Game #2 – Singularity – Episode 1: First Impressions

It must be tough to be working for Raven Software right now. In the mid 2000s, they were responsible for some of the most enjoyable Marvel games around. Their X-Men Legends and Marvel Ultimate Alliance titles were a blast to play. They offered a lot of variety and did games based on comic-book correctly. While they had success with the action-RPG genre, they also had a strong FPS background leading up to those games. They were the same people that brought us the original Soldier of Fortune series, Jedi Knight II and even Hexen.

But their recent run of produced games haven’t been that captivating. While X-Men Origins: Wolverine was a fine game, especially one tied to a film release, it was also flawed with bugs. After that, they released two shooters: the 2009 edition of Wolfenstein and their 2010 game, and the game we’ll be looking at, Singularity. Since 2010, they haven’t worked on something original, being relegated in assisting with some of the Multiplayer maps for the last two Call of Duty Games.

Both Wolfenstein and Singularity were considered flops. When so many shooters are released each year, it’s no surprise that some fall through the cracks. But for Raven Software, a company that people pay attention to when a game is announced that they are attached to, it does come off as a bit of a shock when gamers don’t gravitate to their games. For Singularity, it’s hard to narrow down why so many people missed it because early on, it’s quite enjoyable.

The premise behind Singularity is fairly interesting. It takes place on Katorga-12, a deserted and unmarked Russian Island in the Pacific Ocean. In 1950s, The Soviets discovered a strange, yet powerful element (named E-99) on the island and were trying to harness its power in order to help them against the West. The brightest minds in the USSR were relocated to work on collecting and developing things with the element but something happened that stopped the work from proceeding further.

The game jumps in time between present-day 2010 and 1955. In the present-day, some electro-magnetic activity in the area disrupts a US Satellite orbiting over the area, which then alerts the US of the island’s existence. Wanting to figure out what exactly is going on, they send a group of soldiers to gather some information.

As they approach area, an EMP blast causes their helicopter to crash. Stranded alone but aware that at least one other soldier is still alive, your character (Capt Nathaniel Renko) begins to journey around the island but in the process, mysteriously travels between time periods. The first time it happens, he finds himself caught amidst a fire happening in a facility. While trying to find a way out, you  end up saving a man who was about to fall to his death. You can hear someone in the background pleading that you let him die but you ignore their calls and manage to bring him to safety. But by saving that man, it appears that you’ve drastically changed the course of history.

In the present, Renko and another soldier are captured by the Soviets who now control the island. Moments before it appears you’re about to be executed, Renko manages to escape with the help of a secret group who are aware of what he did in 1955 and are trying to re-write history. With his knowledge, the group get him to use the technology that was being developing back in 1955 to travel between the two time periods. Hopefully, he can fix what had originally happened and prevent even more drastic events from taking place.

The feature that sets Singularity apart from other traditional shooters is the concept of age manipulation. Once you begin to time travel, you obtain an item called a TMD which allows you to drastically age or renew objects. It lets you repair items such as stairs that may have decayed over time or use it against foes to drastically age them. It is also what lets you travel between the two time frames when specific “worm-hole” spots scattered throughout the island appear.

Singularity is a pretty standard FPS. Combat is easy to grasp but not as focused early on. There have only been a handful of heavy combat situations. For the most part, you spend more time travelling around trying to determine what is going on.

The big selling point for the game is most definitely the TMD device that is attached to your left hand. The idea of modifying the age of objects has been pretty cool thus far. Using it on foes is also quite fun. The only other ability of the TMD early on is being able to grab and move objects. This type of thing has been seen in other games but it works here as well. Picking up gasoline barrels and then throwing them at a group of enemies it pretty satisfying.

Hopefully there are more cool uses available for the TMD as it looks like it will play a vital role in the progression of the story. Regarding the plot, the pacing needs to move a bit faster. Having played for nearly two hours, there are still too many unexplained occurrences and the pacing switches between lots of action scenarios to long periods of simply walking around until you reach the next area. They do use the familiar method of littering areas with audio recordings and notes that shed some light on what may have happened in 1955, but there are still a lot of questions that need answering with more popping up.

Another thing worth noting, something that a lot of western developed games suffer from, is the adaptation of game worlds. Katorga-12 is a Russian inhabited island, but so much of what is around is written in Latin. As someone who can read and write in Cyrillic, seeing the developers incorporate Latin lettering in place of Russian Cyrillic is disappointing. I understand they do this to help english-speaking people grasp the environment, I would rather it be authentic than accommodating. It probably is even more disappointing considering you do happen to find a few Soviet Propaganda films early on and these are really well done. Yes, they are performed in English, but the cartoon imagery is very reminiscent of real Eastern-Bloc Propaganda posters and videos of the 50s, 60s and 70s.

Other than that personal gripe I have, I am enjoying what Singularity has to offer thus far.  The TMD feels a lot like the plasmids featured in Bioshock. The story, although not flowing at a steady pace, is intriguing enough to keep me playing. It also appears that the time travelling aspects of the game should lead to some very interesting situations and decision choices.

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