Going back in time and changing the past is something we’ve all thought about. We’ve of course done it selfishly; how many mistakes have you made that you’ve wished you could go back and avoid? And obviously, a lot of us would go back in time and stop some of the world’s greatest atrocities, like strangling Hitler’s mother before she could give birth. But what we can’t always consider are the ramifications of those actions. As life constantly beats into us, for every action, there’s a reaction. Though going back in time and telling your girlfriend that she looks great in that dress instead of saying that she looks fat in it won’t probably have world-sweeping repercussions, there’s still the possibility that one small change could have drastic repercussions.
A Singular disappointment
That’s the situation Singularity protagonist Nate Renko finds himself confronting in Singularity. Renko is dispatched by the U.S. military to a decommissioned Soviet research facility in the North Pacific on the island of Kotorga-12 to investigate strange phenomena detected by spy satellites doing a sweep over the area. After an accident, Renko is left alone on the island and he soon discovers that something has caused time to go out of sync. Periodically, areas of Kotorga-12 revert to their state in 1955, revealing the true nature of the research facility. Unfortunately, before Renko can figure out what’s happening, he makes a change in the past that he shouldn’t have and when he returns to 2010, he discovers that his meddling allowed the Soviet Union to win the Cold War through the use of new super weapons powered by E-99, a radioactive element found on the island.
From there, it’s up to Renko to figure out a way to go back in time and fix the future. That’s easier said than done. Though the research facility was decommissioned and empty when Renko first arrived, it’s crawling with Russian soldiers and radioactive mutants in the new present. While the story-telling fuses elements of BioShock and Half-Life, it lacks the memorable characters from those games that made their stories so enjoyable to players, though in Singularity’s defense the game does emphasize the intriguing conundrums presented by time manipulation more than the individuals manipulating time. For the most part, the story is presented through the use of notes, voice recorders and random video footage, which gives Singularity a sad lack of humanity.
Renko’s trip back in time gave him access to a unique weapon: the Time Manipulation Device, the crown jewel of the island’s research. The TMD gives Renko the ability to age objects, either restoring them to new or aging them until they fall apart. But the ability doesn’t just extend to objects in the environment – Renko can also use the TMD against his enemies. Simply aging them in either direction of the spectrum is one thing, but he can also turn some into mutants that will then fight against their former allies. He can also use the TMD to slow time, which is particularly helpful in solving the game’s handful of puzzles. Beyond the TMD, Renko has a standard arsenal of weaponry at his disposal. You’ll progress from assault rifles and shotguns to rail guns and grenade launchers, but each can be customized as you see fit. Though the customization is limited to clip size, reload times and damage, you really can create a custom arsenal that suits your play style.
The TMD can also be customized as well. While the TMD upgrades on its own as you play through the game, players can also customize it as they discover blueprints for new add-ons. These work a lot like BioShock’s plasmids – some increase your health, others give you a boost of TMD power for every kill and more. That said, I didn’t ever feel like I was sacrificing when making an investment choice. Even still, the hunt for new powers encourages exploration of the game’s levels. Thankfully, Kotorga-12 features many memorable areas. One of the most interesting aspects of the level design is the constant flipping through time – unlike most games, the backtracking that you’ll do in Singularity takes you half a century into the past, allowing the developers to turn the presently dilapidated facility into a spiffy, shiny place full of life.
One particular segment really put the time manipulation elements on full display. Toward the end of the game, you’ll actually use the TMD to resurrect a sunken ship. Of course, the effect doesn’t last forever, so as you’re running your way across decks and through holds, simultaneously blasting away at both mutant and human enemies, the entire ship is literally deteriorating before your eyes. As you run through corridors, you watch the paint peel away from the walls, doors fall off hinges and floors gave in. It’s a really cool experience and it’s great to see a team so effectively implement time manipulation after the disappointing TimeShift a few years back.
Singularity offers quite a few moments like these. A boss battle against a skyscraper-sized mutant aboard a train falling off a cliff offered intense and frantic action as we’re forced to run against the pull of gravity and away from the punishing pincers of our gargantuan foe. The progression system certainly encourages multiple replays, as do three endings based on your final decision. I was very disappointed by the limited storytelling, and those looking for a multiplayer shooter should look elsewhere, as the two modes offered don’t deviate much from deathmatch and team deathmatch. But beyond these disappointments, in every category Singularity delivers a familiar but enjoyable experience that fans of BioShock and Half-Life 2 are sure to enjoy.