Forgettable time

If I had a dollar for every time I came across a rote first-person shooter, I’d be able to quit writing for a living. That isn’t how life works, though, so I have to sit through games like Singularity.

If I had a dollar for every time I came across a rote first-person shooter, I’d be able to quit writing for a living. That isn’t how life works, though, so I have to sit through games like Singularity.

Every game has its gimmick, and Singularity is no exception. The game revolves around using time to undo an alternate-history reality, in which the Soviets discover a new element more powerful than any used to make the atomic bomb, and then use a singularity made from it to take over the world.

In 2010 you find a device that allows you to alter certain properties of time (creatively called the Time Manipulation Device—the writing department clearly brought their A-game that day), so you can swap between capping Russian soldiers and aging or reverse-aging objects, creating time-freeze bubbles, altering gravity and the like.

The singularity also (predictably) mutated everything on the island, an abandoned R&D facility, so there are radiation zombies and monsters to contend with as well as the Russian new world government soldiers.

Sound familiar? That’s probably because you’ve seen just about everything in this game before in some respect or another. The narrative, such as it is, is a lot like the original Half-Life, only replacing dimensional rifts with time-based ones (there are a lot of other nods to that series as well).

The mechanics, dilapidated ’50s aesthetic and time powers are mostly ripped straight out of BioShock. The totalitarian Russians (who, maddeningly, all speak English) are for all intents and purposes Wolfenstein‘s Nazis in different uniforms. The whole “post-apocalyptic Russian setting with mutants” has been done in both the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. series and Metro 2033. You get the idea.

There are some cool ideas in Singularity, whose only real advantage right now is its release during the summer slump. There’s a time-manipulated gun that slows time down and allows you to control the bullet trajectory (think Metal Gear‘s remote-controlled Nikita missiles), and your TMD’s “melee” is essentially a burst in the fabric of time, which makes any nearby enemies’ limbs pop off like they were made of paper mâché.

While I was playing the game, though, I couldn’t get over its wasted potential. Take the basic age or de-aging process: If the developers had really put a lot of time into making that useful (or usable on anything), it could have been a single mechanic that made the game.

Instead, you’re only allowed to manipulate items you’ll be using for immediate progress (which instantly become either sparkling new or so old they’ve fallen apart). You can’t just go around manipulating everything just for the hell of it. It’s as bad as the “destroy everything” environmental damage in Red Faction Guerilla—awesome idea until you find out any “destruction” you create just looks like so many Lego structures falling apart.

Generic or overdone as many of its trappings are, Singularity isn’t a terrible game. The combat works well enough, though it lacks the visceral feeling of say, Modern Warfare 2. It is fun to use the TMD to screw with time, and upgrade your powers as you go along. But even if Singularity isn’t bad, it’s the kind of game that you’ll probably never pick up again once you play through it.

I appreciate that Raven has both upped its game from last summer’s dismally forgettable Wolfenstein reboot as well as taken the time to create a setting and aesthetic that is at least interesting—even in its cobbling together of clichés and borrowing of elements from other games.

But, there are better first person shooters out there to spend your hard earned cash on. With no marketing and little compelling elements on which to hang its hat, Singularity is most likely destined to suffer sluggish sales before making its way to the bargain bin, just as Wolfenstein did before it—yet another casualty of forgettable design.

Also, please, if anyone makes another Russian-based game, at least give us the option to play it in Russian with subtitles. Communist propaganda videos recorded in English just don’t work.