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To say “it’s been done before” is quite the understatement these days.  Flagrant rip-offs of popular franchises practically inundate the market, and with Singularity this fact becomes all the more apparent.  However, Singularity also shows that in some respects, a rip-off can stand solid, though rising beyond that simple task is a difficult affair.

Borrowing nearly every gameplay element from particularly memorable triple-A titles, Singularity at first glance manages to seem like it could stand on its own.  Unfortunately, it simply doesn’t do enough beyond what its obvious inspiration tried to guarantee any kind of fame.

So what does this title take, and what do we receive?  Keep reading and see.Singularity is set in the modern era, in which a group of United States Black Ops agents are sent in to investigate the Russian island of Katorga 12, whereupon an experiment took place using a strange “ninety-ninth element”, aptly nicknamed “E99″.  As you’re on your way, your transport gets shot down and you’re forced to fend for yourself.

Even in this beginning segment, it is not hard to see how the game draws upon several different titles for its inspiration.  It’s extremely similar to Bioshock, and the actual mechanics of gameplay do little to offset the comparisons.  As you proceed through the island, you’re stuck at first with relatively little, finding both notes and tape recordings left behind by people who can only be described as “those crazy Russians”.

I’m going to go ahead and tell it like it is: the beginning of the game might as well be Bioshock.  You’re discovering notes and listening to tapes, watching old projections of what Katorga 12 was meant to do, and while there’s no Atlus-wannabe telling you to do anything (for the most part), it is through these tapes and notes that you learn nearly everything about the story.  Unlike Bioshock, though, instead of adding to the mystique of the place you’re in, they mostly spoil details long before you see them in action.

Your weaponry, while certainly more advanced than the fare found in Bioshock, consists of nearly everything we’re used to in any modern shooter: a pistol, assault rifle, shotgun, sniper rifle, etc.  Each weapon is upgradeable, though nothing really stands out besides the few unique weapons the game eventually supplies you with.

The actual shooting is standard and solid.  You’ll be fighting strangely disfigured humans as well as time-shifting beasts and heaping helpings of various kinds of soldiers, all of which provide a decent challenge.  Your battles take place within several research facilities, the open streets of an abandoned neighborhood, and in several other locales, none of which really stand out.

However, a lot of this formulaic gameplay is offset by the game’s trademark weapon: the “TMD”, a glove that allows the player to manipulate time through the mystical powers of E99.  Once introduced, the glove becomes essential to progressing through the game, and it is the moments in which it is brought into focus that the experience becomes unique.

Manipulating time occurs in several large-scale instances throughout the game, and the results of what you’ve done become almost immediately apparent after your temporal voyages are complete.  Level layouts, as well as people and even world events, are influenced by your passage, but it is all reigned in by the game’s linear construction.  Everything proceeds in an easy-to-see straight line, going from point-A to point-B, and while some moments are indeed harrowing, all of it is scripted, which leads to an almost mindless sense of what you’re doing.

You’ll also be manipulating time in several minor ways, most of which revolve around solving various puzzles.  Aging a box, for example, makes it become bent and squat, perfect for moving underneath a shutter.  Once placed, reversing time on the box makes it revert to its normal form, pushing the shutter up and allowing you to pass.  Given that most of these puzzles take place well away from any of the shooting, the experience is very reminiscent of Half-Life 2′s physics-based puzzles.

As you proceed, you’ll also be introduced to different time-manipulating weapons, the first of which allows you to steer bullets in flight.  The effect is well done and easy to control, and results in some hilarious take-downs.  The glove itself can also be used to age enemy combatants in real-time, turning them into dusty skeletons at the click of a mouse.

To be honest, despite the scripted nature of the events, the time manipulation mechanics are genuinely interesting – seeing how the things that you’ve done alter the future (for better or for worse) is intriguing, and most if not all of the loose ends you encounter are neatly tied up by the end of the game.

