Singularity [Xbox 360] – Review

Singularity - Xbox 360 - North American Box Art

With Cubivore: Survival of the Fittest done and dusted, I thought I’d turn my attention to another game that’s been on my backlog for years: Singularity. Developed by Raven Software and published by Activision on June 29, 2010, it’s an alternate history first-person shooter centered on the Cold War and time manipulation. Accordingly, it has a few unique, and fun, time-based gameplay mechanics. The gunplay is solid but clearly intended for a mouse and keyboard in favor of a controller. Speaking of favors, I did myself none by playing on the hardest difficulty. Nonetheless, it lived up to my expectations and was a net-positive experience.

Conceived around the discovery of a powerful new element, the secret Soviet research facility located on the remote island Katorga-12 was a hotbed of scientific innovation in the 1950s. Funded by a government intent on usurping the United States as the dominant world power, research continued without limitations for a few years, until experimentation on the volatile E-99 led to the Singularity: a radiation event that killed hundreds and unknowingly fractured time. In present-day 2010, a group of U.S. Recon Marines are sent to investigate after a similar radiation blast originated from the long abandoned island. Another blast knocked the helicopter of Captain Nathaniel Renko, my avatar, out of the sky, forcing him to rendezvous with the other survivor on foot.

Singularity - PC - Memories of the Past
Visions, or phases, from the past appeared before Renko as he explored Katorga-12.

While exploring the decrepit surroundings Renko phased back in time, finding himself in the same location, engulfed in flames moments after the Singularity occurred in 1955. Unwittingly, he altered the timeline by rescuing Nikolai Demichev, a power-hungry scientist who otherwise perished. Back in the present, statues and busts that previously exhibited Stalin now feature Demichev. In the years that followed, rather than abandoning E-99 the Soviets, at the behest of Demichev, harnessed its power and rained bombs on their enemies, leading to a new world order. Renko reunited with his partner and together they tore through scores of Russian soldiers until they were captured. Confronted by Demichev himself, he ruthlessly executed Renko’s partner before a dustup allowed an escape.

Renko was ushered to safety by Kathryn, a member of the resistance group MIR-12. After a brief introduction, his objective became theirs and he set out to recover the Time Manipulation Device and save Viktor Barisov, the TMD’s creator. With this tool in-hand, combat started to diversify and the game came into its own. Foremost of the TMD’s battle uses was the ability to rapidly age enemies, reducing them to dust in a matter of seconds. This was beneficial at range but when the action popped Renko’s personal bubble, an impulse blast was in order. The TMD was limited by a recharging E-99 meter and early on, I was only able to get a couple uses in a firefight.

Singularity - PC - It's a Gas
Surrounded by poison gas and mutants, I did my best to find oxygen tanks in this sequence.

Besides Russian soldiers, a variety of radiated mutants roamed the island, frequently popping out of nowhere in jump scare moments. Their strength and agility highlighted a specific set of gameplay shortcomings in my playthrough: movement and aiming. Although I adjusted sensitivity settings to the extremes and in between, controlling Renko and targeting enemies never felt well-tuned for a controller, like Halo 3 does. The game’s aim assist was helpful but unreliable: when my reticule was in the vicinity of an enemy and I aimed down iron sights it’d usually lock-on, but not always. To compensate I developed the habit of pulling the left trigger twice which generally worked, but should’ve been unnecessary.

Like Demichev, Barisov originally died on the island back in the 1950s, only not as a result of the Singularity: he was murdered on Demichev’s orders. When Renko went back in time to save Barisov, the timeline was once again altered. Unbeknownst to the Soviets, Barisov remained on the island when it was abandoned, littering it with E-99 capsules and TMD upgrade terminals for the day Renko returned. Because of my desire to unlock achievements and trophies, I often torture myself by playing games on their hardest difficulty. Singularity was no exception and before I got the Deadlock upgrade, it was a rage-inducing experience.

Singularity - PC - Deadlock
The Deadlock function of the TMD was a stand-out ability.

The Deadlock upgrade allowed Renko to throw an orb which expanded on contact, slowing time to a crawl for all in its domain, except him. Enemies inside were essentially paused, allowing me to walk right up and headshot them. Action occurred at a standard clip outside so I still had to be mindful of who wasn’t affected, but any bullets, grenades, or foes that entered were more manageable. Deadlock was such an overpowered ability that even the hardest difficulty, which previously made me want to punch a wall, became a cakewalk. I was upgrading Renko’s abilities more frequently around this time too, increasing passive stats or health pack inventory, for instance.

Run down and rusted but curiously well-stocked with still functioning phones, typewriters, and BioShock-styled voice recordings, it was apparent the island had been abandoned in a hurry. Paired with the myriad untraceable sounds, intermittent jump scares, and the often spooky, ambient soundtrack, exploring the island between action sequences was an eerie affair. Given the disheveled mess left behind, it was unsurprising then that the TMD also had non-combat functions. Similar to Half-Life 2’s Gravity Gun, the TMD had a Gravity Manipulation upgrade that allowed Renko to pick up and throw specific objects. This ability was useful in battles as well but akin to the more cerebral sequences, underutilized.

Singularity - PC - Who Ya Gonna Call
The radiation effects were… extreme.

Like most works of fiction involving time travel, I found Singularity immediately appealing and more enjoyable when I didn’t dwell too much on the specifics. From the moment Barisov was saved, Renko’s objectives seemed insignificant, merely fetch quests in service of reaching the climactic, “choose-your-own-ending” finale. I was satisfied by the varying outcomes and as a whole, enjoyed the narrative. If there’s any reason to play Singularity however, it’s the Deadlock ability. It reigns supreme amongst a half-dozen novel abilities and improves upon an otherwise respectable first-person shooter. I had a few issues with the game, many stemming from my choice of difficulty but I wouldn’t hesitate to play it again. Just… maybe on the PC next time.

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