Review: Singularity

When faced with the imminent collapse of your once idyllic and isolated society, you'll find that adhering to a few simple rules could save your too-good-to-be-true life. The difference between escaping dystopia and dying of dysentery in a locker is made plain in these important steps:

  1. Don't bother trying to keep up with the Joneses anymore. Their mutated forms have granted them incredible endurance and speed.
  2. Avoid any scientific laboratories, especially those staffed by inter-dimensional riftologists. If you must visit one, always go for the Exploding Barrel Research Center.
  3. For god's sake, don't use an antiquated audio recorder -- no matter how charming it is -- to capture your final, downtrodden play at preservation. The minute you start talking about how you got separated from the others, you're inviting ... what was that noise? Oh god, I can hear it in the vents and AAAAIIEEEEE etc.
%Gallery-45668% Though they're often signed off with a scream, the audio logs in Singularity teach you a few things about the people who made them -- as in the developers at Raven Software. Much like the game itself, the post-cataclysm clips are short and to the point (which is just as well, since they can't be played while you're on the go). This is a desirable attribute when it comes to the game's frantic and well-paced shootouts, but less so when you encounter elements that needed more time to develop.

While passing through the kidney-shaped island of Katorga-12, you discover the world's raddest Power Glove -- the Time Manipulation Device. It's a crucial component not only in combat, but in rectifying the timeline that you've inadvertently ruined (there are too many Russian accents now!) with an impromptu jump to the 1950s. The plot, written by a hammered Ray Bradbury in-between bouts of Command & Conquer: Red Alert, explains your abilities and limits them to the island by introducing E99, an incredible source of energy that brought the island's society to the apex of progress right before sinking it into a pit of easily irritated, irradiated mutants.

Luckily, the inescapable presence of E99 particles lets you manipulate the shit out of everything. Especially the old people, collapsing into ash after receiving one of the TMD's insta-over-the-hill blasts. That's actually the least interesting power, as your glove can also revert an enemy soldier to a primitive beast hell-bent on attacking anything that makes a sound. Shoot your new ally again and it'll turn into a living bomb. Or, you can telekinetically toss cryo tanks into a crowd and then shatter your captives with an in-their-face impulse wave. Singularity is at its best when you're playfully using your time powers to tip the odds (heavily) in your favor.

As with BioShock, you gain the best results when using powers to augment your upgradeable weaponry. Here, I'll tell you what the best thing is: First, you lob a Deadlock sphere into the arena, slowing down everything enveloped by the resulting bubble. Enter the sphere and fire a hundred bullets just a few inches in front of every face you can find. Okay, you're all set. Exit the bubble, close it and watch the delayed bullets cease their dangling and start hurtling forward. Into the faces. Like I said, it's the best thing.

Unfortunately, for every heated combat scenario there are at least two moments of tedium. Singularity struggles with its quiet moments of scavenging, bereft of intricate level design and the upper-class presentation needed to instill a sense of existence. Each time you hope to find something interesting in Katorga-12's crannies, you usually just end up looking at another ugly texture -- if not one of the ugly creatures that are never much fun to fight.

There are a few clever puzzles placed throughout the island, usually related to aging or rejuvenating objects in the environment, but the solutions are simple and repeated far too often. The temporal rifts between the present and the past aren't exploited beyond key story events, and I couldn't help but roll my eyes every time Raven stuck its fun TMD device into another tiresome scenario. Stop them if you've heard this one: Defend against waves of enemies while you wait for an elevator. Avoid a charging monster and then shoot the weakpoint on its back. How about stacking some crates to climb into a vent? Did you try slowing down time to pass through a spinning fan?

I can't help but feel that if Singularity had access to even half the resources of a Call of Duty, it would have found a better balance between its downtime and its TMD (which also never really works out in the game's insubstantial multiplayer mode). There's a fun shooter, exciting powers and some neat weapons in there, but it never quite comes together thanks to dull levels and half-baked puzzles. It's a new IP and certainly a riskier proposition than Activision's golden goose, but I'd hate for this to be the last and only word on the series.

At least it comes on optical disc and not an audio log.

This review is based on the Xbox 360 retail version of the game purchased by Joystiq.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.