Graphically, Singularity does nothing to stand out.  Using the Unreal Engine 3, the game boasts the same level of detail we’ve come to expect from the engine, and does very little to bring anything new to the table.  That said, everything looks fine – you won’t be seeing something like Alpha Protocol’s botched handling of the engine, but your jaw certainly won’t hit the floor.  Common engine-specific problems, most notably texture pop-in, are present and can actually get worse over time depending on your system’s configuration.

Story-wise, the shining moments come from your adventures in time travel, but overall the narrative is nothing terribly special.  While you can change all kinds of details and even eliminate several people entirely from the story, the whole thing revolves around Russia’s rise as the new world superpower and your role in whether or not that’s a good or a bad thing.  The plot has its twists, but none of them are anything you can’t see coming long before it happens, thanks to the spoiler-laden tapes and notes scattered throughout the game.

When the story’s action has reached its conclusion, there’s a multiplayer component that can be quite fun.  Playing as various creatures from the game and hunting down the typically decked-out players can be exhilarating, and it is perhaps in this aspect of play that you’ll find the most outright innovation.  The single player portion has multiple difficulties, but that’s about all there is to bring you back to it. Multiplayer, however, can suck you in.

Overall, I’m not really sure what to say about Singularity.  On the one hand, it is a fluid, easy-to-get-into shooter that holds up well from beginning to end.  On the other, it does nearly nothing new.  While I’m thankful that an enjoyable title came out in the middle of summer, it’s totally a one-shot deal.  You will play once, maybe twice, but there’s little reason even for a second playthrough.

As a full-priced game, this title is hard to recommend.  Fans of FPS games will find some fun in it, but nothing they haven’t seen before, and anyone who’s played Bioshock will likely be making comparisons the whole way through.  There are some good things here, and the overall experience is interesting, but it’s not anything that screams “must have”.

Rating Category
7.5 Presentation
The scripted events can be quite intense, but the visuals are nothing special.
How does our scoring system work?
8.0 Gameplay
Solid shooting mechanics, competant AI, and a few interesting features help to offset the total linearity and heavily scripted events.
8.0 Sound
Solid voicework, appropriately intense music, and great effects help keep this title solid.
6.5 Longevity
Upon completion, the singleplayer portion leaves nothing new to do. Multiplayer is fun, but simply isn't engaging enough to pull much extra time.
7.5 Overall
While it does nothing to really stand alone, Singularity provides a decent enough experience to help whittle away a dull summer.

  1. I was sort of interested before comparisons were drawn with Bioshock. I’ll give it a miss.

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    Paul, I agree with your statement if taken lirltaley. However, in addition to the fact that I (and many others) am not a strict utilitarian in my values, I feel that people often jump too quickly from this argument to Therefore existential risk charities are the best ones to support. To me there is an enormous gulf between these ideas. I am not convinced that any of the ideas I’ve heard for directly addressing existential risks (and I have discussed many) have any non-negligible positive expected impact on survival. By non-negligible I mean both above the positive expected impact of everyday good works, which , and above the threshold where taking action would not constitute falling prey to . I think I am somewhere in between Paul and Robert on future/speculative vs. present/tangible impact. I definitely value future generations and think that projects with a substantial expected impact on survival (which would include, for example, reducing the odds of a major planet-wide catastrophe by 1%) are worth a lot of investment. But I also think there are limits to how well our rationality applies to thinking about such things. In particular, I am bothered by how non-contingent most of the arguments I hear for focusing on existential risk sound (that is, it sounds as though they’d sound equally good regardless of almost any empirical facts about our world and times as well as the specific proposals and personnel on the table). I think that projects that expect to see some short- or medium-term tangible impact are inherently more accountable, more prone to reality checks and meaningful bets on the underlying beliefs, and more likely to succeed. Most of the supporters of existential risk charities I’ve engaged with do not seem, to me, to be giving enough weight to these considerations. On the other hand, most non-supporters seem overly dismissive to me.

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