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Singularity

Score: 97%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Raven Software
Media: DVD/1
Players: 1; 2 - 12 (Online)
Genre: First Person Shooter/ Action/ Shooter


Graphics & Sound:

Singularity is a game that has everything going for it. It's got a great pedigree with Raven Software bringing it to life, a great and somewhat original premise to make it stand out, and an overall compelling gameplay experience. In fact, I have to say it's probably the best FPS I've played this year.

The game's presentation is top notch. The island of Katorga-12 has a profound "life after man" feel to it with human locations overrun by wild plants, both mutated and not, and general decay everywhere. Meanwhile, the island as it was in it's prime, you travel to 1955 quite often you see, has the bright and shiny look of a well maintained laboratory.

Audio also hits the mark with great voicework and chilling sound effects that go along way to creeping you out as you explore mutant-filled environments. Actually, the only real, minor, glitch I noticed with Singularity's presentation came from times when soldiers shouldn't be talking, but were. This was typically after I've frozen them with a cryogenic container.


Gameplay:

Singularity feels like a much tighter attempt at what TimeShift tried to do. Where the other game gave you a lot of freedom with your time manipulation powers and a way too helpful A.I., it resulted in a fairly easy game that had, what Starscream refers to as an "I win" button. Instead, Singularity gives you basic time controlling powers with the understanding that what you can use it on is limited to organic life, or objects imbued with the strange element E99.

You play as Captain Renko, who has been sent to this island by the US government on a recon mission to simply check it out. No real information is given about the island or why you are there, but it's pretty obvious the place has been abandoned for many years, not to mention completely disavowed by the Russian government. When an EMP blasts you and your team out of the sky, you find yourself one of the only survivors of your squad. To make matters worse, and stranger, bright flashes of light end up throwing you back in time to when the laboratories were on fire. Apparently, Captain Renko isn't too up on his science fiction since he is compelled to save a man while in the past, and when he is thrust back to 2010, there are some noticeable differences. For one, the island seems to have quite a few more menacing creatures on it now, and what used to be a decrepit tower is shooting up a pillar of energy into the sky.

You soon learn that your bit of heroism in the past resulted in the man you saved taking over the world with the strange experimental element that can only be found on Katorga-12. E99 not only offers a seemingly limitless supply of energy, but when properly used, can actually manipulate time. Now, of course, you mission is to set the timeline right, and to aid you in your journey is a woman from the dwindling rebellious movement who has, apparently, been waiting for you to show up for 50 years, and another Russian doctor who developed the device that you will use to manipulate time at will.

The Time Manipulation Device (TMD) starts off letting you do basic things like send a blast of energy out, and making certain objects older and newer. When aging something, they will decay and burn away, while hitting them with the TMD again will restore them to their original glory. This allows for interesting puzzles like having to destroy boxes to move them into position, and restore them to provided needed height, or forcing mutated plants out of your way or making them grow to make a path. What's also nice is the ability to age enemies and cause them to decay before your very eyes.

As Singularity's story progresses, you gain new powers and the ability to upgrade various basic stats on both your TMD and your normal weapons. While nowhere near an RPG, this bit of upgrade-mechanic really help to tailor the game to your personal gameplay style, and really adds a lot to the overall product.

Singularity's single player experience is a blast, and really deserves at least one play through, and while the game does offer multiplayer matches, there never seemed to be anyone online and ready to go. We will keep trying though, and if we can get a match going, we will report back on the experience. I can only hope the TMD will play a major part your abilities, and with several players being able to use the device, it can either be a fun experience, or an overwhelming one. What we do know is that the game offers two modes, Creatures vs. Humans and Extermination and lets you play with up to 12 players.


Difficulty:

Singularity has three difficulty settings, and for the most part, they are spread out nicely. I found the enemies in the Easy setting to be much easier to take down than those of the other two settings, while my life expectancy on the Hard setting was considerably shorter than the easier two. I found my sweet spot in the Normal setting where the general grunts of the game were only difficult when they swarmed me, while the bigger bad guys were still tough to tackle. Of course, your ability to take and deal damage is also based on how you upgrade your various powers. If you sink a substantial number of upgrade points into heavier firepower, more life and TMD energy, you will find the later parts of the game to be far less difficult than the sheer amount of health packs laying around implies it should be.

That isn't to say there aren't any super-hard areas on even the lower settings. There were at least two places in the game where it took several attempts, and typically passing the controller around between friends, before progressing. One of these is when you have to escape a sewer filled with mutated bugs that charge you and explode when near, and another involves a creature that likes to disappear until he is in front of you and slashing at you. I will say though, that when finally getting past these parts of the game, I had an all new appreciation and understanding of some of the powers the TMD gives you.


Game Mechanics:

Singularity offers quite a few interesting gameplay mechanics that add quite a bit of depth, especially later in the game as you gain access to some of the TMD's more unusual powers. Early on, you gain powers like the ability to pick up objects from far away and throw them, and while this is pretty basic, there are quite a few cases where grabbing explosive barrels and missiles from mid-air and launching them back at the creature that threw them at you is the only way to end the fight. One of my favorite abilities though is being able to turn human soldiers into a creature known as a Revert. These blind mutants simply attack whatever makes noises. While slowly inching your way through a corridor of these creatures is, by far, the most nerve-wracking part of the game, being able to make them and have them turn on the other enemies (as long as you stay quiet) is a real blast and adds a lot to the game as a whole.

Raven Software has a long history of creating games that push the envelope in both gameplay and story development. I've been a fan since their first Heretic game, all the way to last year's Wolfenstein title. Singularity is just another example of a great game that any FPS fan will want to play through. While it doesn't offer a lot in the multiplayer department, its single player experience is outstanding.


-J.R. Nip, GameVortex Communications
AKA Chris Meyer

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