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Singularity (X360)

Singularity (X360)

Singularity Review

Singularity Review – XBOX 360

In a time when the first person shooter genre seems weighted down in reality, or some close approximation of it at least, it does beg the question what the frag-hungry gamer does for some actual R&R these days. If not crawling on their bellies through a network of Vietnam like tunnels, or having to keep one eye on ammunition supplies, or even having to be wary of their own commanding officers, there is always something heavy trundling over that reality based horizon that can make the whole thing sometimes too intense, if not out and out stressful. What are we supposed to do for fun these days if every game puts players through an emotional boot camp?

Well, the backlash begins here with the suitably nonsensical Singularity, a mish mash of clichéd plot threads and implausible weapons. Set on a top secret island owned by the Russians, a series of experiments has caused absolute mayhem resulting in a landscape populated by monsters, mutants, zombies and panicking Russian soldiers. The mission of the player is quite simply to put an end to it all by pretty much killing everything on the island and the tools to do it are on hand. A game that owes more than a passing nod to titles of yesteryear, Singularity allows the player to cause maximum carnage in a variety of ways and cares little for the consequences, just like the good old days. The only question left to answer? Is nostalgia what it used to be?

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Before we get to the all-important guns, the first thing that might stand out is that the game looks a lot like BioShock. Even with this being the case though the game plays out very differently and lacks any of the metaphysical deliberations contained within. It avoids subtext almost entirely in fact, instead relying very much on the action. Sure, there are some nice jokes thanks to some completely fake Soviet propaganda and running conversations with scientists that are so mad they make Dr. Cyclops seem as if he was suitable for state sponsorship but ultimately this is about traditional run and gun style play.

While there have been many games that have a vast array of weapons all with different functions in the past, of late there has been a fairly mundane feel to all of them, if not an out and out adherence to authenticity that has become a little bit hackneyed. Singularity will prove a welcome antidote to all that with a "bigger is better" approach that sees the player equipped with ironically named mini-guns, grenade launchers, shotguns, machine guns and others besides. Apart from all being able to cut through a swathe of enemies in no time at all they also boast secondary functions that make the massacres more entertaining than they ought to be. For example, the grenade launcher has an option to drop a remote controlled grenade that can be steered until it finds a potential target, bobbing and weaving between rubble like some deadly impossi-ball. Does it make any difference to the fatal outcome? Not really… But sometimes the journey is more fun than the destination.

The most fun of all has to be the Time Manipulation Device, a novel approach to eradicating foes in that it can make them older or younger. Turn angry, agile soldiers into walking corpses, or bags of bones. It can also create force fields that dilate time making everything in it slower, and easier to kill. Not to begin with of course, it is a weapon that is upgraded over the duration of the single player campaign but it does add something of a new dimension to the destruction. It can also be used to solve some of the puzzles but don’t worry – those are few and far between and are about as taxing as the average junior wordsearch.

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Indeed, what the game does well is prevent it’s fairly simple mechanics from becoming stale by throwing in unique twists, such as new types of terrain to negotiate or enemies with peculiar quirks to destroy, so just when the player thinks they are in for more of the same it turns out they are not. This is especially true of some of the boss fights in the game, which make for highly entertaining set pieces, although some may be best avoided by those with arachnophobia. It’s just a nod to the traditional way of gaming and it’s so well executed it serves as proof, if any were needed, that designers don’t need to reinvent the wheel to provide gamers with a positive experience.

Yet, for all its traditional roots, the game does conform to the staples anyone would expect from a modern title. There’s an upgrade system, which in truth does feel at odds with the rest of the game. It does enable the development of some interesting powers and weapons but it’s nothing that enhances the game too much outside of the perks that come with them. It could be there or not, the difference would be negligible. That said while there’s little innovative here, there’s also little to grumble about with everything being done so well.

