Singularity-Reverts.jpg" alt="" width="600" height="375" />
For those that don’t know, Singularity is the latest first person shooter from Raven Software, a company with a history of standout first person shooters. If you’ve ever played Soldier of Fortune, Star Trek: Voyager – Elite Force (don’t laugh, it’s a genuinely good game), Star Wars: Jedi Knight II or Quake 4 then you’ve been enjoying the fruits of Raven Software’s labour. However, if you’ve played the 2009 reboot of Wolfenstein, you’ve also been playing a Raven game… and that might not endear as much affection. While I do have to come clean immediately and admit that there is more than a little in Singularity that is reminiscent of last year’s uninspired Wolfenstein, these are very different games.
Firstly and perhaps most importantly, the story of Singularity, while also being mad as a box of frogs, is far more interesting than its wayward cousin. The blend of realistic and fantastic powers at the main character’s command remains, but it is solidly rooted in a relatively believable plot, and there is nothing magical, per se. I say relatively believable, but unsurprisingly there is a certain amount of “handwaving” involved in the setup for a game based on time travelling and manipulation. The technology present is all based upon a fictional new element known as E-99 (though in the regularly handwritten script within the world, this sometimes reads more like “egg”), and its presence on the island upon which the entire plot takes place. How this works is never explained, but it is probably better that way, as the game is often strictly paced and it is no more difficult to accept than the technology of Back to the Future.
Speaking of Back to the Future, the concept of travelling back in time and royally screwing everything up remains alive and well in Singularity. The main storyline revolves around the main character accidentally travelling back to the 1950s, and then saving the life of a scientist at the island when the Soviet Union was trying to weaponise E-99. After this point, anyone who has ever had the conversation “what if you went back in time and killed Hitler/saved someone that turned out to be worse than Hitler?” can probably guess what comes next. Yes, he becomes an evil dictator, apparently managing to conquer the entire world. Congratulations, you broke the world, now you have to fix it. What you might not have expected was for the game to actually become rather survival horror at this juncture – you still don’t have any special time powers, and you’re stuck with just a pistol to defend against horrible zombie-like creatures in a creepy abandoned village with recordings of children lying around the place.
It is during this relatively early section of the game that it feels most like yet another recent first person shooter, namely BioShock. Singularity is definitely heavily influenced by the atmosphere and environmental storytelling at work in BioShock, and even goes so far as to leave the aforementioned audio recordings scattered around the place. Also featured are 50s-style “miraculous invention” videos explaining more of the backstory or how new powers work, almost directly following in the footsteps of both BioShock and Fallout, although there is good reason for it within the context. I also found this section probably the most immersive and interesting of the game, while ammunition was a concern and I had no special protection from the startling monsters that might lurk around every corner.
Time powers are probably Singularity’s main back of the box feature, though, so perhaps we should talk about them. You may be expecting to find the usual slow down, pause and rewind time features here, but that’s not how Singularity does things. Time travel and manipulation exists on a much broader scale than in similarly themed games, such as the ill-fated TimeShift. After acquiring the TMD (Time Manipulation Device), you will obtain the ability to age and revert objects in the world that are infused with E-99. What this means is that you can only mess around with those parts of the level that the developers want you to, and only in the ways they want you to. Reverting tends to be used for mending broken staircases and crates, basically acting as contextual mini-puzzles at times. An example is a situation in which a chain-link fence stands between the main character and his objective – a rusted old crate must be reverted to new in order for it to be tall enough to stand on to get over the fence. After that, the crate must be aged again so that it is slim enough to drag through a gap in the fence in order to be used again for the next section. There are a few of these somewhat inventive trials, but for the most part it’s a more simple “oh this staircase is broken, I’ll fix it” affair.
It’s worth clarifying that the actual time shifting mechanics mentioned here are completely contextual. One button controls both aging and reverting, with which is going to be chosen shown by a coloured blue or orange indicator around the reticle, not unlike Portal’s interface. This remains true when aiming at enemies, who can be aged all the way to skeletons and then dust, or in the case of some human foes, reverted into one of the varieties of monster present in the game. There are other powers wrapped up in the TMD, however, including a miniature anti-gravity device that allows picking up and throwing of objects in exactly the same way as the gravity and portal guns from Valve’s Half-Life 2 and Portal. It also powers an Impulse attack that replaces the standard melee once acquired, throwing out a (fairly devastating) wave of force that literally tears apart anyone that is foolish enough to get in its way. The level of dismemberment never reaches Raven’s Soldier of Fortune heights, but it does make Impulse somewhat entertaining in a pinch.
