Ahhh, Summer... That wonderful time of year where the sun shines bright, clothes get skimpier, and the great outdoors come beckoning. It's a great time of year, unless you're a hardcore gamer. Releases get spaced out, AAA titles are months away, and unless you have air conditioning, gaming sessions become sticky, sweaty grossathons. Yes it's a word, look it up.
But like an oasis in a desert of gaming wasteland comes Singularity, a fun shooter with sky high production values and unique mechanics. The game is developed by Raven Software, one of the most accomplished developers in first person shooters. Raven is responsible for some of the greatest classics in the genre, including Jedi Knight II, HeXen, Heretic, Soldier of Fortune, and several Wolfenstein titles. Fortunately, Singularity continues this proud trend, and fits right in with their catalogue of great shooters.
In Singularity, you play as Nathan Renko, an American soldier sent in to investigate a bizarre anomaly taking place on a small island off the Russian coast called Katorga-12. Right off the bat, you're isolated from your crew and strange things are happening. Before long, you're told about a top secret Russian project involving a unique element called E99 that has many fascinating properties, including the ability to rip holes in the fabric of time itself. The abundant materials coupled with disastrous experiments have caused Katorga-12 to exist in a "singularity" in time, meaning that the island exists in both 1955 and 2010 at the same time. Oh, and nearly everyone left alive on the island has been mutated into horrifying beings that have the ability to manipulate time in their own ways and have a hankerin' for some tangy human flesh. It's up to you to set things right by teaming up with a Russian scientist and his sexy sidekick, travelling through time, and blasting everything in your path.
Unfortunately, while the game has a fantastic concept, the storytelling is lacking. The voice acting is average at best and cringe worthy at worst. This is a big problem when nearly all the back-story you get is from audio logs strewn about the environments. You'd think we'd be done with audio logs as a storytelling device and we would have given way to more interactive methods, but alas, here we are, standing still and ruining pacing by listening to a scientist get ripped apart for the umpteenth time. Also, as is the case with most time travel stories, the finer points of the story don't hold up well under scrutiny. The story also gets very convoluted and hard to follow at times, before recovering with a boffo ending that I won't spoil for you. I will say that the ending comes a little too soon, as the campaign can be conquered in around eight hours or so.
Despite the mediocre storytelling, chances are you won't care when you're blasting your enemies in very unique ways. If I had to narrow it down, Singularity definitely cribs a few notes in both gameplay and storyline from heavy hitters like BioShock and Half-Life 2, but maintains an identity of its own. Singularity is a shooter through and through, focused on intense action and gunplay. In this regard, it completely delivers in spades.
It's not long into the game before you're given the Time Manipulation Device, and here's where things get really fun. The TMD lets you catch rockets and explosive barrels in mid-air, create spheres where time stands still, fire pulses to knock enemies back, and age and revert items in the environment to solve puzzles and tip combat odds in your favour. This is all accomplished with an elegant control scheme that anybody who's played a shooter before will be able to jump right in with.
The aging and reverting mechanics are probably the game's biggest selling point. With a touch of a button, you can age and revert things in the environment like staircases, bridges, and ammo containers. Is a broken staircase blocking your path? Revert it back to 1955 and watch it reconstruct itself in front of your eyes. Enemies chasing you? Age the staircase again and crumble it when they're standing on it. The mechanics are easy and fun, but it's disappointing that you're not able to experiment with more items in the environment. The game is very linear and the solutions are usually not too difficult to figure out.
Along with the TMD, you're also given a more than decent cache of weapons including sniper rifles, shotguns, assault rifles, miniguns, and a few E99 infused weapons. The sweetest among these is a gun called the Seeker, which allows you to follow and steer each individual bullet into your targets. Adding to the satisfying gunplay is some fantastic gore effects that having you doing gruesome location specific damage to your enemies. Limbs, heads, abdomen, it's all fair game to get blown off in great detail.
The action hits a fever pitch during some very well realised set pieces, including a section that has you navigating a reverted tanker ship as it ages and degrades rapidly around you, and an awesome battle with a giant monster on board a demolished train on a crumbling bridge. The story has you travelling back and forth in time for some very cool set pieces as well.
For added depth, players can also accumulate E99 canisters and suitcases of "weapon tech." These items allow you to upgrade both your character and weapons to your liking, and it's impossible to see every upgrade in a single playthrough. Coupled with multiple endings, this gives Singularity a replay value higher than the average shooter.
What won't add much replay value is the lacklustre multiplayer mode. As of this writing, there are only two modes, which are both variants on team deathmatch. One has teams contending for the most kills, while the second is a standard objective based mode. The games are always humans versus creatures. This is class based multiplayer that has you picking a character and a special perk. The multiplayer is fun, but it certainly won't hold your attention beyond an hour or two after completing the campaign.
After relying on the nearly obsolete idTech 4 engine for Wolfenstein, Raven has made the move over to Unreal Engine 3 and the change is for the better. Weapon and enemy models are exquisitely detailed, and the environments are packed with little elements that really sell the illusion. The time effects that warp and contort the environment also look spectacular. The frame rate also never noticeably dips, even when the action gets harried and intense. The only catch is some rather substandard lighting and some awkward animation. It's also worth mentioning that there's some very noticeable bugs in the game, such as invisible walls holding you on track, and on several occasions my character fell through solid sections of the environment, forcing me to replay a section or reload my save file.
Audio is similarly impressive. Guns and time effects sound powerful and punchy, even if the voice acting is average. A good orchestral score accentuates the given mood of any section or level. As a side note, I'm going to stop mentioning when Nolan North does a voice for a game, as he seems to not be in fewer games than he is in.
In a slow summer season that hasn't had too much to get up and excited about, Singularity easily takes the claim as the best shooter in a sparse desert. It may not be a AAA stunner, but Raven software has proven time and time again why they are one of the consistently superb shooter developers in the industry, a title that they've maintained for nearly 20 years now.