"Is this a world you want to be a part of? Look around you! Look at all the suffering that this man has caused!"
"No visionary leader is without his critics."

- Exchange between Dr. Barislov and Chancellor Demichev.

Taken in isolation, this line doesn't help frame my experience of the game. But my reaction does. I grinned from ear-to-ear.

Have some context: The Good Russian and The Bad Russian were here discussing the parallel reality that they inhabited, one created by the player at the beginning of the game and one which the player has desperately been trying to fix throughout. This reality is defined by a world ruled by a Russia which itself is ruled by a single autocrat, filled with genocide, oppression and lands pillaged by decades of unrelenting war. The game makes references to acts of genocide in Russia's rise to power and its brutal methods to maintain control. This is the broken reality that The Bad Russian so deftly dismisses.

There's a page in a writer's notebook somewhere that has about twenty crossed-out replies that The Bad Russian could have ended up quipping back to The Good Russian. I yearn to see the treasures it contains:

"You can't make an omelette without breaking a few eggs."
"There's no use crying over spilt milk."
"I guess we'll have to agree to disagree."
"You say tomato..."

I'm only half-joking, because I think there's a very real possibility that such a page exists. Singularity is serious about making sure you have a jolly good time.

I've got a lot of time for Raven Software, the developers. Hell, they've been around almost as long as I have. Now, I'm not going to use that horrible, clichéd, "they practically raised me" crap...

...but if I did, I'd say that they were one half of a parenting team with id Software. Whereas id may have provided some wonderful bonding moments, they often disappear for extended periods, and definitely haven't been around lately, and Raven are always there to pick me up and cheerily brush me off.

Trying to identify a thematic core to their twenty-year catalogue feels a bit tough. They've played with licences, sometimes successfully (Elite Force), sometimes not so much (Wolfenstein 2009), and they've consistently developed new properties. Singularity is the latter, but it doesn't try to hide its influences, most notably BioShock.

BioShock à la Soviet Russia sounds like perfect fodder for Raven, whom I strongly associate with consistently tweaking their shooters with unique quirks without letting such quirks get in the way of the main event, the shooting of men in an orderly and respectable fashion. BioShock is written prominently everywhere. You see audio logs littering the scenery, ADAM and EVE are both in there in the form of fictional element E99 and the player possesses powerful abilities that require you spend an unnatural amount of time staring at your own left hand.

Most prominently, the Time Manipulation Device (TMD), which is strapped to your wrist, is substituted for plasmids. It's also a crucial plot device. Unlike BioShock, Singularity doesn't offer a large portfolio of activated abilities to dispense with foes. All of the upgrade options afforded the player are passive; there are only four or five powers for the TMD, and there is no choice in which to take: you're drip-fed each as you progress.

The TMD is invaluable outside of combat. Much like Half-Life 2's gravity gun, it is central to puzzle solving, through its ability to lift, age and regenerate objects. The puzzles tied to progression are simple to the point where calling them puzzles is a misnomer, but there is a lot of joy to be found in scouring levels looking for stairwells that can be crumbled and rusted crates to be renewed to provide access to hidden stashes of loot. Another nice touch is the presence of mysterious faded messages that the TMD can restore, providing warnings and maintaining a sense of urgency, which are wonderful in building atmosphere. They often tell the player to beware of friendly characters and cast suspicion on the objectives being undertaken, which did wonders for my paranoia and genuinely enthused me enough to want to see what happened next.

In combat, the TMD is not so ubiquitous. Its role is mainly in support of good old-fashioned guns. It does possess a couple of aggressive abilities, but I found if I utilised them regularly my E99 supply quickly dropped to zero. This is 'fixed' towards the end when the protagonist enters a machine which jazzes up the device with unlimited energy and heightened powers, replacing its dim industrial orange glow with brilliant bright blue bulbs. Yes, just like Half-Life 2.

Let it never be said that Raven don't know how to please an audience; the guns are still the core of the game play. Sadly, Singularity has been crushed by the apparent demand that every shooter not allow you to bring more than two guns to a knife-fight. Why? Oh, I see, it's 'not realistic' to carry an armoury in your pocket. Ho ho. Because everything else about this bloated and over-exposed genre is. Since when was limiting my options considered a good thing? Is it more fun to be constrained? To have tactical options limited to either A or B? Or is it because game pads lack a row of number keys at the top?

Singularity, I'm disappointed.

The other issue with this horrible 2-gun Flood that Halo is responsible for unleashing on my most beloved genre is that it's often tied with an inability to choose your load-out. Every bloody game I end a level having gone through hellfire to swipe my favourite shotgun off the one ski-mask out of a hundred carrying it, and the next I spawn with a god damn M16 again. I want to fill faces with buckshot when I like, and eviscerate foreheads through a sniper scope when I like. I don't want this section to be the shotgun section, and that section to be the sniper section. Singularity wins big for littering its levels with weapons lockers, where the discerning crazed gunman can tool up with whatever tickles his fancy, and upgrade his toys to boot.

Singularity, I'm delighted. I'm fickle.

The weapons themselves are mostly unspectacular, but solid. One stood out, and deserves special mention. The grenade launcher fires timed explosives as standard, but its alt-fire causes a glowing bowling ball bomb to plop out of the nozzle at your feet. WASD then let you move your little remote-controlled bomb around, and spacebar lets you jump. It's a jumping bomb. Rolling a little fizzling present towards a hidden goon and letting it detonate once it's nestled itself next to his boot is an unrelenting joy.

Causing such destruction is even better in such beautiful surroundings. There's little that is jaw-dropping in Singularity, but much that helps build a consistent vision of Nuclear Age decay, part Pripyat, part Rapture, all Science Gone Wrong. There's a rusted beauty to it that helps avoid any area turning into a slog.

Singularity is a pleasing bundle. It doesn't strive to break any new ground, nor suffocate its audience with self-important seriousness. The whole package reeks of the juvenile irreverence that imbued FPSs in the late nineties, with gibbed limbs and buckets of blood punctuating improbable spectacles and levity saturating the character performances, especially Videogaming's Own Steve Blum and his hammy turn as Russian Supervillain Supreme. This is why lines such as, "no visionary leader is without his critics," works so well. It even throws in some well-timed frights (say "cheese!") and, most shocking of all, the ending is excellent. This isn't post-modern design, there's no irony in Singularity. Enjoy it because it's a good, very fun shooter.

0 Responses so far.

Post a Comment