The singleplayer, again very much in the manner of BioShock, will give as much as you put into it. If you become immersed in the atmosphere and crazy time travelling storyline, not to mention genuinely creepy child experiments, it is definitely enjoyable. If collecting small items constantly and occasionally powering up your TMD or weapons interests you, that will also feel solid – if it doesn’t, there isn’t a great deal to recommend the system, other than that it does allow you to control your positive reinforcement a little. It doesn’t really deserve the overused “RPG elements” term, but it is a smooth and relatively unobtrusive mechanic. The enemy design is iconic enough that you’re never in doubt about which horrible monster you’re facing, although the humans in singleplayer are usually a little more generic, and each brand of E-99 infected enemy comes with its own challenges and associated tactics. Which you face is changed up enough, and interspersed with enough light exploration, puzzle and story sequences, that you’ll never have to fight one enemy type or perform one action so often that it will become tedious.
The multiplayer modes, on the other hand, do not feel nearly as cohesive as the singleplayer experience. I am somewhat glorifying it by implication when I say “modes” as there are only two, and they are not particularly different. Creatures vs Soldiers is a standard team deathmatch along the titular faction lines, with one team being able to pick from several different types of creatures, each with its own abilities, and the other picking from slightly more traditional (though still innovatively designed) human soldier classes. Extermination is exactly the same, except that rather than simply going for kills, the soldiers are meant to take and hold a beacon objective for 20 seconds before moving on to the next, while the creatures attempt to stop them. The game modes don’t feel particularly different, other than that the fighting is all concentrated into one area at a time in Extermination, so I’m not sure why there aren’t any other standard variations, such as versions of capture the flag or plant the bomb.
In terms of the class design itself, however, the multiplayer is actually somewhat interesting. The soldier classes all obviously handle fairly similarly to the singleplayer experience, using guns as the primary weapon and limited TMD powers as the class shtick. Examples include the Bruiser class, which takes the Impulse power from singleplayer, while the Blitzer class has a teleportation ability that can make for some entertaining ambushes through walls, or simply teleporting directly into an enemy to turn them into scrambled egg. Probably the most well implemented soldier class is the Healer, though, as the switching between weapon and TMD is completely smooth and Singularity does point scoring right – healing is a legitimate way of racking up the points. I found it really fun to simply support my teammates while only gunning down enemies in self-defence. Creatures make for a more mixed bag, as in my experience the general effectiveness of the classes was sharply defined into two halves. Reverts, slow monsters with high melee strength and a damaging vomit attack, and Radions, a ridiculously large and tough creature with bouncing spike and explosive projectile attacks, are the powerhouses of the creature team, easy to play and difficult to defeat. On the other hand, the Zeks, able to phase out of existence for a time and throw explosive barrels, and Ticks, tiny scuttling creatures that jump onto human enemies to possess their bodies, are very difficult to play without significant practice, and can be tough to effectively contribute with even then. Granted, scampering up walls Alien-style and leaping onto soldiers to take control of their weapons and abilities as the Tick is one of the most entertaining parts of the game, but unless you’re very skilled, you’ll only be getting a possession one in every five or so lives.
In the final consideration, Singularity is an unexpectedly interesting and entertaining game. There wasn’t a great deal of marketing behind it at launch, making its release a strangely stealthy one. Combined with its proximity to E3, it seems that Singularity might not have received as much attention as it deserved. Despite a rather narrow multiplayer offering, and a slightly underwhelming use of time manipulation in the singleplayer (a few brilliantly contrived moments notwithstanding, this is definitely a game to take notice of. It has managed to combine some of the atmosphere of BioShock with a pinch of the interactive, first person storytelling of Half-Life 2 while retaining a time travelling focus finally worthy of comparison to Back to the Future, as ridiculous as that might sound in this century. I can honestly admit that I did not have particularly high hopes for Singularity before playing it, but while it did not cause me to rethink my greater worldview, it certainly surprised me with its personality. This is not the cookie cutter FPS with superficially applied time powers that I was concerned it might have been, instead showing itself as a game unafraid to put its own spin on time travel and alternate history. This made for a much more engrossing story campaign than I had anticipated, and married to a solid shooter foundation, it makes for a far more enjoyable overall experience. If you want to discover a world that is horrifying and intriguing, despite never having existed, or if you just can’t let the Cold War go, I can definitely recommend Singularity as a game with more to offer than it might first appear.
- Great atmosphere, surprisingly immersive world
- Time manipulation used for more interesting abilities than the usual “slow” and “speed up”
- Diverse and entertaining multiplayer classes
- Story can occasionally be a little too disconnected from reality
- Only two multiplayer modes, neither particularly interesting in its own right
- Time manipulation only occasionally involved in genuinely innovative sequences
Singularity was developed by Raven Software and published by Activision. It was released on June 25th, 2010.