times you actually get the chance to use them in game, they add quite a bit to the fun, and it's something of a disappointment that they're not present more often.

Graphically, Raven really went all-out; the island of Katorga 12 is gorgeous, in a vague post-apocalyptic sort of way. Even in the game's weirdest moment, when they yank the player out of the FPS for a while and substitute a rails-shooter fight that looks like someone crossed Kevin Smith's giant freaking spider with something that wandered out of an Aliens movie, the island's not boring to look at. On the other hand, the levels are incredibly linear, which makes the included "show me where I'm supposed to go" function (a set of blue footsteps called chrono-ping) largely superfluous. It's probably just as well, since half the time the footsteps get caught underneath terrain or are otherwise relatively unhelpful in directing the player anyways.

What function for "puzzles" in the levels aren't much better. Yes, it's cool the first dozen times you age-revert a box to get some extra ammo or health packs, but ultimately, the most complex puzzle - in a game involving time manipulation and time travel, don't forget - is about aging a box to squish it flat, slipping it under a door, and then de-aging it to use it as a rudimentary lifting jack. Not kidding, that's as far as the game's puzzles get, the rest of it is either running and gunning through tight hallways, running and gunning through not-so-tight hallways, running and gunning through a couple courtyard mazes, and... turning an enemy into a nasty radiation zombie, ducking behind a corner, and listening to see who wins, him or his former friends. The minimal puzzles and fights are entertaining at first, but eventually they just wear out. The uninspired level design survives as a passable distraction between plot points only because the single-player campaign is so short to begin with, topping out at a maximum of perhaps 10 hours.

On the multiplayer front, Raven went for the "Us vs Them" concept; one side plays the humans, one side the radiation zombies. In one variant, it's straight-up killing, while in the other, it's about the players trying to take a set of beacons, and sides switch after a timer hits or all beacons are captured. For each side, players pick a class, role, a couple of perks, and then drop into the action. For zombie side, there are everything from heavy hitters to little annoying creeps that can possess a human and turn his gun on his friends; for the humans, roles go a little more classic, with some players able to heal others, set up some temporary barricades, or even teleport around the battlefield a short distance. Unfortunately, there need to again be either better maps, or a few more gametypes, in order to convince more players to jump in, and the times I tried, the available games were pretty sparse.

It's sad to have to review this one and stick a "rent only" sticker on it, but that's the honest truth; once you've finished the single player game, it'll be going right back on the shelf to linger. It's not begging to be replayed, there's no cooperative mode to replay with a friend, and the multiplayer options are eclipsed by better titles.

Added:  Friday, September 17, 2010
Reviewer:  Michael Ahlf
Page: 2/3

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