Playing a game in which the primary mechanic involves time manipulation isn’t exactly new, and it’s not always a recipe for success. For every Prince of Persia or Full Auto, there are two or three Blinxes. Fortunately, the competitive first-person shooter genre hasn’t been subject to as many time-bending experiments, so when a developer takes the risk to incorporate it, it’s a safe bet that the mechanic is going to work. Particularly when that developer is Raven Software.
Raven and Activision teamed up this summer for a shooter called Singularity, a game many people seem to have missed either due to summer vacations or to the misguided belief that no good game can spawn during the warmer months. Not so. In Singularity, gamers traverse an island to unravel the mystery surrounding an element that Stalin’s cronies unsurfaced so many decades prior, and why Element 99 led to so much death, destruction and mysterious phenomena. Along the way, you’ll travel between eras and see how your actions in one affect the situation in another, all with a seriously stylized and story-driven presentation. In many respects, Singularity feels like BioShock due to its bygone-era environments and “narrative voice” a la Andrew Ryan. Some might say the BioShock influence is lazy or cheap. I say it’s awesome, because, well, so was BioShock.
Now, to be fair to Singularity, it definitely stands on its own two feet as a uniquely inspired product, even if the story falls a bit flat halfway through. This is due squarely to the ability to manipulate time in ways we’ve not really experienced before. Rather than simply bust out a dagger to rewind the past 15 seconds of gameplay, Singularity equips players with a device that lets them rewind (e.g. undo) decades of environmental damage to re-assemble staircases, bridges and walls. Alternatively, players can accelerate time so enemies grow decades older in a matter of seconds. After a few upgrades to the Time Manipulation Device (TMD), players can even transport weapons and items from one decade to the next. Tommy gun, meet future zombie.
There’s also the old standby of freezing time so enemies slow down and sniping becomes an easier proposition. But while this bullet-time effect isn’t exactly original, the aging and rejuvenating components definitely are. More important, the aging/rejuvenating abilities lead to some surprisingly fun puzzles. I’m not normally one who warms to a lot of puzzle action in my FPSes, but in Singularity it works and works well. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s on par with the puzzles in Half-Life 2, but Singularity has the most memorable combination of shooting and puzzles this side of Half-Life 2 for sure.
On the multiplayer side of things, Singularity eschews the basic modes for two team-based modes that let players experiment with different abilities. Namely, the team of Soldiers gets to use the TMD technology while the team of Creatures gets to leverage their “special abilities” to mess with the other team’s health bar. Each species has distinct classes to choose, from scouts and engineer types to defenders and medics, and although the actual mechanics between the species vary somewhat, there’s definitely a class for every type of player.
I’ll be the first to admit that I overlooked Singularity this summer, but I’m glad I dusted it off and gave it the old college try. Underneath the “not another shooter” wrapper is a unique story set in a unique world — in spite of its comparisons or inspirations to/from BioShock — with a unique vision of what it means to manipulate time. So do yourself a favor and rewind your own calendar to June 2010 to pick-up Singularity “brand new” and see what Raven has in store.
Click here to buy Singularity for PS3 — with a bonus exclusive Graphic Novel — from Amazon.com. Or, click here to buy Singularity for Xbox 360.
- Score: 8.6
Platform reviewed: Xbox 360
— Jonas Allen