I don't know about you, but when I fire up a game for the first time, it's hard not to play a round of “Spot the Influences.” Let's face it: truly original concepts are pretty uncommon and in the world of videogames—as in all media—successful products usually lead other developers down a proven path. For instance, consider all the cover-based third-person shooters we have Gears of War to thank for.
I mention this critical cliché because in the first hour or so of playing Raven's Singularity, I spotted references to Bioshock, F.E.A.R., Fallout 3, Half-Life, Half-Life 2, TimeShift, System Shock, Doom 3, and S.T.A.L.K.E.R. In fact, it would be hard to name a top-shelf shooter that didn't in some way leave its mark on Singularity. There's even a low-rent, knock-off Alyx Vance.
Singularity begins in an alternative-history post-war Soviet Union with a plot driven by the discovery of a rare, unstable mineral, Element-99 (go ahead, look it up—it's right there on the Periodic Table next to Bubblegumium and Simpsonium) which only occurs on one, isolated island off the coast of Russia, a scenic little getaway called Katorga-12. Of course, the balance of power in the Cold War lies in the potential for a time-altering weapon made from the stuff, but darn it if things don't go south and pretty soon vast populations are transfigured into horrific, inhuman creatures.
Who could have seen that coming?
You play Captain Nathaniel Renko, a US military operative sent to investigate the Einsenhower-era shenanigans on Katorga-12. Soon you’ll find yourself fighting mutants, Russians, and time-tripping between the present day and 1955 in an attempt to save the world. Since this game’s hook is time manipulation, you’ll get a nifty little weapon innovatively named the Time Manipulation Device (TMD) which can be used to alter time and space and solve some simple puzzles.
When you’re not tripping over one of hundreds of conveniently left reel-to-reel tape decks or using your gravity gun...er, TMD...to move crates and containers, you’ll be shooting your way through an entirely linear and scripted environment. Though the TMD is a cool toy, environmental puzzles have one correct solution; and, time, space and gravity manipulation can only be applied selectively to a few, selected objects.
Like your high school buddy who didn’t have an original thought in his TV-addled brain but who was still fun to hang out with, Singularity manages the feat of being entirely a collection of pre-owned game tropes, and still a blast to roll through. There’s no denying that Raven knows how to put together a well-paced and entertaining first-person shooter. This developer realizes that, for the most part, if the weapons are effective and interesting and shooting stuff is satisfying, the rest is sizzle. Unfortunately, due to its highly scripted and linear nature, there is almost no replayability to Singularity’s 6-10 hour single-player campaign.
Visually, Singularity uses the reliable Unreal engine to expected effect. Environments and character models, creatures and weapons all look good but never spectacular and some of the smaller design decisions—like having signage in English with backwards “Rs” so they appeared “Russian”—seemed under-cooked. Like just about every aspect of the game, the visuals seemed influenced by, cribbed, and outright stolen from other titles. Primarily a corridor shooter, Singularity is visually most interesting when it explores outdoor spaces.
The actors, led by the redoubtable Nolan North, do a decent, if not unremarkable job voicing a cliche-ridden, lackluster script that has little nuance or poetry despite its time-travel and philosophical leanings. The musical score fares a little better and the overall sound design is competent.
I spent a bit of time dipping into the game’s multiplayer side, but the frenetic pace and limited number of maps (three) and game modes (team deathmatch and Objective) didn’t entice me to linger. In both modes, humans are pitted against creatures with a number of load-outs and perks for each, but I would be surprised if any sort of community grew around this game.
Although its core shooter gameplay is enjoyable, Singularity suffers from being far more derivative than original, with elements appropriated from at least a dozen other, better games. Its one hook, time manipulation, never gets more than superficial, weapons-grade treatment. Its just all so depressingly familiar, from the audio logs, to the cheesy Russian accents, to the mutant critters...and yet, there’s some fun to be had, at least for a little while. A weak multiplayer suite and linear single-player campaign will probably stop you from revisiting it very often, but if you can overlook its utter lack of new car smell, Singularity is a pretty good way to pass some time.
Thinking of time traveling this summer? When are you headed? What about November 5, 1955? Make travel arrangements on Twitter @Gamers_Hell