Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Belated Review #3: Singularity

This is the last belated review...I swear! After this I'll be more on top of writing up the newish releases when I get my hands on them.


I find it funny how the video game industry is now starting to follow the movie industry with competing publishers releasing similarly styled games within a few months of each other. Case in point - Singularity vs. Metro 2033. They are both Russian themed FPSes where you are fighting against mutated humans and creatures against a fantastical sci-fi background. They also both feature 'events' that occur throughout the game that influence the overarching storyline. The difference is Metro 2033 is post-apocalyptic survival, whereas Singularity is bald space marine saving the space-time continuum.


You are playing as a US military operative sent on a top secret mission to investigate strange radiation emissions from a remote island off the coast of Russia. As you approach, your entire squad gets taken out by some sort of EMP, and you wake up separated from your team. As you make your way to regroup with them, you are suddenly caught in a space-time anomaly which transports you back to the 1950s where you inadvertently change the timeline by rescuing a scientist from a fire. The rest of the game is spent travelling back and forth between present and past, battling soldiers and mutants trying to repair the damage you caused in the opening chapter. The cause of these anomalies is a new element discovered by the Russians in the 1950s: Element 99. It is a new source of energy more powerful than plutonium or uranium and poises Russia to be the new world power after WWII, until an accident causes the government to cease all current and future research on E99.


Where Metro 2033 was more of a strategic shooter which made you consider each encounter before deciding on the best tactic, Singularity is a straight ahead run-and-gun adrenaline rush. It was developed by Raven who also gave us Quake IV and Wolfenstein, so that should give you an idea of the pedigree of gameplay here. The weapons are kick ass, and feature modded out sci-fi versions of your classic guns: pistol, assault rifle, sniper, chain gun, grenade launcher, etc. There are a few one-use only weapons peppered throughout the game that make use of E99. You also get a nifty device that harnesses the power of E99, giving the gameplay a slight Bioshock feel with it's combination of gunplay and special powers. Using the Time Manipulation Device you have the option to age enemies into dust, turn them into mutants that attack your enemies and explode on contact, or create 'time-bubbles' that slow down whoever is unfortunate to get trapped in them. This allows you to casually saunter up to them and unload a clip of buckshot in their face. The gunplay, needless to say, is extremely satisfying, and coupled with your special abilities makes for numerous interesting combinations of attacks. The variety of enemies also mixes up the action as each type of mutant has different strengths and weaknesses that require different tactics to overcome. In fact, one type of enemy is completely blind forcing you to sneak past them without using any of your weapons at all.

Continuing the Metro 2033 comparisons, Singularity also differs in that it includes a multiplayer component. This is great fun, and if you're a fan of the Left 4 Dead versus mode, I'd highly recommend this to you. There are two modes: Extermination and Soldiers vs. Creatures. Each mode consists of two teams competing with each other - 1 team of soldiers and 1 team of creatures featured from the single player campaign. Each mode consists of 2 rounds, with teams switching sides after the first round. In Extermination the soldiers are attempting to activate a beacon which vaporizes all of the creatures on that map, before progressing to the next map. The object is to activate 3 beacons within the time limit given. The creatures are obviously trying to prevent the soldiers from accomplishing this. Whomever has the most activations or the fastest time wins the match. Creatures vs. Soldiers is straight ahead team deathmatch. The MP is a class based system with 4 classes of characters for each faction. The soldiers wield TMD devices with specific powers for each class - teleport, force blast, heal and overshield. You can also choose your weapon loadout to customize your character for close combat, sniping, support or recon. The creatures are where it was at for me though. They are all very unique and have very distinct special powers. There are only two humanoid creatures, the other two being a giant spider or a tiny tick. Their powers consist of cloaking, long distance missiles, vomit/filth grenades and possession. Yes, you can possess your enemies and then trick them into thinking your on their team then blindside them from behind. Overall a very enjoyable affair.

The other cool element to the class based MP is a perk system. It is NOT an unlockable system like CoD. Rather, all the options are present from the beginning. They are simple boosts like 'extra melee damge', 'quicker healing', 'faster reload', etc. that are available to everyone from day one. That way you don't feel like you're getting pwnd by someone who has only put in more hours and has access to better equipment. You are getting pwnd by someone who is playing better than you.


Where Singularity beats out Metro 2033 in gameplay, it falls behind in it's design. The environments and the world are done well enough, but there are some texture issues. Example: you start the game in your crashed chopper on the docks. Early on I noticed a coiled rope at the end of one of the piers, so I went closer to inspect. As I got up to it, it was clearly a 2D drawing that looked like a flat pancake instead of a cone. This 'effect' was repeated throughout the game with random bits of detritus like canned goods and other things. The character design is pretty good, but the overall art direction leans more towards stylized than photorealistic. While both games are linear in their approach, Metro 2033 offered more options for approaching situations. Singularity is pretty much a 'go-up-the-middle-and-shoot-everything-in-sight' game. But what Singularity lacked in options, it makes up in boss battles. There are 2 very distinct and gratifying boss battles with several smaller 'set-piece' sequences that really break up the gameplay nicely. You also get upgrades to your TMD device giving you access to new and more powerful abilities as well as being able to upgrade your weapons at special lockers through out the game. The upgrades are limited to clip size, damage and reload speed, but it's a nice touch to be able to boost your favorite sidearms, and you feel a real progression to your abilities as you play through the game as versus 'hey, I got a slightly newer shotgun'.

There was a lot of criticism directed at the lack of use of the TMD device in non combat situations, where they only used 1 or 2 mechanics ad nauseam. And I can see where those critiques come from, but honestly, after playing through the game twice it didn't bother me at all. You use these mechanics probably about 10 times throughout the game, so I really don't see that as an issue in my opinion.

The last similarity with Metro 2033 is multiple endings. Singularity has 3 endings depending on a choice you have to make at the end of the game. And they are all well executed. The 'real' ending is great as it corrects the timeline, but I won't go into details, you should see it for yourself. Thankfully you don't have to play through the game 3 times to get them as you are able to load the last checkpoint and see them all back-to-back-to-back. But I played through twice to get the difficulty achievements, and I just really enjoyed the gunplay and TMD abilities. It is relatively short, clocking in at about the 8-10 hour range depending on how good you are.


Overall, I give Singularity a half point higher score than Metro 2033, but that is purely because of the excellent multiplayer component. The design, atmosphere and story of Metro 2033 are more sophisticated, but the gunplay and combat of Singularity outshine it. As I said on another site, it's too bad this game didn't get as much hype because the multiplayer is really a lot of fun, but because it didn't sell like a Modern Warfare, I noticed I kept running into several of the same people online. And this was only a few weeks after the initial release. The one complaint that I had with the MP was that it was hard to get a connection a lot of times, so I would get frustrated waiting for a game or losing connection to the host or clearly being the victim of lag. But hey, if millions of people are still playing MW2 with all the glitchers and hackers, what's a little lag from time to time in Singularity, right?

As I said above, I played through the campaign twice in about a 4 day period, so the budget gamer may want to consider it as a rental. But the MP provides great fun that adds a lot of replay value.

Score: 8/10

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