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Onto the Review, Proper
Developer Raven Software has a long storied history of creating fun, entertaining, mediocrity. Not necessarily bad, but their forays into established settings like Star Wars, Quake, and more recently Wolfenstein, are text book examples of the generic corridor shooter design made popular in the 90s. With Singularity, an original IP effort from the studio, one might assume that the developer would be branching out into new territory, and in the process making a name for themselves in the current, overly saturated, first-person shooter market. Pre-release information and media for Singularity focused on the game's Time Manipulation Device (TMD), a device strapped to protagonist's arm that allows the player to control time in and around a specific object. At the most basic level the remnants of a broken stairwell can be reverted back into pristine condition or a broken crate remade into a jumping platform to be utilised in a puzzle scenario.
Definitely some cool sounding stuff, but in practice it remains overtly limited, and strictly very basic. The two 'puzzle' examples mentioned above (where the term 'puzzle' is used very loosely) are encountered very early in the game and re-visited countless times from then on. Taking place on a remote Russian scientific installation where a mysterious new element, dubbed E-99, serves as the catalyst for all the time-bending action, only objects infused with this element can be manipulated by the TMD. Certainly ludicrous, and certainly plausible in the camp Cold War setting, its execution can be summed up in the following scenario.
You find your path blocked, but there's a steel roller door open just a smidgen that you need to get through. Of all the surrounding crates there's only one you can interact with, whilst the others seem to be impervious to all weaponry and explosives. This one crate, however, is simply too old and broken to be of any use, and is merely a remnant of a once glorious and sturdy cube shaped storage do-dad. But with your trusty TMD, which also inexplicably serves as a gravity gun, you can maneuver this very old crate without the need to use your hands into the smidgen of a gap between the steel roller door and the floor. You're still stuck, but if you now use the TMD to revert the broken down crate back into a nice robust steel box, the roller door will open just enough for you to crouch your way through.
In the world of Singularity roller doors aren't opened by hand, instead they're opened up by time travelling crates.
You've seen the Score, so there's a 'But'
As admittedly tongue-in-check and somewhat scathing this review has been so far, at the end of the day Singularity isn't that bad of a game. And if you've skipped ahead and checked out the score, you're probably scratching your head wondering why this might be worth playing. In fact, Singularity is quite entertaining, thanks mainly to the varied and fun combat and weapons on offer, and the generous helping of gore that comes along with using a mini-gun to shoot off enemy limbs. If you've liked any of developer Raven's previous efforts then this will come as no surprise, but if you're one of those snooty gamers who thrives on a steady diet of quirky, boring, but artistically pretty indie games and games that serve as benchmarks for originality and refinement then well, you're shit out of luck. If controlling a rocket in the first-person and steering it into a group of hapless Russians, or turning a single Russian soldier into some sort of gremlin monster that then turns on his own men before exploding at your command doesn't tickle the interest bone then stop reading. Seriously, this is mindless action. Go play 'Braid 2: The Dreadlocks of Time' if you wince at the thought of shooting a monster in the face - with a shotgun.
The story itself screams B-Grade, is heavily scripted, and unflinchingly linear. The Russian accents are in turn comical and shameful, but the story of changing a catastrophic event (funnily enough a scientific Singularity ie black hole, ie totally preposterous) in the 1950s and re-writing the game's present across numerous botched attempts is well worth sticking through. In their previous effort, and what is a somewhat similar game, Wolfenstein, Raven opted to include a free-roaming over-world as players made their way to each level proper. Thankfully, Raven chose a very strict linear path with Singularity, as their talent seems to lie solely with engaging combat and with varied weaponry across numerous action set-pieces. If you want a clear picture as to how linear the game is, most doors you go through will close behind you, permanently, to the point where the minimal exploration found in the game is virtually a non-event.
But boy is killing fun in this game. Using the TMD as a somewhat Plasmid dispenser, you can create time bubbles that trap enemies in a near frozen state of time and watch as you set up a grizzly death of countless bullets, explosions, and dismemberment as time gradually speeds up, matching your bloodlust. Just as much fun is launching a grenade onto the floor that you can then control in a similar fashion to a Jet Hopper, steering it around walls and object towards a group of soldiers, who'll yell out "Grenada!" right before they say good bye to their previously attached legs.
Uncharacteristically somber, story driven, and consequently action free in its early moments, Singularity really begins when you get the assault rifle. From then on new abilities and weaponry are introduced at a steady pace bringing minor and subtle shifts to the action, helping the game move along at a brisk pace. In fact Singularity gets better as it progresses, which is not surprising. The puzzles and player controlled time manipulation are gimmicks at best, and their integration into the combat and scripted set pieces get better as the game goes along, with time travel worked in quite ingeniously towards the end of the game. Going back into the past to bring a crate into the present to jump onto a ledge is pretty crummy, and happens early on. Later on you use some sort of platform to amplify your TMD to raise and revert a huge sunken freighter to board and retrieve something or other. Watching the ship revert back in time from a sunken wreck in real-time is certainly a wow moment, but then having it slowly age and crumble whilst you traverse its corridors is actually quite ingenious, and genuinely thrilling.
In fact, as the campaign comes to a close Singularity actually leaves you on a surprisingly high-note, as it culminates into a lovely sandbox of destruction. In the final areas when all weapons and abilities are at your disposal, it becomes a straight up action-game. The end sequences are also heavily scripted with numerous and quite cool little time travel moments, and coupled with a limitless supply of TMD energy, countless environmental explosives to interact with, and enemies to kill in any way you see fit, it feels like Raven knew exactly what they were trying to do all along. And that is, create an entertaining corridor shooter with cool weapons, abilities and plenty of ultra violence.