Aug 072010

Final Status: Complete.

Put this on your box: One of the first games to combine ideas from Half Life and BioShock!

Most intriguing idea: Aging and regressing the environment to progress.

Best design decision: The seeker.

Worst design decision: Monsters.


Singularity is a must-play game for everyone who ever complained about either BioShock, because it is what the haters believed BioShock to be. Everything that BioShock did well, Singularity does poorly, and everything that wasn’t done well in BioShock is even worse here. The story poses itself completely seriously even though it is tremendously idiotic and devoid of interesting implications or ideas. The setting is drab, with indistinguishable locations and confusing level design. The fighting is dull, populated with rote encounters and boring adversaries. Every issue you might have had with characters speaking their private thoughts into disposable tape recorders is magnified by Singularity‘s use of massive reel-to-reel recorders that people apparently lugged around with them as they fled a temporal apocalypse and mutant attacks. As in Splinter Cell: Conviction, the enemies constantly shout at each other, only it’s in Russian (the game never really seems to decide whether the main character understands Russian or not), and here the silent-protagonist bit feels even stranger and more inappropriate than it was in its source games.

Singularity is almost entirely devoid of original ideas, and what few it has are repeated ad nauseam. I lost count of how many times I opened a gate by rejuvenating a box. Of course, I wasn’t helped by the fact that it always looked like the same gate and the same box in essentially the same place. As I tweeted while I was playing: “I keep thinking I’ve circled back to my starting point. But it’s just an area that looks almost exactly the same.”

All this was trouble, but what buried Singularity was the choice to populate it with monsters. This decision had adverse effects on every single aspect of the game. It hurt the fiction of the game because the survival of all these creatures (especially the giant ones) on this essentially resource-free island for so many years didn’t really make any sense. It hurt the gameplay because it encouraged bullet-sponging and dull, immersion-killing pattern bosses (ooh, do I shoot the glowing orange sacs? really?). And it made the already-bad tape recordings worse, because so many of them had to be about the monsters in one way or another, rather than being about the island or its inhabitants. BioShock had monsters too, of course, but they were also people, and they said more interesting things than “ggrrrrah!”. BioShock also had an ecosystem among its adversaries that is absent here.

Also, if you’re going to attribute magical properties to some element, at least make it one that isn’t actually on the periodic table and well-characterized. It’s cute to use Einsteinium for your magic element, but its properties are known and do not involve temporal manipulation. If you wanted to be cool you could have made Katorga-12 home to a natural reservoir of some element from the island of stability (and even named it Stalinium or something to contribute to the setting).

Also, as Richard said in his review: subtitles, people! Come on!

If you can’t say something nice…: Although it’s mostly forgettable, Singularity actually finds its way to some interesting ideas and levels towards the end. Despite the overall weakness of the weapon lineup, the seeker was a lot of fun.

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