We love being pleasantly surprised by a game. Despite backing Singularity after seeing it at GamesCom last year, all the signs pointed to this sci-fi shooter turning out to be a bit of a stinker. It's made by the same people who did Wolfenstein, it was touted as a Bioshock clone, and it's been shoved out into the world and left to die by Activision. With no PR or marketing to back it on release, we assumed something had gone terribly wrong in development. A cruel irony, since the game is about something going terribly wrong in development...
Thankfully, though, Singularity is one of the summer's best surprises. It starts off quietly enough. A US special forces team lands on a 'deserted' island off the coast of Russia, things go horribly wrong, gun fights and dodgy Commie accents ensue, as well as a raft of melt-o-monsters. It's classic gaming fodder.
And while the plot doesn't get much better until right at the end, the gameplay really picks up when you claim the Time Manipulation Device (or TMD, as it is referred to in-game) after about an hour of play. Grafted to your left hand, the TMD allows you to manipulate time. Well, kind of: it allows you to manipulate time when the developer wants you to do so. You can, for example, revert collapsed staircases to reach higher walkways, or age rusty supports to drop cargo crates on your enemies. It's all incredibly scripted, at least when it comes to puzzles.
Time to kill
Using the TMD in combat is a different matter. As well as the basic attack, which lets you zap an enemy solider and age him to dust - something that entertains for the entire duration of the game - you can instead choose to revert that enemy into a primordial monster. Said, primordial monster will then turn on his allies and clear an entire room for you. Even better, though, you can zap the quivering pink beast you've created one more time, turning it into an atavistic suicide bomber who dashes into the nearest enemy and explodes. It's fun stuff.
The TMD uses E-99 energy as power, which restricts its use (so you have to combine guns and special abilities carefully), and until you upgrade its capabilities it's very much a secondary option. That's a shame, because it's the most - perhaps only - unique feature of the game.
Another great example of how to use the glove in a fight is by forming a time bubble. Although the controls don't feel quite right, it's easy enough to launch a stasis bubble into a group of enemies, paralysing them for a few seconds. In this state you can fill them with bullets from safety, and once the time bubble dissipates you'll see them all flop to the floor dead. It's immensely satisfying, and you feel smart for having cleared a band of slavering creatures or Russian soldiers with such efficiency.
Sure, there are issues with the combat. Checkpoints and upgrade stations are unevenly spread out - you can wander for half an hour without seeing a TMD upgrader, then stumble across three at once. Some of the puzzles, too, feel really half-baked. It's clever the first time you use a crate to prise open a half-shut door, but tedious when that same solution works again and again and again.
The problem is, Singularity's time manipulation mechanic is too scripted to offer anything vaguely challenging - you can either affect an object, or you can't. Sure, you can then use telekinesis to shift that object around, but it's remedial stuff next to the likes of Half-Life. Perhaps, given a little more freedom with environment interaction, the game would have been great - but as it stands puzzles are more of an annoyance in between fighting sections.