Singularity, the Forgotten First Person Shooter

Singularity did poorly when it came out in 2010. Ironically, the time-mechanic focused shooter was more of a victim of its release time than poor design. Activision pushed the release of Singularity away from Modern Warfare 2, which came out in 2009, to give Singularity some breathing room and more development resources. When Singularity released in 2010, it was slammed by most reviewers as a half-baked Bioshock clone. The taste in first person shooters had shifted, and although Singularity presented an interesting combination of horror, physics puzzles, and time shifting mechanics, the world just wasn’t having it. So how does the game stand up in late-2021, now that the gaming world’s current flavor of FPS (mostly) doesn’t involve linear narratives? I’d say surprisingly well.

Oooh…a rave!

Singularity begins with you helicoptering in on a mission to a remote Russian island, and of course, all hell breaks loose. As the narrative unfolds, you discover that the Russians were working on time manipulation, and well, shit went bad. Using a Time Manipulation Device, or TMD, you gain the ability to alter time and even pass between 1955 and 2010 to alter events and ultimately save the world. It’s an interesting setup that makes for a fun narrative flow and coolish puzzles.

A good analogy of my experience with Singularity is going to see your favorite local band. Some of their songs are absolute bangers. But they also have a few where they haven’t quite figured out the ending. And the drummer’s drunk and misses a beat occasionally. If that band were to get some extra support and polish, maybe they’d release the best album of the year…or maybe they’d get lost in the shuffle and wouldn’t be as interesting. That’s how I feel about this game. It has some awesome action sequences. The time mechanics and story are cool as hell. The monsters are fun, and the overall atmosphere is good, but aspects like the time-based physics puzzles could have been expanded. Instead of a physics playground like Half-Life 2, you get more of a sketch of what those puzzles could have been.

Singularity is uneven story-wise. Some parts, especially a quarter of the way through the game are tight as hell. It’s one exhilarating time travel bit after another. It feels like you’re playing through a competent SyFy Channel movie, but the game’s story lulls three quarters of the way through. This isn’t surprising after you learn about the game’s development. Activision almost canceled Singularity entirely after they realized the development was in trouble. Raven was given a second chance, but they went into what they described as “triage” mode and chainsawed the story while trying to maintain as much of the good meat as possible. What you get is a lot of good ideas, some interesting, and some leaving you scratching your head.

The Seeker is cool!

Take the weapons for example. There’s a weapon called the Seeker. It’s a semi-automatic assault rifle that allows you to guide the bullet in first person mode with your mouse after you pull the trigger. It’s a cool idea and a lot of fun, especially when you make the heads of bad guys explode. There’s another guided weapon, the grenade launcher, where you can roll a grenade around with the W, S, A, D keys and detonate. Using that weapon is also fun, but your view doesn’t change to the grenade like it does with the Seeker, so it’s kind of limited. It felt as if there weren’t enough opportunities to use the grenade launcher as it was meant to be used. There were many times in Singularity where one of these special weapons would be resting against a rail, clearly meant for me to pick up and use in the next combat arena, and I wouldn’t want to, because my normal loadout was better.

You’re probably wondering why the hell I would recommend this game. Well, there are a lot of good things in Singularity. My favorite weapon was a sniper rifle where you can slow time and explode the heads of Russian soldiers with pinpoint ferocity. With your TMD, you can age soldiers to bones and dust. For some reason, you can also turn enemy soldiers into acid-puking freaks. I’m not sure what the logic is here, but you learn not to ask too many questions in Singularity and just enjoy the ride. You can disassemble bridges and reassemble them or reassemble decayed ammo and health pack crates. At one point you find yourself on a ship that’s rusting to pieces as you’re trying to escape. There are a lot of great concepts here. They are often utilized in cool ways, but sometimes, not so much. That being said, the missteps were never to the point where I though Singularity was a bad or even mediocre game.

There are definitely Bioshock feeling moments

Critics slammed Singularity as a middling Bioshock clone back in 2010. The game certainly shares similarities in terms of using your powers and storytelling, but in a world where Bioshock is a distant memory, Singularity is a welcome experience. The graphics were poo pooed back in 2010. Yes, the textures can be a blurry mess, especially in the environment, but the choice of bright colors has done this game a lot of favors as time has marched on. The visual style is interesting for most of the game and the 1950s time traveling tech along with the abandoned Russian science facility works well. There are some rusty, brownish areas, but thankfully, they don’t last long.

The AI is dumb as hell, but you’re dispatching enemies relatively quickly, so it really isn’t noticeable. When you familiarize yourself with your TMD and attack enemies by slowing them down, aging them, or throwing exploding barrels at them, Singularity feels great. The combat hits it’s pinnacle when you’re facing off against quick and deadly creatures that can time shift and pop in and out of the temporal dimension. You need to use your powers to lock them into your own time long enough to blast them. There’s plenty of that in the game. The fun gunplay coupled with the bizarro time traveling timeline keeps the game engaging throughout.

Singularity is probably one of the better games that you’ll play that not a lot of people have heard of. It was swept under the rug quickly by Activision due to poor sales and the company’s focus on the Call of Duty series. The game is currently $30 on Steam. Don’t pay that. I got it for $7.50 on sale on Steam. That feels fair. If you see it on sale again, I would say it’s worth a try.

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