Singularity is without a doubt, to my mind, one of the most underrated games released this year. It's seemingly derivative nature, combined with a glut of recent top-tier shooters has seen it slip under the radar of many gamers. I, however, would encourage anyone who likes sci-fi, and FPS' in general to check this one out. You'll be pleasantly surprised.
Singularity starts with a bang. And a slight sense of Deja-vu. The island of Kartorga 12, an abandoned research complex where the Russians discovered a new element (E99) has the U.S.A worried. It's emitting energy spikes, and a crack team of US soldiers are sent in to investigate. However, before you can take breath, the team's helicoptor gets hit by what appears to be an EMP, causing them to crash. You wake up, and set out to find the remaining members of your team.
Now, i'll try not to spoil the remainder of the story. But needless to say, it involves your character 'Nathaniel Renko' traveling through time to 1955 and back again to 2010, seeking to undo damage done in the past that has caused a catastrophic chain of events that has left the world royally screwed.
The reason I have cited both Bioshock and Half-Life as influences on this game in the title, is well, because, the game takes elements liberally from both. The Time Manipulation Device (TMD) that you recieve about an hour into the game functions like plasmids do in Bioshock. It is powered by E99 which you are constantly accumulating and using throughout the game to do a number of things. You can reverse time on an object, like a staircase, and in doing so return it to it's original useable form. You can use it on enemies, to age them to dust, or revert them to horrible disgusting monsters that attack and puke on other enemies (I kid you not). It can be used to freeze enemies in a time bubble, making them almost stationary targets there to be picked off. There's nothing more satisfying than freezing an enemy in a bubble, shooting them, reversing the bubble, then watching the enemy crumble to pieces. There are more powers besides these, but I won't spoil them. Needless to say, the TMD is a delightful tool, that while not wholly original is incredibly fun to use. It helps to elevate the game above your standard shooter.
The other way it 'borrows' from Bioshock is through it's pack rat mentality. You are constantly picking up E99, or new weapon upgrades, health packs, or audio logs documenting what happened on the island in 1955. It may sound like i'm deriding the game for this. However, it's been done so well, and so confidently that it fits seamlessly. It helps create an atmosphere akin to Bioshock or Half-Life. One where for the first 6 or 7 hours of this 10 hour game, the atmosphere is almost as enthralling as the gunplay. You'll love seeing what's around the next corner, whether to see what new locales await you, or to be scared senseless by the game. Again, this dark brooding atmosphere in FPS' is nothing new, but done so well that you won't even care.
Singularity was developed by Raven Software, a seasoned pro in the FPS genre. A developer, also known for there creation of brilliantly wacky weaponry. Sure, you've got you usual assortment of guns such as Assault Rifles, shotguns, miniguns etc. But, what would you say to a Rifle known as the Seeker, which enables you to steer you're bullets manually in slow-mo at your targets, allowing you to witness there ridiculously silly and brutal annihilation close up? Or a Sniper rifle that allows you to slow down time when aimed down the sight in order to line up the perfect shot? It's all a bit silly, especially combined with the gore, (dismemberments, blood everywhere etc) but is so much fun that the silliness only makes it better. The guns control beautifully, and become even more fun to use, gaining more power as you progress and improve.
It's not all perfect in Singularity however. I'm not sure what it is, maybe it's just super easy to use in development, but here is another game that uses the Unreal 3 engine. It doesn't look bad as such. Some of the environments are brilliantly detailed, and creatures in particular look fantastic. However, most of the game looks ordinary, with a lack of detail and an over reliance on dark colours being the primary problem. The sound as well isn't great. While some of the music can be spooky it too often feels a bit cliched, and the Russian accents hover somewhere on the scale between horrible and adequate. It just goes to show in many ways how good the game is, because with sometimes cliched music and elements that can pull you out of the game, it still manages to be consistently jumpy and oftentime scary.
The single player should last you about 10 hours on your first run through, a decent length for a game these days. My advice would be that if your a seasoned FPS gamer, then play the game on hard. On Normal, it can sometimes feel just a bit too easy. Especially near the end. Once your done with the single player, there is a multiplayer to fall back on. Don't go in expecting to be playing for long, because the lack of people playing it, combined with only 2 game modes means it wears a little thin after a while. However, what's here is fun. You have a team deathmatch mode, where teams take it in turns to play as either creatures or soldiers, and a capture the beacons mode, where the creatures aim to defend their territory from the humans. Playing as the creatures is superb fun, as there are different classes with different perks and abilities. The same also applies to the soldiers. Again, while it may not hold you for long, it's a great added bonus on top of the single player, and exciting in short bursts. The single player, however, was undoubtedly the main focus for the developers.
So in the end, what are we left with? Singularity is a shooter which borrows elements from several different games yet still manages to feel fresh and original. The fun sci fi story, TMD, satisfying weaponry, and superb atmosphere combine to create a game that you shouldn't miss. I just wish Activision had advertised this game at all. It's one of my favourites of the year so far, bested only by Mario Galaxy 2 and Bioshock 2, yet at this rate we won't be seeing a sequel. And that saddens me greatly. Pick it up.