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SummaryFun, but linear and too gimmicky
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.
Singularity, however, was made during a different time, when FPS design was dominated by a very specific fashion. It is a linear shooter that relies on setpieces - 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 clearly 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 setpiece after another. It is full of those old "monster-in-a-box" moments. 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 really well.
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 stylish setting also takes a cue from that game 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.
Also taken straight from BioShock is a light 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 a bit more sense than it did in BioShock, where you could carry a crazy assortment of heavy weaponry, but only nine health packs.
Some might say that Singularity is a completely eclectic experience, and it's mostly true. It does, however, introduce a really cool idea - 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 - at least until you begin to see how limited this feature turns out to be.
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, besides 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.
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 tried to exploit 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 all too obvious in Singularity.
The most serious problem of Singularity is its lack of more open-ended scenarios and any kind of realistic FPS mechanics. Singularity is all gimmicks. It might be worth playing once to experience whatever 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 led by the hand through an admittedly attractive, but very 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 I couldn't help feeling they wanted to imitate that famous game too much. For example, 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 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?..