Singularity is a singular experience, a time-traveling FPS that is also a hybrid puzzle/horror game. Raven Software cherry-picked the best aspects of everyone’s favorite genres: Half-Life’s deft cinematic presentation and clever puzzles, F.E.A.R.’s knack for jumpy thrills, and Bioshock’s atmospheric storytelling, and then wrapped them all up in a package that, frankly, could’ve used some more polish.
You are dropped into the boots of United States Marine Captain Nathan Renko, as he and his team are sent to investigate a nuclear disturbance on the Russian island/scientific community, Katorga-12. Things soon go awry, and Renko is thrust back 55 years into the past where he unwittingly alters history by saving the life of a man whose survival has disastrous consequences for the West during the Cold War. Renko, with the help of a renegade Russian scientist and a representative for a Soviet-resistance group, sets about correcting the timeline and saving the world. Mostly, the tool you use to interact with the world of Katorga-12 is the Time Manipulation Device, or TMD.
The TMD is powered by the radioactive substance unique to the island, Element 99 (E99). E99 is used to fuel massively powerful bombs, weapons, and, in the alternate timeline, allows the USSR to dominate the globe. The TMD can age objects, people, anything infused with TMD, taking them either backward or forward in time. As you move along through the plot, you gain different abilities with the TMD; it can generate time-and-bullet-stopping force fields, mutate people into rampaging creatures, and catch rockets in mid-flight. The TMD can pull some neat tricks, and is definitely the centerpiece of the game, but I wish there were some more creative uses. You can age staircases to create paths, move boxes and debris around, much like Half-Life 2’s Gravity Gun, but only those objects “that are infused with E99,” i.e. the one’s the developers want you to manipulate. The TMD is a Wonder Weapon, and it’s fun to play with, but it never gave me the 6-year-old-with-a-new-toy feeling the Gravity Gun did, maybe because the number of objects you can manipulate with it are so limited. You can pick up and move, or shoot, almost anything, but they don’t do enough damage to be a viable choice as a weapon, and you can only age certain things…basically, for something called the Time Manipulation Device, it ends up feeling pretty powerless most of the time.
There’s some great in-game storytelling that goes on in Singularity. Like Bioshock’s “ghosts,” different timelines bleed together on Katorga-12, giving the player some insight into how people lived and died at this top secret facility. Also lifted from, or perhaps more fairly “inspired by”, Bioshock are audio-journals that scientists, soldiers, and civilians have left lying around; on the whole, the time-bleeds work better than the audio-journals, if only because of the jumpy-thrills that only a long-dead scientist pounding on a window, screaming for his life can provide. There’re are some great cinematic moments in Singularity: a giant bug destroying your train, a shiny container ship slowly reverting to a rusted hulk (with you inside), a ball ominously bouncing down a set of stairs as a ghostly child’s laugh tinkles down from above, and a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it critical plot point early in the game, all nestled inside a carefully designed and decorated Soviet facility. If only it was all a little prettier.
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