Hitbox Review: Singularity

Graphic by Michaeline Collins.

Singularity is an alternate history, first-person shooter game with a time travel twist. It was developed by Raven Software before they became known as one of the three studios developing games in the Call of Duty series.

Singularity was released on June 29, 2010 for PC, Xbox 360, and Playstation 3. Sales regularly occur on PC for $7.50. It is sold for $30 when not on sale, so it is highly recommended to wait for a sale.

Soviet iconography is prevalent in the Katorga-12 research center. Screenshot by John Novotny.

The player controls Capt. Nathaniel Renko, a U.S. Recon Marine sent to investigate Katorga-12, an island which was once occupied by the Soviet Union. The island was used in 1955 to research a recently-discovered element called E-99, which has the fantastical potential to advance technology, from agriculture to medicine and weapons. Unfortunately, E-99 is also extremely unstable, which led to a Chernoyblesque catastrophe.

After an electromagnetic pulse from Katorga-12 crashes Renko’s helicopter, he wakes up on the island, discovers the old Soviet research station and experiences time anomalies where he is transported between the present and 1955. After saving a scientist named Nikolai Demichev in the past during one of the anomalies, Renko returns to the present to discover Demichev has conquered the world by making E-99 bombs. Renko then joins the resistance group, made up of British agent Kathryn Norvikova and Russian scientist Viktor Barisov, to go back in time and prevent Demichev from taking over the world.

Projectors showing Soviet propaganda can be found throughout Katorga-12. Screenshot by John Novotny.

Singularity is a game that takes concepts and gameplay mechanics from other games and mashes them all together in a single game. It has the gravity gun from Half-Life, the breach and clear sequences from Call of Duty and has story and horror elements from Bioshock. Players can also upgrade their guns and abilities using upgrade stations.

Unfortunately, Singularity doesn’t do anything to evolve the mechanics it borrows from other games. This could be because most of the game was made in just 10 months, according to Keith Fuller, a developer of the project.

Aside from a few set piece moments, the TMD is only used to reconstruct chalk boards and uncrumple box containers. Screenshot by John Novotny.

The main hook of Singularity is the Time Manipulation Device, often referenced as the TMD, which can be used to switch objects between the past and the present. In practice, this usually means the player will use the gravity gun feature of the TMD to place the crumpled version of a cube container in the present under a garage door. Then, they’ll activate the TMD and return the container to when it was brand new to open the door.

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The other two powers of the TMD are “Impulse,” which is a short-range shockwave that can knock back and kill enemies, and “Deadlock,” a time-slowing sphere the player can shoot at any surface. The player can also use the TMD on human enemies, which will disintegrate them in horrifying detail.

Several of the guns in the game feature novel mechanics, some of which still aren’t common in newer games despite having fantastic concepts. The Seeker Rifle fires explosive bullets that the player can control while it flies through the air. In one instance, I was able to kill an enemy hiding behind a column by wrapping the bullet around the column a full 360 degrees and hitting the enemy’s head from behind. The player can also manually detonate the bullet mid-air to kill multiple enemies at once, if timed carefully. The Seeker Rifle also has math equations scribbled across the scope, which make it difficult to aim with, further incentivizing the player to control the bullet instead of using the gun like a typical point-and-shoot rifle.

There are a couple small details which help to make the gunplay feel impactful. One of those is that if an enemy is killed with a headshot, their head will explode with a shower of blood. The shotgun blasts enemies back as if they had been hit by a truck. After the player has “killed” an enemy, both humans and monsters will attempt to crawl away. This is particularly haunting when the player can still hear the monsters’ other-worldly screams as they slowly stop moving.

Unfortunately, that’s about where my praise for Singularity ends. The PC version lacks options that one would expect of a modern game, such as the ability to change the field of view and modify individual graphics settings. Also, Barisov’s accent sounds inauthentic, like something out of a b-movie. There’s an argument to be made that Singularity is attempting to embrace the campy, low-budget, b-movie aesthetic. However, that isn’t the impression I got in the seven and a half hours it took me to beat the game.

The game also incorporates many horror genre tropes, such as a ghost child kicking a ball down some stairs while the player hears them laughing but never actually sees them. There are several jump-scares as well, which feel cheap. After the first jump scare, I was never surprised by their sudden appearance.

The human enemies seem to have graduated at the top of their class at the sniper academy, because they are incredibly accurate and will shoot you as soon as they have a line of sight. This became an even more noticeable issue when I encountered a room with three mini-gun wielding soldiers who also take more damage than usual to kill. It seemed impossible to avoid damage and I was forced to out-heal the damage I was taking with health packs.

The phase-tick monsters were of particular annoyance because of their small hitboxes and how fast they move. After getting up close, they explode and do a significant amount of damage to the player. The only strategy I found to combat them was to activate the Deadlock ability at my feet and shoot the ticks when they entered the time-slowing sphere.

Singularity looks and plays like a nine year-old first-person shooter. The player can only hold two weapons at a time. The rationale behind this design choice is that by forcing the player to choose two weapons, they will specialize in those weapons by upgrading them. However, the other side of this double-edged sword is that because the player is forced to pick two weapons to upgrade throughout the game, they feel locked-in to their choice and are restricted from experimenting with other weapons that aren’t as upgraded as the ones they had been using before.

The result is that the player likely picks the “safe” option to upgrade, since they know it will always be effective. The AR9 Valkyrie Assault Rifle and Volk S4 Shotgun became my bread and butter death-dealers, and only when the game introduced a new weapon would I try it for a few minutes and inevitably return to what I had been using previously.

Then, there’s the power curve to consider. At the start of the game, the player is stranded without a gun. The player finds a few scattered E-99 tech pickups to buy upgrades for their abilities in the first few hours. However, at around the six hour mark, I began finding a plethora of E-99 tech. An hour prior, I only had a handful of upgrades. In the next hour, I bought almost every single upgrade available. I felt reasonably powerful until this point, but afterwards, I felt unkillable. In fact, I didn’t die a single time throughout my normal difficulty playthrough to any enemy besides the phase-ticks, nor did I feel particularly challenged.

With all that being said, there are worse games from this era. If you’ve exhausted all other worthwhile shooters from the last nine years, then Singularity isn’t a bad choice, provided that it’s on sale.

Want to suggest a video game for review? Contact John Novotny at [email protected]

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