2009 proved a mediocre year for Raven Software who produced X-men Origins: Wolverine and Wolfenstein. They’re back, but this time with a wholly original IP and an altogether different enemy. It’s not the dastardly Germans out to ruin the world, rather the other equally hated nation of Russia. In the 1950s, the mysterious island of Katorga-12 experienced a devastating event known as the “Singularity” and now in 2010, the ever-meddling U.S. government has noticed strange radiation signatures emanating from the island. Players assume the role of Captain Nathaniel Renko, a crack black-ops soldier sent in to investigate the situation. You find out the place was a research station where Cold War scientists were experimenting with E99, a powerful but terrifyingly unstable element only found on the island. It even has the ability to alter time itself, and that plays a major part of the story where strange events result in Captain Renko being sent back and forth in time, his actions in the past have massive consequences in the present. Renko needs to battle soldiers and all manner of mutated life forms to fix what is broken. It’s hardly an original concept and this is further experienced when you explore Katorga-12. Even though it’s themed fit the USSR theme complete with the Cyrillic Иs and Яs and dodgy accents, the moody environments and certain game mechanics share an uncanny familiarity with Bioshock, which is not necessarily a bad thing…
I can forgive the lack of originality if the game play makes up for it, and for the most part Singularity gets it right. After a brief opening sequence where you are introduced to the story arcs and various characters, you pick up the E99-powered Time Manipulation Device (or TMD) and this is when Singularity moves away from the being a bog-standard shooter to something a little more interesting. In the beginning the TMD isn’t able to do much aside from alter the age of objects, rejuvenating broken objects and turning new things into their decayed forms. This aging/rejuvenating mechanic is fun at first but gets done to death in the puzzles, so much so that you wish you could go back in time and prevent the developers from putting them in. The puzzles really are repetitive and brain-numbing.
When it comes to firepower you have the usual assortment of machine guns, shotguns, and sniper rifles. There is an absolutely fantastic weapon called the Seeker that allows you to steer the course of your bullet and gives you a front-row seat to the impressive and bloody headshots. It is, however, deemed so awesome that you’re not allowed to carry it as part of the regular kit. Luckily, the TMD complements your arsenal quite well. It allows you to turn soldiers into dust, or for more sadistic fun, you can revert them into a monstrous form that will turn on their allies and happily clear the room for you. It’s an entertaining mechanic that never seems to gets old. In the beginning, the TMD is very much a secondary weapon but as you progress through the game, further abilities are made available to stack the odds in your favour, the most notable one being Deadlock. This ability fires a sphere into a room and everything caught in the bubble slows down, allowing you ample time to saunter in there and shoot them in the face. Best. thing. ever.
You also gain the ability to pick up and toss objects, but don’t get too giddy with excitement, this is only possible for certain physics-enabled things like crates, explosive barrels, and oddly, broken bottles. There is some inconsistency when it comes to the TMD’s abilities. It is supposed to affect objects that have been infused with E-99 and while you are able to alter the state of crates and switch boxes, you’re not able to age any of the doors in the buildings. Perhaps the Russians outsourced the manufacture of their doors to another country? Another odd design choice is with the audio recordings that are scattered throughout the levels. You’re not allowed to pick and of them up so to listen to any tidbits of back story, you have to hang around next to it until the recording ends. This does hamper the pacing a little. Also, if you have trouble grasping the Russian accent, then feel free to make up the dialogue yourself as there are no subtitles in the game.
Using the TMD requires E99 cells of which you have a finite amount so you can’t spam the device to get out of a pickle. There are stashes of E99 for you to replenish your supplies but if you do run out, you’ll have to cower in a quiet spot waiting for it to recharge itself. The TMD can be enhanced at the upgrade stations where you can spend collected E99 tech to purchase abilities like gaining health whenever you kill enemies or picking up more ammo from enemy and loot drops. There are also perks that help to increase sprint duration and the effectiveness of the health packs you collect. Similar to the TMD, your weapons can be swapped and upgraded at the various weapon lockers. You can modify each weapon’s characteristics such as clip size and reload time, but this is done using weapon tech briefcases that aren’t as generously scattered about. You’ll need to do some exploration to discover these.
From the visual perspective, the environments are very detailed and give a good sense of the devastation that occurred on Katorga-12. What is particularly impressive is the time travel you get to do. In these memorable sequences you are able to travel from an utterly run-down area you’ve just explored in the present day to the same location 50 years ago when everything was all in pristine, working order. There were, however, times when the graphics details take a drive. When you enter a level, the time taken for all the blurry greens and browns to replaced by the detailed textures is pretty noticeable. It seems the Unreal Engine just couldn’t load the textures fast enough and it does take some polish off the game.
Singularity features multiplayer as well, with an interesting twist. Creatures and soldiers from the single player campaign are pitted against each other in two modes, one being a team deathmatch style game and the other that tasks soldiers with taking control of various beacons on the map while the creatures need to defend the beacons. It’s a nice little addition but ultimately you most likely won’t be spending too much time on it. Singularity’s multiplayer doesn’t have the lasting appeal as some of the other FPSs available on the market.
All-in-all, Singularity borrows elements from some popular games but doesn’t quite put them together in an inventive way. The puzzles are terribly mundane and the interaction with the environment is limited to specific objects – a bit of freedom in both areas would have been nice. However the time-controlling TMD is an interesting idea and with its solid gunplay, I think the good points outweigh the bad. It won’t breathe new life into the somewhat staid FPS genre but if you have time on your hands Singularity is a decently fun shooter.