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Singularity

Developer: Raven Software | Released: 2010 | Genre: FPS

I’ll try to change the format a bit starting with this review. There will be a short summary in the beginning followed by two lists of minutia – one safe to read, and another with the usual spoiler-ridden stuff. Everything will also be in past tense. To be honest, I’ve never been comfortable with writing a “real” review and I’m trying to figure out how to put my own personal touch to these gaming posts.

After arriving in a crashed helicopter on a Russian island, this FPS felt a lot like BioShock with movie projectors, big statues, and the same level of dilapidation and dread. It didn’t last long before this feeling crossfaded into solid Half-Life 2 vibes instead. After completing it, that’s what I think the developers really wanted it to be. There was even the athletic girl saving your ass and the old scientist that you visit in his own laboratory. Add to this time travel, weird weapons with unique powers, a blatant copy of the gravity gun from said game, enemy soldiers mixed with zombie-style monsters, and self-opening shop lockers. In the first half, I often found myself completely out of ammo for my starter gun. But the good thing about the game was the way it added new powers and weapons a good once in a while, thereby often changing the way I played it. In the last half of the game, I had no problems defending myself anymore.

Minutia

A difficulty selector let me choose among three settings. The game autosaved along the way, and the UI elements always faded out to leave a full view. There was no mouse lag that I could detect. I couldn’t see down my own body, but some cutscenes did break that rule. The FOV felt tiny and sadly there was no setting to change it. And for some reason, the game always forgot that I had turned on VSYNC – I had to repeatedly enable it again the next time I started the game.

Reload on R also doubled as the general use key. I actually liked that – it worked better than I thought it would. I wasn’t fond of being forced to use Enter to leave the notes viewing screen, though. And there were a ton of notes to find everywhere – at least to begin with. In the second half of the game, the writers seemed to have run out of ink.

Stimpacks (relatively rare) healed immediately while health packs could be picked up and used later – as always only a fixed amount, though. It was only possible to carry two weapons at a time. Sometimes, but not always, I automatically crouched into vents.

Underwater swimming could be sped up in small 1-2 second boosts by tapping the Shift key. Swimming wasn’t used much for a long time, but in the last half it started being used as part of the level design.

There was a ping ability on F that showed glowing footsteps to guide me in the right direction. Apart from testing it, I practically never used it. The game was simply too linear to justify having a feature like that.

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The self-opening weapon lockers offered ways to expand and improve weapons, but also made it possible to swap weapons. I actually only discovered the latter a bit into the game, which might explain why I was running out of ammo for the starter gun all the time. It was also possible to buy additional ammo with E99.

There was a sniper rifle to be used a few times in the game, typically against spawning enemy soldiers. It had a scope as always, but it also had the peculiar ability to slow down time by holding down the Shift key. That was a very useful addition.

I think about two times I could carry a third, temporary big ass weapon that didn’t make me drop any of the other ones. An RPG was one of them. As soon as I rolled up on the mouse wheel I dropped the big weapon and was back to using the normal arsenal again.

Lots of small, interactive things in the beginning – ding on a typewriter, a beep from a phone, classic tape recorders with an audio log, stuff like that. The game didn’t seem to follow up much on this with additional variety, though. It just repeated the same few interactive things. It was noticeable.

The game started with a nice war documentary styled intro with small CGI tweaks added to it. After the terrible cliche of arriving in a helicopter that soon crashes, leaving you all by yourself, the first levels had corridors and halls that felt very much like BioShock.

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At one point I also had a feeling of walking around in a vault straight out of Fallout 3. Then a ghostly sight appeared that felt like F.E.A.R. and later, the Half-Life 2 stuff built up as described in the summary. Suffice to say that a lot of other FPS seems to have inspired this one.

Right from the beginning the enemies were bullet sponges. It didn’t feel like the easy difficulty setting affected this part. As mentioned before I also ran out of ammo way too often, forcing me to use melee in order to down the time zombies.

At least using melee was a nice fallback when running out of ammo, but then I got the TMD glove which replaced the melee attack with an impulse instead. Unfortunately this impulse could run out of energy, leaving me with no other options than to run around in circles while waiting for the energy to recharge.

The TMD (Time Manipulation Device) was added as a glove that could be enhanced in multiple ways. A specialized self-opening locker could increase alls sorts of stuff when using E99 as a currency. More health, more damage, better hit accuracy, you name it. And blueprints could be found to add more.

The main power of the TMD, however, was to age stuff. Both things and creatures. A curved bar showed the direction of aging. Blue fixed things, yellow broke them. It was cool watching a set of broken stairs fix itself, or a crate reassemble as if reversing entropy, then open up with a couple of health packs in it.

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Later, the TMD was expanded with a gravity lifting ability. This completely and utterly copied the gravity gun from Half-Life 2 and also used some of the same kind of puzzles. A nice improvement was that the thing held in front of me was transparent.

