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July 20, 2010

Singularity - video game review

Singularity with Bonus Exclusive Graphic NovelI bought Singularity because I had heard some good things about it and I wanted to support a new IP that seemed promising.

I'm very glad I did, though that doesn't mean there aren't some issues with the game that I'd like to share.

The game takes place in two time zones, 1955 & 2010, on an island off the eastern Russian coast named Katorga 12, where Russian experiments on the element E99 took place in the 1950s.  A terrible accident occurred, called the Singularity, and the Russians covered it up.  You're a Special Ops soldier named Renko (something I had to get from the description, because I could never hear the characters call me by name, see below), sent to investigate the strange radiation readings from the island.  You stumble upon the horrible results of the catastrophe: mutant creatures running rampant, time distortions, and even openings in time that send you back to 1955, where history is changed.  You meet the Russian scientist responsible for these discoveries, and must face off against an ambitious Russian general who wants to restart the experiments.

It's a really interesting story, much better than some FPS games.

First, the negatives, because at least one of these negatives really pissed me off.


Yes, I've already posted my take on this at the Game Informer blog, but for those of you just passing by for the first time, there are no subtitles in Singularity.  Don't ask me why.  I asked Activision's Dan Americh about that, and he said he'd ask (haven't heard back, by the way).

It doesn't help that the heavily-accented English from the Russian characters is almost unintelligible, even with my TV volume turned up.  This is especially bad when the music is ramped up as well (yes, you can turn the music down, thankfully).  Another area where this is the problem are the various audio recordings that are littering the site.  These serve to give you even more of the story, but there were many of them that I just couldn't understand.  Thankfully, the game does a good job of telling you where to go, because I often missed what Barisov or Kathryn was telling me to do.

The graphics are pretty good, though they're not the best thing about the game.  They're kind of bland, overall. You find yourself in a few varieties of locations, but I was getting a bit tired of sewers, warehouses, and industrial complexes after a while.  The events of the game all take place on Katorga 12 and in the installation there, so Raven is a bit constrained in the locations they can make you play in.  Within that constriction, they do a pretty good job.

Also, the game is very linear.  You know exactly where you need to go, and doors often slam shut behind you, cutting you off from where you were previously.  If there appear to be two hallways, you can always "ping" (press down on the D-pad) and get ghostly footsteps that tell you where you need to go.  You can rest assured that the other way will lead you to a place where you can pick up extra ammo and other goodies.

The best part of the game you don't discover until you've played the game for a little bit: the TMD (Time Manipulation Device).  This device has a variety of uses, some of which you will unlock as you proceed through the game.  You can age soldiers until they are dust, you can cause de-age them to the point where they become primitive "Reverts" (monsters that will head toward noise and start whaling away on whatever's causing it).  One of my favourite things to do late in the game, when I was getting assaulted by multiple Russian soldiers, was to turn one of them into a Revert and watch them all fight it out.  Whichever one was left standing was then easy pickings for me.

Another fun thing is to Revert a soldier and then use the TMD on the Revert.  When you do this, the Revert is primed and explodes shortly thereafter, taking out anybody who's unlucky enough to be in the vicinity.  You can create a time bubble that will slow Time down to a crawl (enabling you to shoot them multiple times before they can do anything), fire a "Pulse" that will knock creatures back or kill them.  There are quite a few options, and each one is good for different types of monsters that you will find on the island.

The TMD also lets you age and de-age certain objects, letting you into locked lockers, safes, and other things.  Some of the puzzles involve doing this to big boxes that will let you climb up to a ventilation grill, for instance, or open garage doors that have been lowered enough so that you can't just crouch and walk under.  It's a really innovative technique.  You can improve the TMD powers by spending E99 at various augmentation sites that you will find.  You pick up E99 like you pick up ammo, as it's littered all over Katorga 12.

It's good that the TMD works so well, because the gunplay isn't the greatest.  It's ok, but I really got irritated watching guys I shot crumple to the ground and then get up and start firing at me again.  Even when hit with the autocannon!  There are some cool guns, though, like the Spikeshot, which will fire a spike that impales your target and then explodes, and the Seeker, which fires a bullet that you can then control.  That came in handy sometimes too.  Speaking of armaments, one of the coolest uses of the TMD was when rockets and grenades were being fired at you.  You could "catch" them and return to sender!

One final awesome thing about this game is the ending.  First, it's interesting in its own right.  Secondly, there is no massive boss battle at the end, which I kind of enjoyed.  There are mini-bosses during the game, but there is no uber-boss at the end.

Finally, you have three choices on how to resolve the situation, all leading to different endings.  You get achievements for each one.  When you make a choice, the play finishes, you get some cutscenes that tell you the consequences of your choice, and then it eventually goes back to the main menu (after a sequence that implies a sequel may be coming).  You can press "Continue" and it will take you back to just before the final sequence, letting you make a different choice.  In other words, you can get all three game-ending achievements without having to play through the game three times!  Thank you, Raven.  I really appreciated this.

Overall, I really enjoyed Singularity, and I'm glad I bought it.  While the dialogue/subtitle issue was truly annoying, it's not a dealbreaker.  It's not the best example of the FPS genre, but the innovative story and the TMD makes up for that.

Singularity is available on Xbox 360 (where I played it), PS3, and PC


  1. I read thought it and almost found the game interesting just by the read (that is a compliment to you as games like that never really did it for me).. I have to agree with you on the subtitles thingy tho, its often even worse for us who dont have english as a second language and subtitles often makes it easier :)

    Its a good write this.. and as I said, almost wanted to play it - but these kind of games makes me 'panic' as my brother say.. I end up pushing all the buttons while i scream at the tv to stop shooting me before i end up dying.. *sigh*

  2. Thanks, Cupcake! I appreciate the compliment.

    It doesn't sound like first-person shooters are for you, then. :)


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