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SummaryLinear, gimmicky... and insanely fun!
The GoodRaven Software is a veteran developer of first-person shooters. Titles like Hexen, Heretic, Soldier of Fortune and Star Trek: Elite Force firmly established their reputation as a major player in the field.
Raven's proficiency in FPS-making clearly manifests itself in Singularity. It is, above all, an FPS done by people who knew everything there was to know about the genre. They did their homework, studied the history, and relied on their previous experience to create a highly entertaining, clever, and polished shooter.
For me, the most outstanding and pleasing feature of Singularity is its lack of fat. Everything in this game knows exactly the purpose it serves, everything is in place, and nothing is too much. Using their virtuoso technique, Raven designed a game that doesn't contain a single dull moment. There is variety and novelty at every corner. Singularity is brimming with ideas, surprises, diverse situations. It has a flawless pace, such as rarely encountered in video games. There is absolutely no repetition, no "filler material", no artificial extension of the game's life. When I finished the game, I was hungry for more.
Singularity is a linear shooter that relies on set pieces, a Half-Life kind of shooter. It is clear that Raven tried to create an "ultimate killer" in this game. It absorbed ideas, gameplay features, and stylistic elements from many great FPSs of the past. The two greatest inspirations were Half-Life 2 and BioShock.
Just like Half-Life 2, Singularity is a tightly designed, cleverly constructed one-way-road, which is in a way one set piece after another. In my opinion, Raven really perfected this technique here. Singularity is a non-stop show of surprises that keeps you on the edge of your seat. It has the best implementation of the old "monster-in-a-box" feature. If you think you've gotten used to those "boo!" moments, wait till you play Singularity. It is a game that will make you go "WHAT THE... ?!?!" more than once or twice. Actually, the whole game is built like a never-ending flow of events. Things keep happening. Explosions, collisions, sudden falls, enemies coming out of nowhere - all this is done incredibly well.
Singularity can also get very scary. The moment when the first boss suddenly rushes at you and tries to pry open the elevator doors, while you are going up, praying that he won't notice you, is still engraved in my memory. I will also not forget the short level where you had to sneak past blind mutants, trying not to attract their attention by making noise. And the battle against the giant creature on a train falling into abyss?.. Singularity is full of moments like that. It would take too much space to list all of them, and it's anyway much more fun just to play the game and see for yourself. Suffice to say that Singularity will never bore you. Even the more "regular" battles are done in such a way that you'll remember them. The creepy "tick" enemy (a descendant of head crabs from Half-Life), the assorted mutations and deformed beings, the spooky "zeks" that throw inflammable barrels at you, the very intense, and sometimes very sudden firefights with the soldiers - everything serves one purpose: raise the adrenaline level!
The influence of BioShock is perhaps the strongest one. The premises of the games are very similar. Just like in BioShock, the protagonist arrives on the scene when the destruction has already happened. The traditional Soviet setting also takes a cue from BioShock here. Abundance of detail, plenty of typical Soviet paraphernalia (slogans, instructions, posters, notes., etc.), the whole "retro touch" with old phones, typewriters, and so on, a certain grand magnificence of the installation, evoking the feeling of a whole civilization being doomed to death - everything is heavily influence by the classic Rapture experience.
The game is dripping with atmosphere, every single location has a dark beauty to it. It is not dark in a drab, depressing way, but in a majestic, artistic fashion. Like BioShock's Rapture, Katorga-12 is a work of art as much as it is a horrifying place. Singularity really brings out the beauty of madness, decay, and destruction. There is also something sad in the world of Singularity, an inherent feeling of compassion and regret.
Also taken straight from BioShock is a considerable RPG angle. Using the game's currency, you can purchase various nifty perks and upgrades. It is possible to develop your proficiency with a weapon of your choice, raising its attack power, ammo capacity, etc. You can enhance your special abilities, raise your HP bar, increase the amount of health packs you can carry, etc. Combined with the "two weapons only" feature from Halo, the limited inventory makes more sense than it did in BioShock, where you could carry a crazy assortment of heavy weaponry, but only nine health packs.
The outstanding Ukrainian game Cryostasis also might have influenced Singularity. The whole idea of setting an FPS in an "authentic Soviet environment", as opposed to the generic American-made locales derived from spy movies is perhaps an acknowledgment of the increasingly high quality of shooters developed in ex-Soviet countries. The visions the hero of Singularity has, which re-create the events of 1955, and the possibility to travel to an earlier point in time in order to change them are similar to the flashback sequences of Cryostasis.
