Raven Software are the unsung heroes among game developers. Nearly all of today’s gamers have experienced one of their exceptional titles, yet so few know who they actually are. After spending time creating licensed games and polishing up older franchises they have finally gotten a chance to venture into a brand new IP and the results are more than satisfactory. Singularity is the kind of game that not a lot of people will talk about, but anyone who plays it will definitely enjoy the experience. It meshes a solid narrative with a working gimmick and solid shooter action. The end result is a first-person shooter that fans of games like BioShock and Metro 2033 would do well to experience.
In what is quickly becoming a popular trend, Singularity uses Russia as a backdrop to tell an interesting “what if” story. Basically the Russians have discovered a new element called E99. Among other benefits they quickly discover that this element has the ability to bend time, but it also has adverse effects that eventually become the downfall of the entire project. The entire game takes place on a desolate island where research of the element took place called Katorga 12. There is plenty of history stowed away within the game, but much like BioShock, you have to want to know it all.
Taking a nod from the aforementioned game Singularity scatters audio recordings around the world that open up more about what happened on Katorga 12. There are also videos, chalkboards and notes scattered around that give you more info about the world. It leaves it up to the player how much they want to invest, while not forcing them down a linear path. The game can be enjoyed just as much without the extra info, and you will still walk away with an understanding of what happened. This kind of immersion is great for those looking for more than a straight-forward shooter.
The most unique feature in the game is definitely the Time Manipulation device, otherwise known as the TMD. This allows your mute protagonist, Nate Renko, to think outside the box. You can age objects and enemies both forward and back for interesting results. For instance you can age safes and locks in order to open them, or you can revert crates to fill up on ammo. In combat the device can be used to age enemies directly into the grave as well as a host of other functions. This spices up combat just enough to keep Singularity from becoming just another shooter. Not all is grand though as the limitations of the device are quickly pointed out.
There are only specific items within the game that can be manipulated by the TMD, and early on you will figure out what is possible. While we understand that modeling an entire game to take advantage of the device would be a huge undertaking, a little bit more freedom would have gone a long way. For instance there are about five things that can be shot with the TMD, and within thirty minutes of having the device you will have learned all of what it is capable of. You will get new powers such as a giant ball of energy that slows down all within it, but for the most part you will master it far too quickly.
Puzzles are also uninspired thanks mostly to predictable game design. We have all seen these types of obstacles before, and once you know the ins and outs of the TMD, they become more of a hindrance than a joy. Still I enjoyed the mechanics of the device and never got tired of blasting enemies against the wall with a quick shockwave or better yet aging them into dust on the fly. The shooting mechanics are also extremely satisfying. I love how the shotgun will dismember enemies at various junction points, and how the Seeker (a sniper rifle of sorts) allows you to steer the bullet to its destination in gratifying slow-motion. The gunplay is definitely on par with the best in the business thanks to Raven’s experience in the genre.
As you dig through the campaign it definitely has its ups and downs. Some of the levels feel like your traditional claustrophobic corridor shooter, but others open up and really give you a sense of scale. The railway level is a good example of this from start to finish. Whether you are sniping enemies from a movie crane, or tackling a giant monster on the back of a falling train, this level delivers. The main game lasts anywhere from 6-8 hours depending on your skill, and of course there is a ridiculously hard mode that earns you an Achievement/Trophy if you have the patience to brag about your skill. I do like the fact that they included three endings and the build up to the final boss is truly water cooler chat for nerds.
In addition to the campaign we also have the archetypal multiplayer thrown in. There are only a handful of maps and two modes, and the community is definitely not of the massive type. You have standard team deathmatch which is as rudimentary as it sounds, and you have the mode that focuses on the game’s high points: the TMD and mutated creatures. Once you get past the initial learning curve this mode has its high points, but the main question is will people still be dedicated to it once you finally invest the time? Also pigeon-holing it to three maps in the better mode is just plain disappointing.
As far as visuals are concerned Singularity looks good enough without actually standing out. I do love the areas where time is reverting and paint is peeling off the walls. That is a great touch. Also watching soldiers revert to ash is visually impressive, but everything else just doesn’t stand out. That is not to say it isn’t impressive. The engine is super smooth and characters look great thanks to the underlying Unreal Engine technology. The audio is on equal playing ground with some solid sound effects and voice acting. Yes Nolan North once again makes an appearance, making this the 4,764th game he has been in this month.
Singularity is a solid FPS with a working gimmick and a solid narrative. Fans of games like BioShock and Metro 2033 owe it to themselves to give it a run through. I strongly suggest picking up the game for the single player and not banking on the online as I imagine it will quickly become a ghost town with its lack of modes and meager community. Still the strong campaign is enough reason to play through the game and I actually want to eventually play through again just to experience the world once it isn’t fresh in my mind anymore. Raven Software has proven that they can do more than create established franchises and I hope everyone gives this game the chance it deserves.
Review copy provided by publisher.