Stories based on the premise of time travel often end up needlessly convoluted, andÂ SingularityÂ is no exception. That doesn’t make the overall experience any less satisfying, though. Even those averse to paradoxical parambulations shouldn’t let the plot stop them from picking this title up; the real meat is in the varied and polished gameplay. For aÂ BioShockÂ clone,Â SingularityÂ has a ton of original ideas, and even those that are borrowed from other games are executed with finesse.
After crash landing on an abandoned Soviet island, Captain Renko – the game’s silent-but-deadly protagonist – is unwillingly transported back to 1955, at the height of the facility’s experimental research into the newly discovered Element 99. Naturally, Renko screws up history, and when he’s promptly hurled back to the future, he discovers that the entire world is now ruled by a communist chancellor. It becomes apparent around this point in the game that the mute hero thing doesn’t quite work here; when Renko’s partner is imploring for a fellow human to break the radio silence, players have to wonder what kind of sociopath their character must be for him to remain mute.
That helpless feeling persists throughout the game’s narrative, as players are sent on errand after errand to accomplish menial and cryptic tasks. The purpose of these isn’t made any clearer by the absence of subtitles, a startling flaw in a game so heavy on story. Fortunately, the feeling of being a pawn starts and ends with the plot. The arsenal of powers and weapons at Renko’s disposal, while not as extensive or manifold as Subject Delta’s inÂ BioShock 2, can make players feel like nothing short of a god as early as halfway through the game.
Comparisons withÂ BioShockÂ are apt and deserved, thoughÂ SingularityÂ wears a number of other influences on its sleeves as well. One of the first abilities assigned to Renko’s Time Manipulation Device (TMD) amounts to nothing more than a gravity gun, identical in function to that inÂ Half-Life 2. Thankfully, it’s just one of many such abilities, the favorite of which is easily the Deadlock.
When players use the Deadlock, a pulsing blue orb leaps from Renko’s palm, expanding to encompass enemies and stop them in their tracks. When it’s fully charged, it can last long enough for players to heal themselves, reload both weapons, and surgically pump a shotgun blast into the face of every enemy in the room – all while they hang helpless in slow-motion limbo. When the bubble contracts, all heads explode simultaneously in a gorgeous eruption of syrupy blood.
That scenario alone brings up a number of important points.Â Singularity, likeÂ BioShockÂ andÂ Half-Life 2, eschews the recharging health that’s become so popular in favor of a limited supply of health packs. It takes a few seconds to use one, but it forces players to think slightly more strategically. In addition, players can carry but two weapons, a limitation that serves the same purpose, requiring players to carefully consider which weapons they choose when they stumble upon one of the weapon augmentation machines scattered throughout the campaign.
These stations also allow players to upgrade weapons, which include an assault rifle, shotgun, sniper rifle (with built-in slow-mo!), grenade launcher, and more. Between the many secondary firing modes and the upgrades to firepower, reload speed and clip size, there’s enough variety in weaponry for players to choose their own style and run with it.
That variety is one of the game’s undeniable strengths. It constantly serves up new and unique scenarios, from underwater exploration to a brief chase in which the fleeing Renko’s hands are tied up. It’s even got epic boss battles, the best of which has players laying waste to a giant creature as it does its best to destroy the train they’re on – all suspended precariously over an enormous canyon.
Players can rip enemies’ shields from their shaking hands with the gravity gun-like ability, or simply “revert” soldiers into bestial creatures and sic them on one another. Even the enemies come in all shapes and sizes, from the minuscule, exploding Phase Ticks to huge, huge hulking monsters, nimble beasts that phase in and out of time, and more.
Unfortunately, the lack of subtitles isn’t the game’s only flaw, and a plethora of other minor gripes will eventually build up to somewhat sour an otherwise excellent experience. The controls are set in stone, though the default settings should feel familiar to most players. Much worse is the fact that there’s no way to go back and experience previous levels short of starting the game over. There’s no level select, and all of the saves are automatic, meaning players can only embark on one playthrough at a time. Pressing “continue” once the game ends sends players back to the very end of the final segment.
Thankfully, that at least allows players to experience each of the multiple endings, which are, admittedly, awesome, without replaying the entire game several times over. The endings, as well as many of the game’s major plot points, are explained via smokily narrated cinematics that unfortunately take players out of the action for minutes at a time. The same goes for the intro cinematic; the information overload presented there should have been skipped entirely. Much of the game’s narrative would be more effective if only it were doled out in more subtle ways. Still, all it really takes to enjoy the wonderfully silly, hyper-serious narrative is a little suspension of disbelief.
Multiplayer comes with many of the trappings of other modern shooters, including the ability to take control of the some of the game’s creatures Ã laÂ Left 4 Dead. It’s not without its faults, though, and matches have a tendency to get a little too chaotic with the monsters involved. Their third person perspectives often make it difficult to see what’s in the middle of the screen, which in turn makes it hard to tell whether you’re actually hitting anything with your projectile vomit and other such attacks. A feedback system likeÂ Call of Duty‘s (which plays a sound and vibrates the controller when enemies are hit) or evenÂ Halo‘s (flashing shields make it easy to discern where damage is being dealt) would have gone a long way here.
That said,Â SingularityÂ has everything a first-person shooter needs to be successful, and more. The lack of a level select is the most grating omission, especially since the game’s later levels are so much damn fun. Starting over and being stripped of all those powers and weapons feels like a vigorous slap in the face. The variety of weapons, abilities, enemies, and scenarios provided keep the game fresh throughout the entire experience, and the multiplayer – while flawed – can provide fans with more gameplay without them having to start the whole game over.
Plus, well, time travel. It’s awesome.