The following post is not a review in the typical sense. We have reached a stable point in the videogame industry in which many great (or at least decent) games are produced. However, we should always look at where progress can be made so we never make the same mistakes twice.
I’m Gonna Take Some Heat for This One.
The game is made for the player. This is a simple concept. Whether you are trying to make fun elements that the player will enjoy, or trying to immerse the player in your story and leave them pondering some big question the player is the center of it all.
Singularity unsettled me. The story failed to make me feel very involved or empowered, even though I feel pretty certain that’s what the developers wanted. After all, what’s more empowering than controlling time? The story ended up making me feel cheated in what would otherwise have been a great game. While it pains me to say harsh things about a good game, the story and the gameplay simply did not mesh together as well as they could have.
Allow me to explain. In Singularity you play as Captain Nate Renko who is on his way to Katorga-12, a science facility, along with his comrade, Devlin. An electromagnetic pulse causes the helicopter Renko is in to lose control and crash. This leaves Renko to attempt to meet up with Devlin somewhere else on the island.
During his search, Renko is transported by a strange energy field back to 1955, during a fire which was originally responsible for the destruction of Katorga-12. The player then must traverse the burning building and save a man from his death in order to progress. Obviously this changes the timeline of the game (for the worse) and there is no alternative to this action, rightfully so.
1955 was a busy year in time travel.
Saving this man from the fire is a small thing to ask the player since there is absolutely no risk involved in terms of gameplay. However, this small act literally sets up the entire game’s story. Perhaps I am uncomfortable with this because I am forced to do something that I know is a stupid thing to do. No good has ever come from altering the past in any story, and it only took a few minutes to see that things are no different in Singularity. Ultimately it felt like the game had told me, “Listen, this character is noble and naive, so you’re just going to have to bear with his decisions and continue to play the game.”
So I thought, well okay, linear gameplay can be great if its done right. The only real issue was that instead of my connection with Renko being that he was an extension of myself, we were connected only in that I was playing him as the character the developers envisioned him as. This can work though. After all, that’s how games like God of War work and they can be a lot of fun. I continued the game, and I had a good time. I was all set to forget my little qualm from earlier. That is until I reached the end of the game.
Nate Renko’s two best friends in the whole wide world.
Multiple endings can be fun if they are set up right. It can add replay value to the game and make the story deeper and more interesting. However, if they are done sloppily and as a last minute decision, it can really detract from the story as a whole.
Unfortunately, Singularity gives a spectacular example of how not to do multiple endings. Without spoiling the details, in the last minutes of the game the player is presented with what appears to be two choices (there is actually a third choice if you are fed up with all of the characters). Depending on which choice you make you end up with what most people would call the good ending or the bad ending (or the “I’m a dickhead” ending).
Having multiple endings based off one decision could be okay if used under the right circumstances, but in context of the story it actually made me feel insulted rather than adding depth to the story. As I mentioned, the game had already alienated me as far as the story went, and to ask me to make a decision like this for Renko after having no control over the entire rest of the story felt like a slap to the face. It was as though the game were telling me that I had been shaping Renko’s character this entire game, but without giving me any prior evidence to prove I had done so.
As far as I’m concerned with the way the story played out, Renko was really only left with one option, not three. Up to this point Renko has been set up as a guy who is simply trying to correct what he has (stupidly) wronged. To have journeyed all this way and to have done everything that Renko has done and still choose an option which doesn’t finish what he has started just seems out of character.
Although I thought Renko was an idiot for changing the past in the first place, I figured he knew he made a mistake and that he needed to make things right no matter the cost. There is a “plot-twist” presented to the player before the decision is made, but even knowing this the outcome should not be any different. Given the way I was invested in Renko I wanted nothing more than to help him fix his stupid timeline-altering cluster fuck.
Perhaps if the game were designed in a way that made me feel more like I was Renko and gave more control over the game this final decision would have actually meant something to me. It didn’t though, and as it stands it would have made more sense for the story to be completely linear. Then Renko would always stay true to his character and the story would be better for it.
It's just about as cool as it looks.
Let’s take a step back.
It probably seems like I am taking the game too personally, but as I said, the game is made for the player. The game was entertaining and I would certainly recommend it to someone looking for a good shooter. The take-away here should be that Singularity could have been better had the story meshed with the gameplay a little better. This is always a difficult task, but it can be done with enough work by people more talented than I.
Let us be clear, it is a very good game.
Alas, I would be an idiot not to point out how refreshing Singularity’s gameplay can be. I definitely enjoyed it and it’s the first game in a couple of months that I have actually felt like completing. Jim Sterling’s review (I love this guy) can give you an in depth look at the gameplay elements, and while he gives it a higher score than I would (I’d probably give it a sqrt(63)), he makes many valid points about why this game should not go unnoticed.
Games like this show good stability in the industry, so thank you game developers, but let us never stop striving for progress.
This article may contain spoilers or excessive pollen.
Indie games seem to be abuzz on the net lately, and frankly that is a good thing or I may have never stumbled upon Zaratustra Productions’ Eversion (Thank you, Ryan North). If you have been living under a rock like I have and have no idea what Eversion is, it is an indie take on a retro-style platformer that delivers a unique experience to the genre. Seriously, in how many other games is the protagonist a Flower?
Okay, so what's new?
The key game mechanic in Eversion is the player’s ability to transition between different “eversion layers” in each world. The tone and mood of the game changes with each transition and as you evert into higher layers the scenery and music becoming increasingly more desolate and "scary". The transitions also give the player the ability to affect the world in different ways, including the ability to walk on clouds, to cause fragile blocks to crumble, and more depending on the situation.
As the player gains access to more and more of the seven different layers the game takes on a puzzle aspect. The main objective of Eversion is to traverse the environment and reach the flag in each world while simultaneously collecting all of the gems in each world. However, the gems are not always readily accessible in a certain eversion layer and it is sometimes necessary to transition between many different layers in order to get them all.
They fear not death in their never ending quest to destroy.
Let's look at the big picture.
What makes Eversion such a unique and entertaining experience is how player perception of the game changes as the game progresses. The player starts off in the first layer of the first world which is all blue skies and happy times where even the enemies give you a nice big smile (although any attempt to snuggle with the baddies would be ill-advised). After the player everts a couple of times the environment becomes host to more muted colors, stranger music, and increasingly less-friendly looking enemies.
The first time I reached eversion layer four the entire world seemed to stop. The enemies stopped moving and the environment and music took on a bleaker tone. The entire experience took me by complete and total surprise. It was great and it did not stop there. Each layer shocked me even more as the surrounding became desolate, sinister, and full of despair. Gone were the smiling baddies and fluffy clouds, this game meant business.
In order to get the "good" ending in Eversion the player needs to collect all of the gems in each of the seven worlds, which unlocks a final eighth world. Utilizing all of the eversion layers to accomplish this can be fun, challenging, and sometimes frustrating, but in the end it is worth it. Without spoiling the ending, it is safe to say that after completing the final world the player is presented with an ending which is surprising and a refreshing new take on the classic "save the princess" objective of most platformers.
At least now their intentions are clear...
Overall Eversion has a unique feel to it, which is great to see in a world that frequently produces so many game clones. What it lacks in originality it makes up for in originality. Yes, I know what I said. The game is about long enough to justify the purchase but not so lengthy as to become repetitive and stale. While it may not be the next Braid it is certainly another step in the right direction for independent games. Hopefully this year will see more games like Eversion that take what we are used to in games and turn it inside out.
Now go and play it. Seriously. I don't care if you don't have money, just try it and see what you think.