All too often these days, a game that takes a proven game formula and goes out on a limb by injecting some new mechanics, gets labelled a gimmick game when it fails. A gimmick is generally a marketing tool used to draw in a sale, while not adding anything useful to the product. By that definition Singularity is most certainly not a gimmick game. What it is, is a game that blends an intriguing story with solid shooting, and seamlessly integrates an intelligent time manipulation mechanic.
Singularity had me pulled in right from the word go. All the exposition required is provided in a short and stylish opening cinematic, detailing an alternate world history. In the late 1940s, while searching for Uranium off the south-east coast of Russia, scientists stumble across a previously undiscovered and highly volatile substance – E-99. A research facility is set up on the island, Katorga-12, in an attempt to unlock the element’s military potential. It isn’t long however, before disaster strikes in the form of a cataclysmic explosion. The Russian government covers the incident up, striking the whole program from the history books. Flashing forward to 2010 the US military have detected a large radiation surge over the island, and fearing another Chernobyl, have authorised a reconnisance team to investigate. As Captain Nathaniel Renko, you are tasked with flying to Katorga-12 to assertain the truth behind the anomaly.
Shortly after arriving on Katorga-12 it is made clear that all is not right with the island. Echoes from the past roam the halls of the deserted buildings, and before long you find yourself plunged through a time-rift into midst of the cataclysm that befell the facility fifty years ago. After saving a stranger from a fiery death, you are thrown back into the present day, but as expected your actions have had far reaching implications. Where once there was a striking statue of Stalin, now stands the imposing figure of the rescued stranger. Travel between these two timelines becomes a frequent occurance, and a key part of the Singularity plot.
Before long you acquire a piece of advanced E99 technology known as the Time Manipulation Device, or TMD. The TMD makes all the crazy time manipulation in Singularity possible. Though it’s functions are limited at first, you’ll encounter stations to upgrade the TMD as you progress through the story – a smart decision for the developers, as it keeps the gameplay feeling fresh all the way through. Harnessing the power of the TMD you will be able to perform a number of simple actions such as reversing or speeding up time on objects to suit your needs. Broken stairways can be restored to a functional state, or safes can be aged to the point of rusting away, granting you access to items within. But of course a device so powerful has other uses as well.
The combat application of the TMD begins with two basic attacks. The first is a powerful pulse similar to a Jedi Force Push, except it packs enough of a punch to cause a man’s extremities to explode. The second attack causes a time distortion directed at the targetted enemy. For humans this means rapidly aging Indiana Jones style, but the effect is different for each type of enemy you face. The final major combat application for the TMD is the Deadlock. Described as a “sphere of chrono-energy”, when fired the deadlock creates a large electric blue sphere at the point of impact. Anything caught within the sphere is frozen in time, allowing you to get up close and personal and riddle your enemies with bullets before they unfreeze and drop dead.
Although the TMD and it’s ability to mess with time is at the core of the gameplay, without it Singularity would still be an extremely competant shooter. Aiming your gun isn’t as sharp as Call of Duty or a Valve game, but it doesn’t have the floaty controls you find in Halo. The result is comfortable and accurate, while still feeling like a pair of hands are attached to your weapon. The remarkable aspect of the gun combat is what happens when the bullets meet flesh. The deliciously wet, messy, organic look and feel you get when five or six of your bullets race across an enemy and leave gaping wounds is one of the most satisfying things I’ve experienced in a shooter recently. Strangely enough it was Kane and Lynch that first gave me that feeling, and then more recently Red Dead Redemption adopted the same style. Singularity comes close to perfecting the look of the carnage you inflict on flesh, and I’m excited about the possibility of more shooters following suit.
Using the TMD in conjunction with the various weapons you acquire (including but not limited to a pistol, assault rifle, shotgun and sniper rifle ) forms the core of Singularity gameplay, but there’s a lot more going on to fill in the gaps between enemies. Throughout the course of the game you are able to collect E-99 Tech, which is scattered everywhere from hidden nooks and crannies to crates in plain sight. E-99 Tech acts as a basic form of currency, allowing you to purchase upgrades to existing abilities, additional slots for health-packs, or special TMD perks. Weapon Upgrade packs can also be found, though in fewer number. These packs are used to upgrade the damage, maximum ammunition, and reload rate of each weapon.
In keeping with the current trend of supplementing a game’s main storyline with additional content in the environment, projectors, notes and audiologs are abundant. Although they’re not all brimming with new information, they do add a little something to the story and help break up the combat.
All in all, Singularity is a very tidy little package that clocked in at around seven hours. I played it over the course of an afternoon and the morning of the following day, which should be a testament to how engrossed I was with it. When I look back on my time with the game over the weeks and months to come, I’ll remember an interesting and entertaining first person shooter experience, set in one of the most underutilized and underrated locations – Russia. Above all though I’ll remember Singularity for it’s intelligent use of time manipulation, which was neither guilty of trying to do too much, nor failing to do enough. I just hope others feel the same way, and we can look forward to more original IPs from Raven Software in the future.