It seems that the Russians are doomed to forever be the villains in American videogames. The Soviet Union collapsed nearly 20 years ago and the Cold War is over, but Singularity still manages to make those dastardly commies the enemy. How you might ask? Time travel, of course!
Singularity asks the question, ‘What if the Soviet Union discovered a source of Element-99… and what if it had special powers that could warp time itself and create monsters?’ It’s a question we’ve all stayed up pondering and now you can live that nightmare through the shoes of American soldier Nate Renko, the unfortunate soul tasked with correcting history. There’s a five minute introduction explaining this backstory in great detail at the opening of Singularity. From there, things continue to be just as corny right through to the end.
Singularity is a first-person shooter that draws inspiration from games like BioShock or System Shock 2. There are lots of meat-monsters and Russian soldiers to blast, plenty of weapons to do so with, and along the way you’ll upgrade Renko with new powers and tools to make him even more super. Interspersed with the shooting are some simple puzzles, heavy doses of storytelling and plenty of blatant clues to let you know that things are perhaps not the way they appear. The production levels are pretty high here for the most part, so most enemies and creatures move pretty well and look decent enough.
The selling point for Singularity is a special gizmo Renko is quickly bestowed called the TMD, or Time Manipulation Device. With it, he has near limitless power that is, in fact, only limited by the developer’s rather mundane imagination. This device can alter time with incredible precision enabling its user to age or revert single objects. Decayed crates filled with ammo can be made new again. Boxes can be aged to pieces for easy transport. Locks can be aged to dust to open safes or lockers.
The idea sounds pretty neat, but it isn’t much more than a gimmick. Only an extremely limited set of objects can be manipulated with the TMD, and even then the results aren’t anything to write home about. Through the course of Singularity, you’ll use the TMD to solve age-old “puzzles” and in less involved single-use situations to fix or break things like voice recordings and switches.
I use the word “puzzles” lightly because even with the addition of time manipulation you’ll still be going through the same basic routines that games have been using as a crutch for years. All of the explosives and time-manipulation in the world is no match for a small ledge or chain link fence. For that, you’ll need a crate and that means you’ll have to age one to splinters, slide it through gaps in 5 foot fences, and then revert it back to normal size to use as a step. Raven didn’t go outside of the level design playbook in the slightest, nor do they allow the player to use any imagination. Once you’ve aged or reverted a couple of things, the wonder is gone and the limitations on when and how you can use the TMD ensure it never comes back.
Things are more interesting in combat. Here the TMD can be used to age soldiers to dust, revert them to monsters (just go with it), do a gravity-gun Half-Life 2 impersonation, or create little bubbles that slow down time. It’s a bit like a less-inspired TimeShift, but with better weapons, enemies, and set pieces. Combining a little time bubble with a remote-controlled E99 Seeker gun allows you to freeze a nearby enemy in place and then steer a bullet around corners into the next crowd of Russian soldiers. And no matter what you do, you can be sure there will be lots of over-the-top gore. Heads and arms will fly off in fountains of blood in just about every encounter.
The best parts of Singularity come when Raven abandons the corridor shooting that dominates the game in favor of special levels. One stage puts you in a massive time-restored boat that is slowly reverting back to rust as it springs leaks and ultimately sinks. Another pits you against a massive monster. These are the most tense and exciting parts of the game, but they aren’t quite enough to make you forget about the weak puzzles, banal story, and otherwise straight-forward design.
Singularity has three different endings, all of which can easily be seen by loading up your last save point and playing through the final moments again. Once that’s done, there’s little reason to go back for another romp through the 6-10 hour campaign. There is an additional multiplayer game that has a small community backing right now, but it feels far too limited to gain any substantial following.
Multiplayer consists of two modes, both pitting human soldiers against creatures. One is a straight team deathmatch while the other is an objective based game where teams fight over set locations. The gameplay is largely identical in both modes as the rules of combat are the same. Pick a class or creature type, choose your weapon and perks, and start fighting. The creature team can deploy everything from massive spider-like monsters to little tickers that can possess humans. The soldiers have powers that help to even things out. The different classes can do things like heal each other, teleport forward through space a few yards, or put up temporary shields. With so many competing powers on the field at once, everything feels quite hectic and chaotic.
[Note] I wasn’t able to play the PlayStation 3 version online as there isn’t anybody to play with. The 360 edition ran well enough and there were no problems connecting to a lobby on PS3, so I don’t anticipate problems. Still, it remains untested.
If you’ve exhausted the library of stellar games that 2010 has already produced and are looking for something to help bridge the gap into this fall, Singularity isn’t a bad choice. The gunplay is solid and there are a few memorable set pieces. It is a game ultimately limited by a lack of imagination where a neat time-manipulation idea is handcuffed to a by-the-numbers first-person shooter.