The Definition of Unrealised Potential
I'm gonna preface my review with a little analogy to help get my point across. You know when you were sat in class at school, maybe 7 or 8 years old. Your teacher tells you that you have to write a short story, and out of nowhere you get this fantastic idea. You quickly form a somewhat coherent story around it, and get to writing. Now, if you were to read that again today, that story that you thought was so clever at the time, not only would you wonder what the heck’s happened to your handwriting in the intervening years, but you would also realise that the story was running on one idea that you perhaps put too much focus on. And that brings me to Singularity.
I've read so many comparisons around the internet, and sure, it does share some similarities with some games; I, for instance, got a strong Half Life vibe throughout, but to its credit it is trying to shake things up a bit. The story is well formed, being based on that fresh idea that all Russians are evil (For those asking, next year it’s OK to use the North Koreans. Then you can go back to Nazis in 2012). Turns out on the beautifully grim island Katorga-12, the Russians have developed Element-99, which unfortunately does not create fluffy bunnies and kittens, but instead results in the destruction of time itself. To its worth, Singularity does do a decent job of laying out the story, through audio recordings, notes, and flashbacks. The downside being I didn’t engage with any of the characters. It’s the movie equivalent of a Christopher Nolan backdrop with cartoon cut-outs stuck on the top. They have no real emotions, only driven by the obvious ‘trying to stop the bad stuff happening’. Sorry to compare this to Half Life again, but the thing that made that engaging in spite of a silent protagonist was the array of characters you could connect with. A father daughter relationship, a potential love interest, a forgetful scientist, a ratty brain box; all characters I remember vividly and connected with constantly. In Singularity there’s a girl...and a scientist...and a baddie. Oh and Nolan North.
So, funnily enough, Singularity is a FPS. And to its worth it’s a good one. The guns feel responsive and right, and although you can upgrade weapons they never feel overpowered. Your shooting gallery consists of typical ‘evil Russians’, who apparently were only taught two lines of speech at ‘evil Russian school’, and time-altered beasties. The AI of the soldiers is pretty standard. They duck for cover and shoot over it, and smack you if you come too close. They sometimes get a bit too clumped together, but it’s never too annoying. The beasties are pretty standard zombie grade types- you have the ones that mindlessly run at you, the ones that spit stuff at you, the bug-like ones etc. Again, the AIs fine, and since they’re ‘time anomalies’ you sometimes get cool popping in and out of time stream wackiness to keep you on your toes. Again, your weaponry is standard FPS stuff, and as I mentioned earlier can be upgraded and swapped out at little weapon terminals. For some strange reason it feels as if the designers went a little mad towards the end, and you bump into a terminal in every other room, but initially they seem well placed, allowing you to swap out appropriate weapons and buy any ammo you think you need. Naturally the big new ‘weapon’ is the Time Manipulation Device (TMD).
This is where my opening analogy comes into play. At the heart of it, the TMD and its potential uses are pretty clever. You can rebuild ammo boxes, ‘age’ stairs to get under them, or repair switches to restart the power. The trouble is the potential isn’t really utilised. Be it a fault of the creators, or some sort of time limit put on them, it feels like much less of an intelligent idea by the end. The best way I can describe it is it's very set-piece. Here’s something to age. Here’s something to de-age. And repeat. Now that’s somewhat inevitable. Time is such a complicated concept to integrate into a linear video game that limiting it to two ‘states’ is perhaps the easiest solution. The trouble is it results in feeling like you may as well be waving a magic wand rather than manipulating time. At points you actually ‘travel back’ to the 1950s, typically in order to set up something that pays off 60 years later, and I think this is what could have been used instead. Travelling back and forwards in time between two states would feel a lot more fluid and ‘cool’ than doing something Harry Potter does when he’s bored.
The TMD does have some other uses. It has a ‘melee’ attack that pushes foes back, slowing time-monsters down a bit. It can age humans to death and turn them into time-monsters themselves (I’m not even sure the developers could explain that one away). It’s a neat device to use in combat, and for me it was more an emergency thing; if baddies were getting a bit close, force them back and maybe age a few. Naturally they don’t want you using this constantly, and so you collect time ammo, as it were, though the device regenerates ammo over time, and I never found myself in a tricky position without any. On a similar point the game seems very fair with ammo. Most rooms have some sort of pickup, even if it is slightly hidden, and ammo can be bought at weapon stations, as well as found in crates.
Overall the game seems to be wrapped up in its own potential, never fully developing or making a lasting impression. It’s neither a standout shooter, a compelling story, nor a complex puzzle device. But, to its credit, it’s not an awful experience. The graphics are quite nice, and I felt the urge to want to play it, perhaps in the naive hope of more challenging puzzles later, or perhaps just because it was a quite nice experience. The game offers a pretty involved multiplayer, that’s limited to two modes, but allows you to play as a range of soldiers and time-enemies. It is a tad overwhelming at times, having too many classes playing against one another, and the servers seem pretty bare at the moment, but from what I played it seemed fun and clever, and the guys obviously put a fair amount of thought behind it. And so, in summary, the game is a great rental, but not really a fantastic buy. It has ideas behind it that, given more time, no doubt would’ve been utilised more, but as they are, they’re pretty average. It floats around, sometimes having a spooky atmosphere, and sometimes trying to give you an engaging world, but never really fully accomplishes either. It’s the game of so many ideas but unfortunately not enough pay off.