Some might say that Singularity is an eclectic experience, that it doesn't really bring anything of its own on the table. That is not true. Singularity introduces a really cool idea, which is used as a story-related as well as a gameplay element - time-manipulation. Time-traveling and alike is always cool, but Singularity finds some rather original and exotic usages for it. Early in the game, you receive a device that allows you to revert objects in time. This is mostly used to solve the (very simple) puzzles; while the general idea for puzzle-solving is the same as in Half-Life 2 (moving objects around), Singularity gives it an additional touch. For example, it's not enough to just move over a crate to climb a higher surface - you should first age the crate, turn in into a flattened piece of metal, then pull it over to you through a narrow opening, rejuvenate it, and finally use it for your purposes. Pretty clever, don't you think?
Even cooler is the implementation of these time powers during battles. Your aging ability doesn't limit itself to crates; you can use it on any enemy in the game! Making an enemy soldier die of old age certainly belongs to the coolest gimmicks I've ever seen in a game. Competing with it is the possibility to mutate soldiers by manipulating your time device accordingly! Imagine being ambushed by five or six soldiers and quickly turning two of them into mutants, who immediately start attacking their former brethren, causing general havoc and confusion. Even the object-throwing feature from Half-Life 2 gets an overhaul here, thanks to the time-shifting ability: now you can, beside grabbing stuff and throwing it an the enemies, also catch whatever they are throwing at you, freeze it in time, and send it back with kind regards.
Time manipulation is a core element of the game's story. While not quite being of BioShock's caliber, the story of Singularity is decidedly better than that of Half-Life 2 (contrary to a popular opinion, I found the story of that game thin and generic), and is actually quite well thought-out for an FPS plot. It's true that not much happens in the middle of the game, but you have to play this game until the end in order to be able to appreciate its story. The ending scenario poses a very unusual and tough moral choice to the player, and also delivers a graceful (though not terribly original) plot twist based on a time paradox. If you've read Isaac Asimov End of Eternity or watched the Back to The Future movies (or any other story that involves time traveling), you'll have an idea of what the story of Singularity is about. Of course, the two aforementioned examples have much deeper and detailed stories, but the plot of Singularity is quite good as far as FPS stories go.
The BadSingularity belongs to the FPS design school that sacrifices exploration to tight scripting and quick pace. Half-Life 2 was probably the most famous example of it, and Singularity owes quite a lot to that game. While Raven masterfully exploited every possible trick and technique of this design thought, the result is still a very, very linear game. At least Half-Life 2 had some more or less vast areas with vehicles, which gave you a certain sense of exploration (even if it wasn't really there). Singularity is no-nonsense, unmasked, brutal linearity. You can't even fall down to your death in this game; the designers made it impossible to jump where you are not supposed to jump.
Just like in Half-Life 2, there is the irritating consensus on where you can go and where you can't. Come on, guys, I'm a soldier! I can run with a huge auto-cannon and behead big mummies! Why can't I make this tiny, teeny-weeny little jump?!.. Why do I have to put a crate to get to that opening? It's clearly visible that a normal human being wouldn't need a bloody crate to get there!.. Same applies to objects: why can I age supply boxes and soldiers, but nothing else? Why can't I age, say, a chair? Why can I throw conveniently placed inflammable barrels but can't throw a stone?.. And so on, and so on. In short: Singularity is a game in which you do what the designers want you to do, or else!.. I'm sure you can name hundreds of such examples from other FPSs, but they are a bit too obvious in Singularity.
The most serious critique of Singularity is probably its lack of more open-ended scenarios and realistic FPS mechanics. Singularity is all gimmicks. It is worth playing for experiencing everything the designers invented, but it doesn't allow you to play the game the way you want. Your head is constantly full with all those clever tricks the game keeps throwing at you, and you don't have enough time to realize that you've been lead by the hand through an admittedly fascinating, but limited game world.
Anyone familiar with the history of first-person shooters will immediately notice that Raven tried very hard to pack different cool ideas from other games into Singularity. The similarities to BioShock, however, are so strong that we can safely call Singularity a BioShock clone. There is nothing offensive in this designation, but I couldn't help feeling that Raven wanted to imitate BioShock too much. The setting, while clearly paying homage to BioShock's Rapture, was very appealing; but the "uncovering the story of the past" gameplay element, which was so well-done in BioShock (and which it itself borrowed from System Shock games) sadly seems to be present in Singularity just because "BioShock did it and became a big hit, so let's do it too". The audio recordings of BioShock enriched the story and deepened the characters. The audio recordings of Singularity are just... well, audio recordings. You can listen to them or you can ignore them - not much will change. They are artificially placed, arranged a too neatly in a linear fashion, and generally make little sense. Why would a guy take a bulky audio recorder while running away from a terrifying beast anyway?..