Spoiler: Minutia++

Warning: There will be spoilers in this section.

I saved a guy in the beginning in sort of a dream back in time where the building was on fire. The usual stuff with fire suddenly blocking or reopening corridors. Back in the present day, a statue changed to look like the guy I saved instead. Later in the game, I traveled back in a time rift and saved the scientist Barisov from being murdered by what I originally thought was the same guy. It couldn’t have been him, though, because the one I saved in the fire became the evil leader Demichev – and he returned for a nice chat in the very end of the game. So who was the guy I shot to save Barisov? Just a lookalike?

There was a short team-up with another American soldier. We later had to shoot a ton of invading enemy soldiers dropped from a chopper. They overwhelmed us and we ran for it through corridors. We were knocked down and introduced to the bad guy. The pal was shot in the head and I ran for it in a sort of endless runner sequence. A girl on my radio told me when to turn left and right.

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The girl, Kathryn, introduced me to MIR-12 on a laptop. She looked an awful lot like a blatant inspiration of Alyx in Half-Life 2, but she didn’t accompany me much in the first half of the game. In the second half I did spent some time with her for a while – long enough to see her get kidnapped and having to chase after her cries for help. At one point I procrastinated a bit too much, and lo and behold, there came the “You lost Kathryn” mission failure message, just as I was about to click an elevator button. I had hoped Raven didn’t succumb to this archaic gameplay feature in 2010.

I wasn’t fond of the first arrival in 1955 through a time rift. There were tough fights, I ran out of ammo and I died frequently. I know I’m not a brilliant FPS player, but at least they could have added some more ammo. Later, I found the scientist Barisov and escorted him out, and back in 2010 I talked to his older self over a TV monitor. Especially this part smelled a lot like Half-Life 2.

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A thing I really liked, however, was the way I was stuck for a brief moment until I learned how to crumble a box by aging it old with the TMD, place it below a metal gate just ajar, then rejuvenate the box younger, pushing the gate up as it reassembled itself. The bad news is that the developers repeated this puzzle a few more times, which felt like they were in love with their own puzzle idea.

Barisov in 1955 gave me a great rifle with explosive bullets. Each bullet fired was followed in first person view, and I could control it slightly while in medium slow motion. It felt just right and I hit all my targets. The explosion never killed anyone else than my target enemy, though.

I also got a new TMD ability. Holding down E created a blue sphere to throw ahead of me – a time stop bubble. It was initially used to freeze frame swirling fans so I could crawl through them without being made into mince meat. It could also be useful to freeze a group of enemies and then fill their bodies with bullets.

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Successfully using the time stop bubble was quite addictive. A group of enemies arrived (it didn’t matter which type) and a time bubble was sent ahead to engulf and freeze their motions. I then filled their heads with bullets, and as the bubble finally dissolved, they all dropped screaming to the ground. I loved it.

A small boss fight in an arena against a big brute was okay. It was a cliche, actually – it had glowy parts, and I could catch the explosive barrel it threw at me with my gravity ability and then throw it back in its face. It wasn’t too hard.

There was a sewer area midway through the game with a couple of new enemy types. One was a small fire bug called a tick. They often attacked in great numbers, were fast, and quite deadly. Using TMD age on one inflated it, after which it turned on its own.

Another section had blind zombies that I had to walk past very slowly. I actually got quite far the first time before finally messing up. My goodness, did they do a lot of damage together. I think my health bar was gone in less than two seconds.

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Another ability, two times hit on Q, made it possible to turn a soldier into a revert (think zombie) which could be useful when there were several of them close together. If not, the revert would just go after me instead. So, using it was not always a clever idea.

Later parts of the game introduced soldiers with autocannons (sort of a minigun) and bigger monsters (both with immunity to aging) but I also got hold of a wonderful autocannon myself (it became my favorite weapon and I made sure to max it out) and I also got a lot better at using the time stop bubble.

I got to use my aging process in a sort of amplifying generator field to repair enormous structures a couple of times. One was a train, but it didn’t drive far after that. On a tall railway bridge both it and the bridge was hammered down by a giant boss – the biggest in the game – and again with lots of glowy bits to shoot. It had giant lobster claws that could pierce through metal. I wonder if it was related to the pit monsters in Half-Life 2? It certainly looked like it was inspired by them.

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The other amplified über-aging repair process was to assemble and raise a large ship. I then boarded it while still docked, but the renewal didn’t last long. It slowly broke apart while I was fighting monsters and soldiers inside, which was actually quite tense and atmospheric.

Another weird weapon later in the game was a grenade launcher. The ball launched on the floor could be rolled around with the direction keys before detonating it. At one point I rolled the ball through a small “rat hole” in order to spice up a party of reverts eating from a corpse. One of them then smashed through a door I couldn’t otherwise open. That was mighty nice of him.

