Of all the bad things that Activision has done over the last few years, the worst is that they didn't market Singularity more. Sure the game was delayed a bit after getting an interesting viral campaign launched for the game, but it's a shame that Activision didn't push the game more as this is probably one of the best/most interesting first person shooters available right now.
In Singularity you play Nate Renko, a special ops agent for the United States who is dispatched to a remote Russian island to investigate the source of an EMP blast that took out a US communication satellite. The site on the island is Katorga-12 was home to a secret Cold War base that the Soviets set up to examine E99, a new element with untold power that could give the Soviets the power to defeat the US.
As you arrive at the base your helicopter is hit by an EMP burst and crashes onto the island. It’s a bit cliché, but you wake up alone and after you rendezvous with one of your compatriots you realize that the Ruskies were up to no good on their island. It turns out that in 1955 one of the experiments on the island went a bit sideways and tore a hole in the fabric of time. How do you know this? Because you get to witness the experience as you are transported back in time to witness it and help evacuate some of the survivors.
I’m not normally a fan of time travel antics as they’ve become a major crutch of the sci-fi universe over the last few years but Singularity does a good job of mitigating some of those murky waters by changing things up a bit. Instead of simply watching the events in the past you take part of them which makes it a bit interesting as you end up creating a few paradoxes along the way. I’d say more but that would be revealing some of the best parts of the game.
OK, so the premise of the game isn’t exactly unique, as most FPS players have been sent into untold numbers of scientific facilities after bad accidents happen but Singularity’s hook is the time travel part of the game, and it works out pretty well. The folks at Kartorga 12 where trying to weaponize E99 and ended up creating a device that could alter the fabric of time and space. Unfortunately they had a bit of an accident and created a rift in time that you’ll have to navigate as you try to correct the time line. It’s a bit like the sixth season of Lost but without the tropical jungle and fewer god complexes.
The weapon they were working on is the TMD (Time Manipulation Device) which allows them to focus the E99 on objects allowing them to age items. In your hands it allows you to flip certain items between their 1955 state and their 2010 state. It’s a fairly simple concept, but Raven does a great job of using it to create some interesting puzzles. For example a crate can be used to help fill a gap so that you can make a jump or it can be used to force open a partially open garage door. The puzzles are actually somewhat clever in design and execution and you’ll have to play with the state of the objects in the game in addition to the combat in the game.The TMD also has some offensive capabilities as you can use it to age enemies (killing them with a nice Ark of the Covenant effect), you can generate force waves which knock enemies back (and disintegrate enemies that are right in front of you), and you can also use the TMD to convert enemies into mutants who attack everything in sight.
In addition to the TMD you have your standard shooter arsenal of pistol, sniper rifle, shotgun, machine gun, chain gun, and a few E99 special weapons, including a grenade launcher that allows you to steer the grenades along the floor (which is terribly entertaining). You can only carry two of the weapons at a time, but you can swap weapons at weapons lockers or whatever weapons you pick off the corpses of your enemies.
You can upgrade the capacity, reload speed, and damage the weapons do at the weapons lockers, but honestly once you get the chain gun you really won’t use any of the other weapons. There’s plenty of ammo to be found in the game and I only ran out of ammo a few times playing it on the Normal difficulty level.
The powers of the TMD can also be upgraded over time as you can extend the range of the push, increase the max power of the device, and a few other features. You can also upgrade some of your hero attributes like max health and running distance.
The currency for both of these upgrades is bits of E99 that you find lying around the game. The catch is that there isn’t enough E99 to upgrade everything, so you’ll have to figure out how you want to play the game and go from there. There is some replayability in that you could go back and play through the game with different upgrades but I’m not sure that really makes that much of a difference.
The game has a few multiplayer modes if you’re into that kind of thing but it’s nothing that I spent a lot of time with.
The game does suffer from a few PC specific issues, all of which can be traced to the use of the Unreal Engine III. The biggest issue is the constant texture pop in the game. At first it wasn’t too bad as there was merely the odd door or crate but towards the end of the game I found a room full of untextured items (this has since been fixed in a patch). I would guess that the console versions of the game don’t suffer as much from this problem but it was distracting in the PC version.Also present in the PC version was an odd audio bug which reduced the volume for the game significantly. You can get around it by ALT-Tabbing out of the game and adjusting the mixer by hand, but again it’s a distraction from playing the game. This is already a known bug with the Unreal Engine III and Windows 7, but it required a bit of work to figure out and again it’s something that console owners won’t have to worry about.
Outside of those two engine specific quirks I had no real issues with the game, no odd clipping issues, no random crashes, and no missed scripted events which leads me to think that Raven used the extra development time to put a few extra coats of polish on the game. Of course your mileage may vary depending on your PC configuration but I was greatly impressed with the lack of technical defects in the game.
With Singularity, Raven has created an old school FPS as the game eschews modern shooter contrivances like auto-healing and unlimited sprinting. It’s almost like Raven is shouting “Get off my lawn you damn kids” to the Modern Warfare 2 and Halo’s of the world. You could almost dismiss them as the crazy old shut-in of the game world (they are based in Madison, WI) if it wasn’t for the excellent writing and pacing of the game (something those titles lack).
Singularity was a game that surprised me a bit as I was expecting a by the numbers shooter with a few time travel gimmicks tacked on. What I got though, was one of the best written and executed shooters that I’ve played in quite some time and if you’re a fan of good story writing in games you’ll enjoy the hell out of this game despite a few nagging flaws here and there.