It’s been more than a decade since Raven has introduced a new intellectual property, yet Singularity somehow feels like another installment in a first-person shooter franchise that you’ve been playing for years. And in one sense, that’s absolutely correct.
The game is built on the Unreal engine. As you navigate the moody Soviet island of Katorga 12, you’ll get the sensation you’ve been here before. The presentation shares a marked similarity with 2K’s BioShock franchise. As we stalk a sodden corridor – our trigger finger poised, straining to hear mutants – a gaggle of spectral schoolgirls with white aprons fly by. Go deeper and you’ll discover a raft of titles that appear to have influenced Singularity: Half Life 2, S.T.A.L.K.E.R., Fallout 3, Metro 2033, F.E.A.R and GoldenEye – even Raven’s own reimagining of Wolfenstein from last year.
Indeed, the experience is often like stepping through a montage of first-person shooters. You’ll wander corridors with flickering lights, shoot foes with varying combat mechanics, search lockers for ammunition, constantly find bigger and better weapons.
But for all of that Singularity manages to stand on its own irradiated feet. This is courtesy to a time-bending device that Raven has judiciously and creatively built into the game as both a puzzle-solving device and as a combat tool.
Set in a concurrent reality that segues from our history at the close of World War II, Singularity tells the rather thin tale of Nate Renko, a US soldier sent to investigate strange activities on an island off Russia’s Pacific coastline.
At the atomic close of World War II, the USSR began experimenting with a strange new element, E99, one with a range of extremely powerful and dangerous applications. Of course, it all went terribly wrong and the facility on Kartorga 12 was shut down and buried. Now a US satellite has been knocked out as it made a pass over the former research facility, and it’s up to Nate to unravel just what happened.
After our intrepid hero makes landfall, he's subjected to ever-increasing waves of mutant attacks interspersed with puzzle challenges designed to break up the otherwise formulaic combat. These challenges typically involve using the Time Manipulation Device, a mysterious wrist-mounted weapon resembling something Mr T might wear if he were fortunate enough to get a guest appearance in a Dr. Who episode. The origin of this unusual device is explained through an ample collection of audio and video diaries, some of which even require the TMD to restore them back to working condition. It's fortunate our disbelief stays in a perpetual state of suspension here at Gameplanet.
As the story advances, Nate moves forward and back through time opening new segues, causing others to overlap - essentially creating a rat's nest of the space-time continuum. It doesn't have the kind of philosophical depth of some of the games it apes, but it does create a curious, comprehensible and occasionally entertaining context for Nate's diverse actions.
It wouldn't be much of a Raven game without some positively outrageous weaponry, and despite it being barely halfway through the year, Singularity may have provided us with a solid contender in the "weapon of the year" category. Despite the usual riff-raff of pistols, shotguns, and assault rifles (it's actually against the law to make an FPS title without these weapons, it's the only logical explanation for their enduring appearance) Raven have added a kind of guided RPG that operates in slow motion. You take aim, fire, and guide the RPG shell at your enemies - around corners, over crates, until such time as you release the trigger and the shell explodes. Added to this is a sniper rifle that slows time and allows you to execute perfect long-range shots. Yes, we've heard of TimeShift, we just wanted to get at least half a dozen paragraphs into the review before mentioning it.
Weapons can also be upgraded along the typical trajectories offering increased damage, larger clips and shorter reload times. You won't discover anything new or particularly exciting in the system, but it works as intended, allowing players who so fond of their shotgun that they've named it, to ensure that she doesn't become obsolete.
For reasons not quite explained, the TMD also acts as a kind of gravity pump, allowing you to manipulate certain objects around you. Herein lies the key to progression, as you'll need to not only wind the clock back to repair broken objects, but occasionally move them into a position that assists you to progress. You may, for example, come across a half-opened roller door with no visible way through. Finding a crushed steel container, jamming it under the door and using the TMD to restore it to new will allow you to proceed. Failure to spot some of these less-than-obvious solutions may induce mental flashbacks consisting of Christopher Lloyd accusing you of failing to think "fourth dimensionally".
Perhaps the greatest irony of all is that for a game entitled Singularity, there's really no individual unique component. Virtually every concept has been lifted from another title, tweaked, and carefully integrated into the action. Normally, this would make for a pretty poor game, however it's a reflection on Raven's experience that Singularity manages to exist as more than the sum of its parts. Perhaps "Legion" would have been a better title.
Despite that, there's absolutely no doubt that the TMD concept makes this game. Without the time-splitting chrono-puzzles, we'd be staring down the business end of an extremely average paint-by-numbers shooter.
Nowhere is this more evident than the multiplayer. It's encouraging that the option exists to take this title online, however with only three maps to choose from, and basic team deathmatch with six players per side, there's little to write home about. The only saving grace is the "Extermination" mode, the objective of which is to capture and dominate the other teams control point. Each team faces off as mutants vs. humans, and what starts out looking a bit like a Natural Selection clone without the tactics, graphics, teamplay and polish moves steadily south from there. There's no doubt Singularity is designed for a solo experience.
There are glimpses of brilliance in Raven's new IP, moments of sheer terror and absolute joy. Unfortunately they're few and far between, and while the time-bending aspects of the title are often intriguing, they never quite manage to overshadow the repetitive environments and mediocre story.
Singularity isn't a bad game. It's unlikely you'll finish it and demand your own TMD to reverse your purchase. There's room here for a sequel, and we can only hope Raven pay closer attention to developing the plot and time devices next time around.
We're giving away three copies of Singularity! To enter, head over to the competition page and try to answer our devilishly difficult question!