Singularity (Xbox 360) review
"Let me set up Singularity’s opening sequence for you. The game is set in an alternate reality in which America and Russia are at war (obviously), and you’ve been sent to infiltrate a Soviet island on which our adversaries have been experimenting with a fictional ninety-ninth element called – get this – E99. Your helicopter crashes and you’re separated from your partner, and then, for some reason, you’re transported to a burning building in 1955. You pull a scientist to safety despite a sh..."
Let me set up Singularity’s opening sequence for you. The game is set in an alternate reality in which America and Russia are at war (obviously), and you’ve been sent to infiltrate a Soviet island on which our adversaries have been experimenting with a fictional ninety-ninth element called – get this – E99. Your helicopter crashes and you’re separated from your partner, and then, for some reason, you’re transported to a burning building in 1955. You pull a scientist to safety despite a shadowy figure in the distance warning you not to. Then you’re sent back to an alternate present in which the man you saved from the fire has ruled the world since 1955.
Have you already surmised that (a) the act of saving the scientist was the event that altered the course of history, and (b) the shadowy figure is you, from the future, trying to correct your mistake? Yes? Then congratulations, because you’re a lot smarter than the writers at Raven thought you’d be, and you’re certainly much smarter than the characters in Singularity, who take the length of an entire game to figure out exactly what’s going on and how to fix it.
Singularity is actually a pretty good game, but man is this plot ever stupid. Time travel fiction can become incredibly nonsensical if you’re not careful, and Singularity has you repeatedly changing history only to return to a present in which everyone knows exactly who you are and what’s going on, despite everything after 1955 being altered. The people who conceived this story write themselves into so many dead ends, in fact, that they continuously come back to the same all-purpose plot device to dig themselves out. This E99 junk does whatever the writers need it to do, whether it’s manipulating time, turning people into mutant freaks or destroying a singularity. Intent on being one of those “atmosphere shooters” that draw critical praise, Singularity’s tour through dilapidated towns and squishy, biomass-encased sewers is technically sufficient but completely lacking in context, tied loosely to the flimsiest of flimsy time travel stories.
See, referring to Singularity as a BioShock clone that’s not as good as BioShock doesn’t tell me much since most people weren’t bothered by the things BioShock did wrong, but I can see why Activision’s attempt to cut in on 2K’s action hasn’t impressed many people. No one will lose themselves in Singularity; if anything, the consistent stupidity of the story will repeatedly remind players that this is nothing more than a video game.
Singularity mimics BioShock in a number of ways that are immediately apparent, as it’s a first-person shooter with scant RPG elements, audio logs and rooms chock full of collectible doodads. Its one claim to fame is a device that allows the player to age or “revert” objects and creatures. It’s got some nice combat benefits, like when you expose enemies by causing their cover to whither and crumble, but from a design standpoint, it falls victim to what I call “Geist syndrome,” in which a promising idea is underutilized due to overly linear implementation. If you come to a collapsed bridge, restore it to youth and cross it. If an electric lock is holding you back, zap that bitch into next decade and watch it rust. There are a few nifty puzzles, but there’s almost never any question as to when or how you’re supposed to use the device, which reduces the mechanic to a mere novelty.
There are some other cool weapons, including a gun that fires explosive bullets that you can steer through the air in slow-motion, or a grenade launcher that drops remote-controlled bombs. What I disliked, at least initially, was that Raven implemented a two-weapon inventory, which often seems to work against the design theory of having a vast selection of varied weapons for a vast selection of varied combat situations. (That was one of the many reasons why Resistance 2 sucked.) An early sequence had me trapped in a courtyard with a bunch of teleporting zombie-like creatures clawing at me. There were shotgun shells all over the ground, but I didn’t have my shotgun, and both of my other weapons were nearly empty. I was obviously supposed to have my shotgun on me, but since I didn’t, I was forced to replay the area until I found an approach that got me to the other end alive.
I was frustrated, until I realized: Wait. This game is forcing me to get creative and make the most of what I have. Singularity is actually reasonably challenging, which is something BioShock never was. The weapons and plasmid-esque abilities at your disposal are fun to toy around with, and coupling that with opponents that at least warrant your respect (i.e., they can actually kill you) does wonders to make the combat consistently exciting. Singularity also avoids the trap of relying on overly tangential level design, instead moving at a brisker, more straightforward pace with no backtracking whatsoever.
So basically, Singularity is a BioShock clone that’s a better actual game, if not necessarily a better overall experience. Whether or not it’s worth playing depends on your willingness to accept that it’s also missing an engrossing, mature story and rich attention to detail, which I’m assuming are the things that made BioShock such a success to begin with. Because it sure as hell wasn’t the fucking pipe mini-game.
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