Release Date: June 29, 2010
Time Played: A little under two hours
Troubleshooting: some foolery if you want the FOV reasonable (I recommend Flawless Widescreen)
Dubiosity:2 out of 5
Would rather play than: Call of Duty Warzone
Would I play more? I already did play another hour or so and may get around to finishing it.
Having played a triumvirate of Raven Software games this year, on stream (Jedi Outcast, Jedi Academy, and Star Trek Voyager: Elite Force) I feel pretty confident in declaring them one of the preeminent FPS devs of the 90s and 00s (they also made Marvel Ultimate Alliance, which is baller.) Their last game before being absorbed into the Call of Duty Machine that currently comprises Activision-Blizzard was Singularity, and it’s an… interesting one? Apparently the product of an extremely messy development, the final product that reached store shelves was cobbled together in about ten months of raw crunch after almost being canceled. Despite this, it seems totally solid. Almost as if it was made by a team of devs who deserved better than the unenviable task of making multiplayer maps for the last decade.
While I could definitely see parts of that truncated dev cycle in my time with Singularity, the most dubious thing about it might be its resemblance to Bioshock. Replace the Art Deco and underwater objectivism with Soviet Realism and time shenanigans and it’s definitely in the realm of “non-infringing but still heavily influenced.” Thankfully, instead of philosophy 101 lectures on Ayn Rand it’s mostly about how your silent protagonist accidentally fucked with time and now the Soviets rule the world. You’ve got a time gauntlet that’s basically your plasmid button, which gives you a handful of abilities you use to manipulate objects and solve environmental puzzles. There are physics interactions, boxes will be moved with telekinesis, and sometimes you will press “Q” to age or de-age things in the environment to like… open a grate or something. It’s never not abundantly clear where to go, if the NPCs constantly telling you where to go wasn’t clear enough. That’s fine. It’s a shooter from 2010 after all, so a scripted roller coaster is something to be expected. It’s a perfectly fine “one of those” even if it never quite goes as hard on spectacle as I imagine the devs would’ve liked.
Also on the “wow they were kinda just trying to make a Bioshock” list, the entire game is just rotten with *environmental storytelling.* Which is my nice way of saying it has a lot of notes and audio logs and film reels you have to stand in place to watch or listen. Why? For some ungodly reason there are no subtitles in this video game from the year of our lord 2010, which is one of those oversights I find inexcusable. Credit where credit is due, the art design team clearly had a blast making fake soviet propaganda posters and there’s a lot of creative art direction in the periphery. It’s unfortunate most of the game takes place in extremely dingy ruined grey environments, but once again t’was the style at the time. I’d comment more on the story and characters, but honestly the storytelling is one of those places where the rushed nature of the game is abundantly obvious. It’s a touch incoherent and feels patched together, which I guess you can get away with when you have “because time travel” as a built-in excuse. Mostly I just want to comment on the number of recognizable voice acting veterans putting on their best/worst hollywood Russian accents, because that’s the one thing that actually stood out to me.
The actual moment-to-moment shooty shoot bits are, to put it nicely, extremely Xbox 360. The FOV is locked to 65 without outside hackery, the graphics are rich with Unreal 3 sheen, and it’s abundantly clear the game was not made with the added precision of a mouse and keyboard in mind. I’m saying aiming down sights sure does just snap you right to whatever Spetsnaz or time mutant happens to be directly in front of you. It’s not a bad time, and there’s enough fun eclectic nonsense between the weapons and time powers that it’s occasionally worthwhile to do something other than shoot a guy with the default Assault Rifle. Raven Software’s expertise with basic-ass shooter fundamentals still shines through. When you hit things with ridiculous time magic or weird explody gun, there is good visual and auditory feedback (and the death animations were gruesome enough to get banned in Germany, apparently.)
I guess what I’m trying to say is that Singularity is pretty good, but it’s not great. It’s a solid approximation of much better first person shooters, one that I had to revisit while I was writing this so I could make sure I wasn’t getting specific things wrong. It’s Raven Software’s last non-Calladuty game, and if nothing else it has me considering some more Hexen 2 or something.
Duke Nukem Forever
Release Date: June 14, 2011
Time Played: Around 90 minutes
Dubiosity: 5 out of 5 (if not this game than what else?)
Dukiosity: too much
Would I play more? For one my throat was already hurting after 90 minutes of doing my terrible Duke impression. For another, I think I hate this game. So yes, I will probably play more one day.
Okay so if you were on the internet at any point between the years 1997 and 2011 there’s a fairly decent chance you are aware of Duke Nukem Forever. For those too young, however, I have great news: you’re fine. What can I say about this game that hasn’t been said a thousand times? Is it the part where Duke’s entire attitude and aesthetic is embarrassing and sad? Or like, the part where it feels like a discordant, scattershot “greatest hits” compilation of every FPS design trope and set piece that existed between the years 1997 and 2011? Or the part where it’s an ugly-as-sin Unreal Engine 3 Early 360 Stank work of visual design? Maybe it’s all of those things!
I’m not going to stand here and tell you Duke Nukem 3D is a game without issue, because it’s a game that is composed of “issue.” You don’t need me to tell you that from a modern perspective DN3D’s tone is equal parts sad and sleazy, a relic of 90s parodies of 80s action movies with a nice helping of weird creepy misogyny. However, as exemplification of what video games were in 1996, of what the First Person Shooter was aspiring towards, it’s an important *thing* in the history of video games. It has an attitude! It has interactivity! In a year where Quake sacrificed almost everything for speed and real-time fidelity, Duke 3D’s excess and vanity stands in stark contrast. It’s also a totally solid “one of those” even if I’m increasingly resolute in saying Blood is the actual best game using the Build Engine. Blood is so good you guys. Blood 2 seems like dogshit, but that’s another upcoming episode for another time.
DNF is just… hey it’s the game I was expecting it to be. It’s a wretched, yet varied, pastiche of different ideas awkwardly cobbled together with bad shooting and the sense that the people who made this game think the protagonist is cool. Duke Nukem Forever’s only true relevance to the medium of video games is the infamous length of its development (which isn’t even the longest something was vaporware before coming out.) For that you can blame 3D Realms’ ambitions wildly exceeding the size of their team, compounded by George Broussard’s obsession with being on the cutting edge of tech. I mostly just feel pity for them. Well, that and I wish I had never played this game, but hey knowing me it’ll be streamed for charity at some point. Fuck all video games forever. Next time will be better.
|C&C Renegade and XIII||Realms of the Haunting and PowerSlave (DOS)|