Where would first-person shooters be without the introductory ill-fated helicopter ride? Like everything else in Singularity, there’s a whiff of the familiar to Captain Nate Renko’s first moments on Katorga-12, as he scrambles to figure out just what went wrong on a Soviet research outpost that’s been overrun by retching mutants and kitted-out Spetznaz. But developer Raven could do worse than borrowing the gravity gun and helpful-scientist/tough-girl dynamic from Half-Life 2, the audio recordings and sense of creeping dread from Bioshock, and the tongue-in-cheek propaganda films and perks of Fallout 3. Top all this off with the TMD (time-manipulation device)—a bit of gimmick-weaponry that allows for a handful of clever puzzles and a few stomach-churning deaths—and it doesn’t really matter that Singularity’s corkscrewing plot makes about as much sense as can be expected from a game that prominently features a time-gun.
Just like the phase-shifting Zeks who populate Katorga-12, Singularity feels slightly out of sync with the kind of graphical sheen gamers have come to expect, but for a shooter built on the Unreal 3 engine, it chugs along well enough, making up in mood what it lacks in polish. And while the textures look a little flat, and the character models seem uninspired, the game’s perfectly paced action quickly sucks players back in with the relentless pull of a gravity well. Some oversized bosses and time-manipulation-based puzzles break up the corridor-running and cover-finding, and before shootouts have a chance to drag, they’re goosed by the introduction of weapons that fire player-controlled ordnance, and sniper rifles that provide a window of bullet time for making a string of gory headshots. An obligatory multiplayer mode provides the thrill of playing as the mutant horde, but doesn’t really extend the game much beyond that.
Singularity’s selling point is the TMD, which is less a time-manipulation device than a “whatever the developers thought would be cool” device. It repairs or destroys stairs and walkways, catches missiles, produces energy shields, and can reduce enemy soldiers to piles of ash—or mutate them into gibbering freaks. Essentially, it’s here to make slightly stale gameplay as fresh as possible, and it mostly accomplishes that feat, until the longueur that is Singularity’s endless series of quests devoted to locating and recharging a bomb freighted with Element 99, the game’s all-purpose plot device and energy source.
In spite of Singularity’s nod to information-gathering, with its notes, film reels, and audio recordings, there simply isn’t enough meat to the story to dole it out evenly over the course of a dozen hours, and the final third of the game feels malnourished, introducing few new abilities or plot developments. By the time Nate reaches Katorga-12’s version of the Half Life Citadel, the audience is so far ahead of the characters that twists become surprising again, just by virtue of being so head-smackingly obvious. But for a game released to little fanfare, one that’s innovative only in an additive sense, Singularity is worth playing for its canny incorporation of the best ideas from the last decade of first-person shooters, and for providing a suitably chilling atmosphere in which to enjoy them.