Impressions: Singularity


Raven Software's Brian Raffel took us through Singularity recently, and we finally got closer look at the time warping shooter that feels like the lovechild of Raven's very own Wolfenstein and 2K's Bioshock, with a bit of Hellboy tossed in for good measure. Just watch the way you can toss things around with your Time Manipulation Device, and you'll see what we mean.

We haven't heard much about the game since it was announced and briefly teased at Activision's non-E3 press event last year. Thankfully it's come a lot further, and is beginning to show signs of life. Read on for our impressions of the game after seeing it in action, complete with new screens in the gallery below. With any luck it will erase the past and make us say "Timeshift who?"
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Both Raffel and his Raven co-founder brother Steve grew up during the cold war, and they both shared a fascination for abandoned places, particularly military installations. As kids they lived near the Badger Army Ammunition Plant (which was the world's largest ammunition plant in 1942) in Wisconsin, and they used to drive by and wonder what was going on in the abandoned buildings. So when they started developing Singularity, Raffel thought it would be the perfect setting. Unfortunately the Army disagreed, and told them no, so they've had to settle on an imagined version in Russia.



The core mechanics are built around a first person shooter, which has traditionally been Raven's bread and butter, although besides using multiple firearms, you'll also be using time as a weapon via a glove-mounted TMD to "do a lot more than rewinding time." They've created a deep backstory full of conspiracy about modern day and cold war era Russia, and added big science fiction features to it.

A catastrophe occurs on the level of Chernobyl, and in typical Russian fashion, they try to cover it up.

During the 1950s, the Russians were conducting a lot of experimental research, just like the United States was, and in the game the Motherland discovers E-99, a unique element located on an island off the coast of the Soviet Union. They begin doing experiments on it, and a catastrophe occurs on the level of Chernobyl, and in typical Russian fashion, they try to cover it up and sweep it under the rug. Fast-forward to 2010, when U.S. satellites are picking up unusual activity from the island, which doesn't exist on any of your maps.

You play through the game as one of the pilots going in on a recon flight over the island, and your plane is brought down under mysterious circumstances. For the demo, they jumped ahead an hour into the game, after you've already crashlanded and are trying to retrieve the black box from your plane. You're in the middle of a firefight, and trying to get across the ruins of a large warehouse or storage facility. The main character is armed with an automatic rifle, and he's got the TMD on his wrist. The game is going to boil down to how cool (or not) that thing is, and what it can do for you.

You can selectively use the TMD to age or revert objects at will, and this was shown by de-aging a smashed crate to its pristine condition, so you can then smash it open again to see if there's ammo inside. You can also age a wall so it crumbles away, providing you with a different path to your objective. Raffel encountered an old, broken staircase that hindered his progress, so he just de-aged it until it looked as good as new and continued on his way.



They're telling the 50s era backstory of the game via flashbacks that they call "echo events," and you'll see ghostly characters reenacting something that happened long ago, accompanied by the audio to help you know exactly what you're watching. These are moments that have become trapped in time, and you're able to access them by using the TMD. After a watching a brief one play out, Raffel entered into combat with the supernatural creatures in the game that they call Zecks, who can use time much the same way you do.

You can de-age crumbled stones into the wall they once were, giving yourself something to hide behind.

He blasted his way through with conventional weapons, and augmented the fight by using the TMD. You can de-age crumbled stones into the wall they once were, giving yourself something to hide behind, or even age the enemy's cover to expose them. While the combat continues around you, you'll continue to see flashes of the echo event, and eventually you'll get caught up in a "time wave" that takes you to a point halfway between the modern day and the 1950s ... and you're not alone. Other people have been caught there too.

Inside the wave, you encounter Dr. Viktor Barasov who tells you about the accident that occurred in the past, and warns that the Russians are on the verge of repeating that mistake on a much larger scale. He gives you an improved "chronolite" (another name for the TMD) that allows you to see clouds of Element-99 and into the realm locked halfway between times. You'll also be able to "pull" objects out of that time and into your own.



Immediately after this, you'll find yourself in the middle of a "shitstorm," according to Raffel, which is apparently Raven-code for a big firefight. A little more gunplay and a lot more TMD-ing, and you'll keep moving. Eventually you'll find a path to your plane, but you can't reach it unless you raise a building that's now just debris. Of course, your TMD doesn't have enough power to do it.

But what's this? A couple of huge electrical poles nearby? Turns out the TMD really likes power, and you can channel that out in big moments like this one where you restore an entire building from nearly scratching. It's actually very cool to see the building revert to its prior glory, brick by brick. Once that's done, you'd normally continue on your way, but that's where things ended.

Between the sharp graphics and the (so far) interesting usage of time manipulation, Singularity is looking very impressive.

Between the sharp graphics and the (so far) interesting usage of time manipulation, Singularity is looking very impressive. We're hoping to finally get our hands on it for the first time at E3. Stay tuned, and if you don't see anything, just age our website until it appears.

Interestingly, if you toss this game into the mix of upcoming / just released titles featuring average joes with superpowers, you have:
  • Singularity: recon pilot / time manipulation
  • inFamous: package courier / control over electricity
  • Prototype: average guy / enhanced strength, speed
  • Wolfenstein: (another Raven title) hardcore soldier / supernatural powers
and as an honorable mention:
  • Dark Void: cargo pilot, no powers, but one very cool jetpack
Is this just a cosmic coincidence, or a commentary on the wish fulfillment of game designers? We don't really mind, as long as they're fun to play. But we're already starting to itch for a game where a hero with amazing powers gets turned into a regular dude, and has to cope with his new life. There's gotta be a game in there somewhere.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.