Developer: Raven Software
Platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3
Time-bending shooter works despite wearing influences on its uniformed sleeve
Like some sort of time-traveling Frankenstein’s monster, Singularity is a game that seems cobbled and scraped together from the vestiges of the games that came before it. Rising from the corpse of Half-Life 2 and sewn together with bits of BioShock, chunks of Raven’s own Wolfenstein and even a dash of TimeShift, Singularity is far from the most original game out there. But it does actually have a few new tricks up its sleeve, the neatest of which is that it almost manages to transcend the sum of its parts.
Singularity is a narrative shooter that places the player in the role of Captain Renko, a voiceless cipher whose sole personality trait is that he’s a member of a vague military unit. Renko and his team are called to investigate strange occurrences on “Katorga-12,” a Russian island where strange experiments were once conducted on an element called E99. Stuff goes bad, and Renko finds himself on in control of a gauntlet called the TMD (Time Manipulation Device) and battling strange mutants on a landmass that’s shifting between 2010 and 1955. Renko’s actions in 1955 lead to an alternate timeline in which Russia took over the world, and we can’t have that, so our hero sets out to right the wrongs that occurred on Katorga-12 a generation earlier.
While it borrows storytelling techniques heavily from BioShock, Singularity’s narrative is one of its strongest points. Katorga-12 is no Rapture, but it’s an evocative locale filled with signs of the life lingering on from its peculiar past. Audio logs and notes tell the stories of the citizens of the island, and chalkboards and ghostly “echoes” reveal the sorts of experiments conducted there. There’s an old scientist and an empowered young woman who help your silent hero along his path, a dynamic so blatantly borrowed from Half-Life 2 is could almost be considered homage. Familiarity of some of its tropes aside, time travel, 1950s sci-fi and evil Russians are all strong enough elements that you’ll rarely tire of the tale Singularity weaves.
Even the games with the best stories don’t work without a satisfying arsenal, and Singularity delivers both with weapons and abilities. A handful of standard guns share the stage with more unique weapons, like a steerable rolling grenade and a gun that shoots giant exploding spears. The TMD, however, is the star of the show and works with the time manipulation theme in clever ways. It allows you to rapidly age or de-age certain objects in the environment - you can restore a container to its original state to reclaim the goodies inside, or you can reduce an enemy soldier to thousand-year old dust in seconds. Need to climb a broken stairway? Revert it to its original form. Want to lift a heavy metal gate out of your way? Grow the sapling beneath it into a giant tree. The TMD is the answer to every puzzle in the game, and while most are initially clever, the same solutions are used a little too often to be truly satisfying.
The TMD has more destructive capabilities as well. Along with reducing enemies to dust, you can also create bubbles that slow time within them, freeze individual targets and de-evolve soldiers into enraged, ally-attacking “Reverts.” It’s a satisfying weapon with many fun uses, although occasionally feels a bit clunky to use - you pick up objects by clicking the right analog stick and create a stasis bubble by clicking the right thumbstick and holding it down. Elegant it is not.
The time-control powers take a backseat in multiplayer, which offers up a pair of different modes in which the Russian forces square off against Katorga’s mutant denizens. There are some clever ideas in the multiplayer mode, such as the “phase tick” class that lets you leap on the head of an enemy and possess him, but it’s ultimately a pretty standard affair that feels barebones compared to most of the other shooters out there. After a few rounds of playing as a giant rocket-vomiting lizard, most players will quickly move on to more fleshed-out shooters.
Whether you’re playing the campaign or the multiplayer, Singularity shows its flaws, but never too deeply. The level design is a tad bland, the story is derivative and the multiplayer match types are familiar. But just because the story is familiar doesn’t mean it isn’t well-told or engaging, and the core gameplay is fun, thanks to satisfying weapons and clever time-manipulation powers. Singularity is far from the must-play game of the summer, but it’s certainly not a total dud, either. In an alternate dimension, Singularity could have been a monumental title. Of course, it would have to be a dimension in which the games it borrows from so liberally don’t yet exist.