The chances are you’ve already forgotten that Raven Software's Singularity exists. To honest, I’ve only remained aware of it because a notorious press demo last year, which portrayed it as a BioShock rip-off so shameless that myself and a colleague nearly passed out with disbelief.
Since then, every screenshot has seemed to confirm my incredulous reaction, and Activision has done a grand slice of bugger all to promote the game to us. No preview events. No preview code sent to the office. Barely a peep about it at all. It’s not even on the front page of Activision’s website. And it’s out today in Europe and on Tuesday in the US. Naturally, I assumed it was a clunker.
But then earlier this week I got to play it, and found out that it’s fantastic, inventive, refreshing, brutal, and frankly, the most fun I’ve had with an FPS in a long time. You need to know about it. So I'm telling you about it.
Above: Ignore this screenshot. Please
I don’t blame you if you’re not aware of the game. Like I said, it’s had nothing in the way of promotion, and images like the one above make it look like a me-too BioShock clone too cynical for even God himself to imagine. With no direct experience of the game, we were left with that (deeply false) impression right up until this week. But it’s an impression that only relates to the tiniest bit of Singularity’s surface gloss. There’s immensely more going on in this game, and it’s all very, very good.
There’s a massive irony with Singularity that I have to get out of the way right now. The fact is that while it doesn’t play like BioShock at all, it absolutely is a game made up of borrowed elements. But the ideas it chooses to take, and the skill and imagination with which they’re combined, make it not a shameless retread, but a gleefully fresh cocktail of the FPS genre’s disparate best bits, blended to a brand new, incredibly tasty flavour.
A small dash of BioShock’s visuals and faded ‘50s kitsch. A big splash of Half-Life 2’s fast-flowing, creative combat and savvy environmental puzzling. Squeeze in a wedge of F.E.A.R.’s time-bending spectacle and crush in some breathlessly paced variety and set-pieces, and you have not only an incredibly hackneyed games journalism cliché, but a game that simultaneously pays tribute to and adds to the best moments in first-person shooting to date.
In this age of increasingly dull pseudo-realistic military shooters and overly-orchestrated, plodding, shooting-gallery-style combat, Raven’s game is an exhilarating kick up the arse to the days before Call of Duty became everyone’s standard shooter model. It has a monstrously infectious ‘more is more’ philosophy to gameplay mechanics. It’s the kind of game that lets you kill 20 different enemies 20 different ways in under a minute, via creative combinations of its cleverly complimenting weapons and gadgets.
You can slow down time for individual enemies, leaving everything else (including yourself) running at full speed. You can throw time dilation bubbles into the combat area, turning bad guys into frozen sitting ducks. You can pump them full of bullets, then deactivate the bubble and watch as every shot catches up at the same time. You can use that same bubble as a shield, to slow down incoming fire.
You can rapidly age enemies to death. You can devolve them into zombies and let them do the work for you. You can shockwave them into the air. You can shockwave them into the air, freeze them in time, then devolve them into zombies, and unfreeze them just as one of their friends gets close. Oh, and did I mention that you also have a gravity gun? And a sniper rifle with bullets you can steer manually? And a railgun that works like Gears of War’s Torque Bow? And that every skirmish area is a wide, multi-levelled playground of tactical angles of attack, designed to bring out every ounce of creative violence in your body?
Above: Yes, this should remind you of H-L2. No, that's not a problem
If you’re feverishly thinking ‘Half-Life 2’ here, you’re right. Singularity is the first non-Valve FPS in years that has come close to evoking that particular brand of clever, inventive, fast-flowing brutality known as ‘Going Gordon Freeman on someone’s ass’. And it has a remarkably good, time-zone-hopping storyline as well, which manages to be high-concept and engaging, while remaining pacey and fun. Even if it does shamelessly borrow a couple of H-L2’s character archetypes along the way.
But the shamelessness of Singularity’s influences really doesn’t matter, however obvious they are to a genre-savvy FPS player. In fact they’re part of the fun. It’s one big mega-mix love-in that brings together the previously separated elements of so many games you love and makes them work cohesively together for the first time. So well in fact, that it almost makes them feel completely new. Don’t let mystifying lack of fanfare put you off. It’s an absolute stormer and you need to give it your time.
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