Singularity (Xbox 360) review
"Singularity doesn’t merely look and sound like BioShock. It doesn’t merely copy a few of its most popular features. This is a game that actually feels like 2K’s famed shooter. Even the more creative weapons (such as the Time Manipulation Device) feel like they belong in the BioShock universe."
No one can imitate the Pepsi formula. Many have tried to copy its distinct flavor, but after several decades, the cola (and everything we love about it) remains exclusive to the Pepsi brand.
In the game industry, Mario, Halo and Resident Evil are just a few of the franchises that have a similar degree of exclusivity. Publishers would love to copy those games, along with World of Warcraft, Metal Gear Solid and Mortal Kombat. However, history has showed us time and time again that it simply cannot be done.
Diehard shooter fans probably think that BioShock belongs in that same category, but that will change the moment they play Singularity. While it is by no means a superior product, Singularity is scarily good at re-creating BioShock’s distinct brand of gameplay.
This goes beyond the special moves (such as levitating objects and catching explosive barrels before they land) that Singularity borrowed. This goes deeper than a story that’s told with tape-recorded messages, an idea that was also taken from BioShock. The graphic style and the enemy concepts (they came from human experiments) are all too familiar, as are the sound effects and the way that the levels are laid out (they’re big but offer a linear path to each goal).
But aside from the levitation mechanics, these elements are superficial. You wouldn’t see or experience any of them and think, “This game is just like BioShock.” However, if you were to pick up the controller and run through a few levels, you’d finally be at the point where you could make that statement. Singularity doesn’t merely look and sound like BioShock. It doesn’t merely copy a few of its most popular features. This is a game that actually feels like 2K’s famed shooter. Even the more creative weapons (such as the Time Manipulation Device, or TMD, which I’ll get to later in the review) feel like they belong in the BioShock universe.
For the first 30 minutes, this is pretty unsettling. Almost every big game out there has been ripped off by someone looking to cash in. But what would happen if the clone games started to become indistinguishable from the original title? Would video games slowly turn into a bland commodity where the only difference between a brand name and a generic product is the price?
After the first couple of hours, however, those questions begin to fade away. In addition to everything else that Singularity has borrowed, it is also somewhat successful in emulating BioShock’s level of fun. The battles are particularly impressive. You’ll be consumed by the non-stop attacks from super humans and mutated zombie things (they’re far from human but are much more vicious than any zombie I’ve faced). Giant, laser-shooting arachnids love to crawl through the game’s tight corridors, while tiny and explosive, bulb-shaped insects attempt to run over their prey. If it weren’t for the fact that these enemies are stupid (ex: they attack without direction and occasionally get stuck behind walls), players would have quite a fight on their hands.
Still, enemies love to hunt in packs, so the game isn’t a cakewalk. To combat the continuous threat, Singularity provides a decent range of weapons that include the standard handgun, shotgun, sniper rifle, machinegun and auto-cannon (which is essentially a super machinegun) arsenal. The game also features a grenade launcher that fires small, spherical bombs that the player can steer toward the enemy.
Similarly, there’s a cool – though completely under-used – weapon that fires an exploding bullet that the player can manually control, sort of like an RC airplane. Unfortunately, I only found it necessary to use this weapon twice throughout the entire game. In almost every circumstance, the auto-cannon took care of each enemy invasion. And when that weapon wasn’t enough, the sniper rifle and grenade launcher could handle the rest.
Finally, there’s the most important tool/weapon of them all: the Time Manipulation Device. This device provides you with many different powers, but its most significant one is the ability to age objects to a point in time in which they are no longer viable, or to reverse the process and bring them back to their current state. Technologically, this is a very cool concept. But it is seriously under developed.
Instead of allowing players to run around the world with the goal of aging or reverting anything they please, the game is all but limited to staircases, crates, boxes, electrical systems and plant formations. Singularity then uses those objects to create a series of obvious puzzles. Ex: if plants are blocking your path, age them. If a staircase has been destroyed, heal its steps so that people may once again experience the joy of walking upward.
These puzzles are too-duh-for-words, so the game uses crates to add a bit of variety. First up: high platforms. If you can’t reach the platform above, grab an old crate, revitalize it, and use it to climb up. Next, players will encounter a broken door that has only been lifted a foot off the ground. They can’t raise it any higher because it’s broken, and the TMD can’t be used to heal it. Ironic, isn’t it? The device that’s supposed to help in a situation like this is completely useless.
Well, not entirely. Singularity expects players to grab a broken crate, slide it under the door, and revert it back to its original state, causing the crate to grow and push the door up a couple feet, allowing the player to crawl through.
Singularity takes another stab at originality by allowing the player to jump through a time portal, but this feature is so rare and so linear (the game tells you exactly where to go; if you ignore the directions, you won’t be able to do much of anything) that players won’t care.
Toward the end, the Singularity starts to lose its edge. After you've spent several hours of running and gunning (and solving the worst puzzles known to man), the battles aren’t as exciting. Just when you begin to wonder if the game can turn itself around and come out a winner, the credits appear. It’s an abrupt end that will leave the player feeling like he received half of a game, despite having paid the full game price.
After exhausting the multi-player modes (which include a human-versus-monster team battle and a beacon/territory protection mode), Singularity is no longer the thrill-ride that it first appeared to be. Ultimately, playing this game after BioShock is sort of like eating plain vanilla ice cream after finishing a bowl of French vanilla: the second serving isn’t as rich and creamy as the first, but it still tastes pretty good…until you’re full.
While there is certainly a week’s worth of entertainment packed within Singularity, this is not a shooter that most players will be dying to come back to. That right there is the most significant thing that sets these two games apart. Several years from now, people will still want to play through the original BioShock. But when asked about the star of this review, most players are likely to respond, “Singularity who?”
Freelance review by Louis Bedigian (July 21, 2010)
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