There was a puzzle where I had to click a button to empty a basin of water, shoot a pad lock that tied a wooden box to a gate on the dried out bottom, then click the button to fill the basin again. The now floating box could then be used to jump up to a broken metal bridge. Okay, maybe it wasn’t the most original puzzle ever, but at least it offered a variation.

A one point I had to use a gas mask, complete with slightly decreased view of the screen and the sound of breathing. The same meter for oxygen appeared as was used for underwater swimming. I had to use oxygen tanks occasionally found lying around to keep it up.

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And while wearing this gas mask I stumbled upon what I’ll declare the absolutely most annoying puzzle in the entire game. A button on a wall opened a metal gate which then closed shut within the same second or two. I had to use a time stop bubble to freeze it, but timing it right was extremely difficult. I had to send it through a window in the wall next to the button. Most of the time it would either pass through while the gate was open, or it would sit too skewed and the gate closed down too far for me to crawl under. I also had to sprint around the corner to use the opportunity before the bubble closed. It was almost as if the developers had expected me to have upgraded the time stop bubble at that point (which I hadn’t yet) and thus timing it right was more difficult than it had to be. I died a lot here and the auto save point was quite far away, just to add insult to injury. Luckily, most of the puzzles in the game was much more fair than this, but isn’t it funny how there’s often an exception?

As an example of this, the next puzzle was about entering a time rift back to 1955 then bring a box back to 2010 so I could stand on it to reach an elevator. True, I was actually stumped for a minute or two, but it was clearly my bad and the puzzle was actually very easy to work through.

There was a nice level going through a rift to 1955, back to where a reactor room showed a spinning blue sphere. I had to walk through corridors fighting soldiers (most of them got the time stop bubble treatment) to finally reach a spot where a spherical bomb could be recharged. After recharging I got a countdown and was kindly asked to leave back through the rift in a damn hurry. Luckily it was a short run and not difficult. Back in 2010, the reactor room was now completely overgrown.

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While traversing the corridors in that reactor room in 1955, I killed pretty much all the soldiers I met (after all they were all shooting at me) but I did find a single dude in a lab coat without a weapon. He screamed and ran into the neighbor room for his life then just stood still for a moment, as expecting me to gun him down. I didn’t. I wanted to see what the script would have him do. Then he screamed once more and ran out of a red door that was suddenly open just for him. I wish I could say the game offered me some sort of gift for sparing his life, but I guess that was out of scope for a linear FPS like this.

There was a ton of E99 in the last tower level to be picked up. It smelled like a big boss fight was coming up, but that didn’t happen. Instead, I got an TMD amplifying upgrade that made it completely independent of E99. Quite ironic given how much E99 I had just picked up everywhere. Of course I could have used the E99 in the upgrade lockers, but I had pretty much bought all I ever wanted at that point. Anyone want to buy some E99? It’s cheap!

The TMD upgrade also increased the damage of the impulse ability. Suddenly it started raining monsters and soldiers, but using the impulse ability still made it a walk in the park. That was all right – it was kind of the same overpowered feeling as when I used the upgraded gravity gun in the end of Half-Life 2.

One thing I discovered embarrassingly late – in the final tower level – was that I could suck the SWAT shields out of the hands of the soldiers carrying them. I really wish I had discovered that much earlier. Until then I had just kind of aimed for their feet…

The last tower level had a lot of time anomalies – like transparent soldiers frozen in time that would awaken later as I returned to the same place, or weird time shifts to excuse how a group of enemies just spawned right on top of me. Barisov also escorted me most of the time.

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There were three endings available after adding a TMD bomb in the past then returning to the present. Demichev was aiming a gun at Barisov. After a long talk of pros and cons, I could choose to shoot either Demichev, Barisov, or both. Shooting Demichev then returning to the fire sequence in the beginning to shoot myself (!) seemed to be the “real” ending. It had a different cutscene in the chopper, and we passed a big statue of Barisov now wearing the TMD glove instead. The other endings were more clip art style. Shooting Demichev was of course the evil ending, while shooting both of them had our hero leaving by himself then return later to rule with his hand of god.

The end credits part was special in that it didn’t use scrolling text – instead, text popped up line by line. It also had no less than three pages of “babies” – groan! This thing about listing babies in computer game credits is one of the most ridiculous ideas I have seen about this hobby. I don’t recall ever having seen a movie that lists babies produced during filming. Game developers, please. Cut it out.

After the credits the usual extra cutscene appeared. Kathryn swam out of the sunken ship and sneaked inside an office at the harbor. She was shot up good and didn’t look like she might survive her wound. She sat down by a desk and wrote some stuff in a big book. Did I read that book earlier?

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I agree with the rating of 76 on Metacritic – it was pretty much spot on. Maybe one or two ticks lower.

TitleLengthDatesDiff / ChtSaveScore
Singularity
2010 Raven Software8h 4
2015-08-29
2015-09-09
7

To see a page with all the PC games I have played – along with an explanation of the abbreviations – click here.

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