Raven Studios’ Singularity may never escape the comparisons to BioShock. Focus sharpened on the plot? Check. Special powers, upgradeable weapons, creepy enemies, and even creepier environments? Check, double check, and triple check. There are even messages found in god-awful Audio Logs, scattered everywhere with random loot.
It’s not all about copying BioShock; there are unique ideas applied to the gameplay that provide Singularity’s special moments. At its peak, the game shines brightly, but some of its little flaws overshadow the entire package.
The story takes place on a Russian island called Katorga-12, where Russians discovered and unleashed a deadly chemical called E99. This effectively transformed the citizens into violent, horribly-mutated beasts. Due to a singularity rift in the sky, the time period shifts frequently in the game. You see flashes of events from the past, and the ghost-like images of people will fall into place over their tattered surroundings, showing up as mutilated corpses in the present time. Some shifts make an even larger impact on the environment and the puzzles. The trusty Time Manipulation Device (TMD) allows you to play around with this idea throughout the game. Turning enemies into piles of dust or "chrono-pulling" objects out of time rifts are prime examples of the powers at your disposal. Further details about the game can be learned if you take the time to search for audio logs, video monitors, and written notes; many of the comments relate to the surrounding area. This level of depth is a nice touch that will appeal to anyone wanting the most out of the experience, which includes anyone wanting more than 8-10 hours of gameplay.
Speaking of gameplay, Singularity is cohesive despite consistency issues. First of all, the “special powers” have effects on time and matter, and the results in combat are thoroughly entertaining. Using a time-halting bubble device to trap explosive spider crreatures is one simple use of TMD. Not all of the game's action revolves around these moves – the bullet-steering Seeker and Spikeshot rail drivers are examples that satisfy on their own. This is the one part of Singularity that never really slacks off: Thanks to the intuitive controls, managing your TMD is never much of a challenge. Movement is tight, the iron sight aiming system fits well, and the button layout manages not to fall apart with all the different abilities you have at your disposal.
Unfortunately, there comes a point in the game where the non-combat situations are less than exciting. The time-based mechanics are nifty the first few times, but eventually the thrill is lost and repetition sets in. The level design is often confusing; searching for small buttons or switches in maze-like areas is not the definition of entertaining gameplay. There is a function similar to Fable II’s golden bread crumb trail that outlines the right direction, but it is still easy to get lost. Confusion tends to happen most when you loot for items, but it is absolutely necessary to improve your weapons and abilities. To its credit, Singularity rewards observant explorers with loot, ammo, new abilities, and weapon upgrades. The upgrades are standard (more power, bigger clip, faster reload), but the small arsenal makes you notice each improvement.
To wrap things up, Singularity’s presentation is imperfect but still manages to impress. The art style, regardless of the time period, is a sight to see. There are some ho-hum moments in underground tunnels, but I actually preferred this style to the steam-punk BioShock. The futuristic weapon designs are slick, and the enemies look as horrific as they should. Finally, the mood and level of intensity are set appropriately throughout the game with the proper background music and visual effects.
More development time ultimately might have done wonderful things for this game, but Singularity is nonetheless fascinating if you actually take advantage of your full arsenal. If you spend the entire game running-and-gunning with the assault rifle or a shotgun, you will definitely miss some of the special touches that were implemented by the developers. With the short campaign and lame multiplayer options, it would be easy to pass it off as another "could-have-been" shooter, but the sheer joy of Singularity's best moments make it the perfect choice for a summer weekend rental.