Action/Horror titles would have to be among my absolute favourite game genres. FEAR, Silent Hill, Dead Space (and more) – they have all left very memorable impressions on my gaming history.
Original footage and information regarding Singularity, Raven Software’s time manipulating game, piqued my interest. And the last game I’d played by Ravensoft was X-Men Origins: Wolverine (a far better game than it got credit for), so it was inevitable that I’d give this one a try.
Katorga-12, a top secret Russian research facility from the 1950’s has become incredibly unstable, massive radiation blasts emanating from within. Destructive rips in the fabric of time, known as ‘Singularities’ are changing the world and unleashing monstrous mutations.
As Nate Renko, a US-led military man, you are charged with venturing onto the island and stopping the catastrophic time-rip before it completely rewrites history.
Complete immersion in a sterile, scientific facility sets the scene for the game play. It is absolute beauty in decay. The desolate island environment introduces you at an old docking yard; rotting timber, collapsing foundations and paint flaking from aging warning signs.
You are essentially abandoned, only one remaining member of your team is audible over your radio – but you have no contact with him and no idea where he ended up.
Singularity is a first-person shooter, with plenty of action, a little bit of horror – and a time gimmick thrown into the mix.
Being a US military man, you’re rarely without a powerful, conventional gun of some sort; a heavy pistol, machine gun, shotgun or chaingun. Thankfully, there are the additions of some sci-fi style weapons, like a compact rail gun or a time-manipulating sniper rifle as just a couple of examples.
In addition to these projectile weapons, you have Singularity’s set-piece, the TMD.
You see, this secret Russian facility was doing research on a very new and very powerful element, called E-99. Scientists working on E-99 discovered that in addition to being an incredible power source, it was also capable of being harnessed as a catastrophic weapon. Able to manipulate the very fabric of time, in a kind of event horizon, they achieved weaponry capable of slowing bullets, tearing objects out of the rift of time and indeed, fast-forwarding and reversing time itself.
The TMD, or Time Manipulation Device is the hand-mounted version of the original heavy weapon created by the lead scientist on the project, and once in your possession, allows everything from de-aging trees (in order to unblock passageways) or rewinding time to when a hallway’s ceiling wasn’t collapsed. It forms the basis of the puzzle solving aspect of Singularity as well as allowing you to access new areas and decipher historic information.
Even more fun, is the ability to ‘fast-forward’ age your enemies. In place of bullets or melee attacks for takedowns, you can fire the TMD at an enemy, to watch in amazement as his clothing ages at a geometric rate. Skin, body and form rapidly decays, turning to ash and eventually dust. It is very impressive. Brilliantly, Singularity allows you to play the game as you wish, you can run and gun it like any old shooter, or you can take your time and manipulate time to victory.
E-99 is used to upgrade weapons and items. This highly unstable element is found – surprisingly – everywhere on the island. It’s in absolute abundance to be exact. You can upgrade numerous elements of weapon ability and precision – and add perks to your own abilities (target accuracy, longer breathing under water etc.) which feels almost like inspiration from Deus-Ex genetic modification, or Bioshock’s plasmids.
Also in abundance are weapon drops. I found very little need to carry a favourite weapon around with me. Every time you approach an action sequence where a sniper rifle ‘could’ have been handy – Oh, there’s one conveniently placed there in that sniper vantage point. Dotted all over the facility are various weapon lockers and upgrade points as well, so you can swap and change regularly.
Progression is very much linear, but it does reward the player who goes left instead of right. There are hidden rooms, secluded ventilation shafts and dark corners that nearly always have an E-99, health or ammo pickups to reward your exploration.
Unfortunately where singularity falls apart, is online. It has a fairly in-depth multiplayer component, with a potentially exciting game mode of Soldiers vs Creatures, but the whole thing is ruined by lag and long wait times in finding a match. Online seems very quiet and I’ve yet to join a game with more than 6 players. Whether this is as a result of playing in Australia at the wrong time for the rest of the world, or just being lumped in with players on the other side of the world, I’m not sure – but online has no redeeming qualities in its current state.
Graphics & Sound
Singularity has a tremendous ‘old world’ feel to it. If you’ve ever been to one of those urban exploration websites, exploring forgotten facilities and buildings, you’ll know exactly what to expect of this game. You’re playing through an extensive research complex that has been completely forgotten and let to rot and rust away. This is faithfully recreated in extremely vivid detail – and even more impressively, when the time ‘slips’ and you’re in the same place back in the 1950’s with everything looking brand new again. Its a stark, visually appealing shift.
Paint flakes and falls from walls, dust particles float in the air – it has this kind of Silent Hill feel to it sometimes, the atmosphere and fear creating an amazing environment that we rarely see in games any more. The horror aspect is accentuated by distant screams and wails from the island’s mutated inhabitants. Those with surround sound systems are going to appreciate squeaks and groans from ventilation shafts behind you, or in a corridor your about to enter..
Visually and audibly, Singularity is an absolute treat.
Singularity as a whole is thoroughly enjoyable. Online is broken, but the campaign offers a fantastic experience. There is some genuine suspense and memorability in set-piece scenes and the story (while suitably far-fetched) is, for a sci-fi entrant, engaging. There are a plethora of trinkets, gadgets, weapons and upgrades to play with, ensuring the game play never gets old.
It’s a title that has borrowed little bits and pieces of a lot of different games, but in the same way Darksiders worked well for that reason, so does Singularity. Thus it is a game I’d definitely recommend giving 8-12 hours of your time.