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While the game does have elements of BioShock to it, some of the characterisations are more akin to something like Team Fortress 2 with some Starship Trooper type monsters thrown in for good measure. It has to be said it’s clear that Raven Software weren’t going for realism at any point during this but in the same way that the gameplay has a serious link to the past, so do the graphics.

A few animation glitches aside all the polish in the world doesn’t really make the Unreal Engine 3 stand up to some of the more modern titles available and while there is a nice fluidity to the movement of enemies and the protagonist, there is also a slightly underwhelming feel to the visual component of the game. It’s as well the game moves along with some perfect pacing otherwise players may well be inclined to focus on them. Thankfully they are unlikely to register as there is usually too much going on and regardless of the number of on screen opponents there’s no slow down or any graphical distortion as a result.

The interface is simple and straightforward and is free from clutter, somewhere between Call of Duty and, to keep the oldschool nods coming, GoldenEye 64. Just as well because anything interfering with the on-screen action could really have made the game a bit more of a slog. All told it has to be said that while it’s almost as highly polished as it could be, even with all that elbow grease it still looks something of an antique.

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No 1950s B-Movie nonsense would be complete with a range of some of the worst accents put on outside of the film Highlander. Of course, in this setting it fits perfectly and adds to the borderline camp comedy that is offset nicely against some genuine moments of tension. All the voice acting is spot on in terms of the tone in which it’s delivered and thankfully no-one comes along trying to spoil the fun by delivering something serious in a bid to win a gaming Oscar.

The sound effects in game are also equally suitable with the right blend of the technological zaps and thwomps blending in with the biological squelches and splats. Like the cheap B-movies it owes so much to it derives a lot of it scares from the sudden burst of loud noise as a giant lizard starts wrecking the joint. It’s not sophisticated but it is effective and players will jump more than once over the course of the single player campaign.

The online version plays like a very stripped down and not nearly as scary version of Left 4 Dead, with players being given the chance to be not only the soldiers but the creatures found in the game too. With only two modes there’s not a lot of variety, Extermination is a standard defend and assault scenario while Creatures Versus Soldiers is a glorified Team Deathmatch mode but it’s the array of classes, creatures, weapons and perks that will keep players coming back. With a wide selection of different combinations possible it does make for a unique gaming experience each time, even if the maps and mode themselves could become boring.

Again, it certainly isn’t going to be wrestling any of the other multiplayer titles to the ground and forcing them to submit but it does tap right into that pick-up-and play simplicity missing from most multiplayer games. If anything online play is faster paced than the single player campaign and competing against humans makes up for the lack of truly taxing AI that the computer throws at players.

The lifespan of the multiplayer aspect of the game might not be as long as others. There’s no persistent experience system or sophisticated levelling required to open up a metagame. However long this lasts it will be hugely enjoyable, if perhaps forgotten in time.

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Raven Software have more than made amends for the reboot of Wolfenstein with this title. Fast, simple, enjoyable this ticks all the boxes on the FPS list… apart from innovative. It ripped that section off the form entirely and pretended it wasn’t there but Singularity is so much fun it can be forgiven for ignoring the modern rules. Right now gamers would be hard pushed to find something that is so unashamedly not trying to swim with current trends and despite the fact it isn’t original it is actually original as a result.

Gameplay 87/100 Everything an FPS should be, just without the bells and whistles. Proof, if any was needed, that delivering on the basics, coupled with some imagination will deliver something that doesn’t need gimmicks to hold people’s attention.
Graphics 79/100 Clearly created on an older engine, for all its polish it still looks dated when compared to other more modern titles.
Audio 84/100 Atmospheric sound effects and suitable silly voice acting really add to the overall tone of the game without overkill.
Value 82/100 Might not have players coming back for more in three months’ time but what it delivers on is a fix of fast-paced fun and furious action.
(Not an Average)
85/100 Hardcore FPS fans and old-school gamers could certainly do a lot worse than kill some time over the Summer playing this highly enjoyable tribute to what games used to be.

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About Author

Stuart Davidson

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