RETRO – Go back and forth between the 1950’s Soviet Union and present day while fighting scary mutants and soviet soldiers in the latest first person shooter from Raven Software. While this is not the most original of ideas, Singularity is still a very fun game with lots of superpowers in your destructive hands.
Time travel is one of the favorite subjects of sci-fi and adventure movies and games alike, so it’s no surprise, that Raven Software is using this theme as well. In Singularity you are in an alternate present of 2010 and you take the role of an US Air Force pilot, Nathan Renko, who must investigate a top secret Soviet military program, which involves time traveling and other fantastic scientific discoveries as well. You’ll soon discover that the program turned horribly wrong, as you will face blood-thirsty mutated monsters and soviet soldiers from the fifties.
Your weapon and your enemy: the time…
In the game controlling time is not only the recurring theme to the story, but also the very tool and weapon which our hero is using against monsters and soviets, and helps him through many obstacles and logical puzzles. This backdrop may look vaguely familiar to you, and the gameplay itself isn’t one of the most originals either.
Singularity is like a cross between Half Life 2, Time Shift, Bioshock, Dark Sector and other sci-fi shooters. Our hero, Nathan Renko – who is silent all the time – has two persons helping him through his adventures: Professor Barikov, the very scientist, who worked on the scientific military program and Kathryn, an US female agent.
Time will kill
Those two looks unmistakably similar to Half Life 2’s Dr. Eli Vance and Alyx Vance. The scientific experiments were all done on a secret – now abandoned and rotten – Russian military base, Katorga-12, which looks a lot like Bioshock’s underwater world – there are even cut scenes in the same style as Bioshock. At the center of all this complot is the Time Manipulation Device, or TMD, which was developed by Barikov and which is a round object used on Renko’s hand. The TMD has several functions, all linked to the time manipulation.
For example, we can instantly move backwards or forward an object or a human in time. Against soviet solders we can use it to turn them to dust, or we can turn them to “reverts”: the flesh eating brainless mutants, who turns against their former companions. This provides some very fun gameplay: when Renko is overwhelmed, we can turn to revert any member of the enemy team, and simply watch him slay the other soldiers with a wicked grin, until he is finally shot dead.
Besides the TMD, there are other special weapons as well: with one of them we can follow and manipulate the bullet shot from the barrel and lead them to our foes. As we progress through the game, we can add to the TMD more and more fun special abilities. The TMD itself is undeniably the best aspect of Singularity.
Bloody soviet hell
Raven Software likes his games bloody and brutal – like their Soldier of Fortune games – and Singularity isn’t different either. When a bullet hits a Soviet soldier, their heads explodes in bloody pulp, or they have their hands, and feet dissected from their torso. It’s looks a little cheap and exaggerated, like it was the case with Raven’s earlier titles.
Still, the combat itself is exciting, and while in the beginning it is rather easy, later it will be a lot more difficult to dispose of the soviet soldiers and mutants. The artificial intelligence isn’t the most amazing I’ve ever seen, but it’s doing its job: the soviets are hiding, calling their comrades, and they are trying to flank us. The mutants… well, they are stupid and aggressive as hell, but what can you expect from mutants, eh?
Ammunition is normally plenty, but you can have only two weapons with you at the same time and there is no distinction between pistols and guns, so it can be any combination of either of those. Gunfights themselves are nothing special, but the real fun comes with use of the TMD and special abilities linked to it. Besides the combat there are some puzzles as well: to progress, we have to deal with the environments by aging and “renewing” some key objects, like boxes and stairs.
A little old, but still unreal…
Raven is famous from using older graphical engines and getting the maximum from them, so Singularity’s use of Unreal 3 comes as no surprise. They’ve done a good job again: the environments, the aging effects and the monsters look nice, moody and scary. My only issue was with the human faces, which are a little outdated. We can see the most spectacular effects when our whole surrounding goes back and forth from the past to the present – Raven made an outstanding job with this.
The attention to detail is excellent as well: we can see pieces of soviet propaganda everywhere with actual Russian text on them. Sound and music wise the game is okayish, but nothing spectacular. The main characters (besides Kathryn, who is an American agent) speaks with heavy Russian accent, and the soldiers attacking Renko barks orders, and asks for help in real Russian. If you are Russian, or understand this language, this can be actually a little annoying, since they are repeating the same phrases over and over.
Stalin would dig it
Even if not perfect, Singularity is one of Raven’s best games so far and this comes as a pleasant surprise – especially after the disappointing Wolfenstein. After the Nazis, the Soviet setting is welcome refreshment as well, so it’s time to grab your TMD and Russian machine gun and save this alternative world.
+ Time manipulation
+ Still looking good
+ Solid FPS gameplay
– Story is a bit hokey
– Sometimes gets repetitive
– Difficulty spikes
Developer: Raven Software
Genres: FPS, 3D, action
Publication: June 2010