All The Time In The World...
This Is The most amazing shooter you'll play in 2009. It's unlikely to be the best, if we're being brutally honest, but it is, in a very literal sense, absolutely amazing.
Singularity is the story of a man who finds a time-glove, which fires pure time out of the fingertips. Using this time-glove (which is really called a "Time Manipulation Device"), your character - Nate Renko - can grab objects and move them about in the world, a trick known as Chronostasis. He can also move objects through time - for instance, grabbing a barrel and reverting it to how it existed in 1950 (shiny, new and explosive), or projecting a person into their future, turning them into screaming, writhing skeletons.
There's more. Nate has a mysterious friend who exists outside time, in a place called Timegatory, which is like purgatory except with time. This stranded scientist offers clues and help, though his intentions are worryingly ambiguous. We're not finished. Nate can use his Chronolight to highlight Chrono-objects, items in the world which have been covered in Element 99 - a secret weapon developed by the Russians during the Cold War, but we'll get back to that later. Occasionally something called a Timewave will erupt from a nearby location, and throw you and everything else back to 1950.
Sometimes you'll use time grenades to create Deadlocks, bubbles of solid time in which things appear frozen. You can use these on enemies to completely immobilise and avoid them. Finally, Nate will often encounter Time Rifts. These are holes in space-time (portals, if you will) which allow you to look through and walk freely between 2010 and 1950. Did you get all that? It's very important you understand the terminology before we continue.
And don't forget, there are also Time Ticks, evil insects that live outside of normal time. Write that down in your copybook now. "Sometime before WWII," explains Jon Zuk, creative director at Raven, somehow with a straight face, "Element 99 was discovered on the island of Katorga-12, a small insignificant island off the eastern coast of the Soviet Union.
"E-99 was found to have unique properties in that by using it as a fuel, much like coal or wood, it released a 10-fold amount of power. But you don't get something for nothing in this world and when scientists in 1950 did a large scale test of E-99, there was an accident."
The game begins in 2010, with Nate Renko, a US Air Force recon pilot, being flown to Katorga-12 to investigate strange readings from the island. You crash and after waking soon discover the Time Manipulation Device, the game's wacky box of chrono-trickery. Your surroundings -the derelict, decaying concrete research facilities, dark storage bunkers and military compounds -are weathered by the passage of time. Raven drew inspiration from an abandoned munitions base close to their studio. It didn't have as cool a name as Katorga-12 though, it must be said.
"Badger Ammunition Plant was a real working ammo plant from WWII until the '90s," Jon Zuk smiles, "after which it was decommissioned. When it was abandoned, and before they started demolition, it was this really large and interesting ghost town that made us wonder what stories those walls could tell. What if you could wander around in there and see into the past. Sadly, we were never allowed to go inside as it was too dangerous. A lot of the buildings were wood that had become laced with gunpowder and other explosives."
The time-glove bestows Nate with some interesting powers. The TMD can project items dusted in E-99 into a future state, or revert them to a previous state. For example, as enemies rush across a bridge to attack you, the glove can be used to propel the bridge through time, across hundreds of years in a matter of seconds. The effect? Well, the bridge decays under their feet and they fall to their doom.
I The effect will work the other way too, spot a bridge that needs fixing and you can rewind it through time to a point where it was in perfect working order. Revert a rusted old f barrel to its original state and you've got a shiny, exploding red barrel. You can even rapidly age enemies if you're quick enough.
"Our ageing effect was inspired by Blade," laughs Jon Zuk, "from when I vampires are destroyed. They appear to turn mortal and instantly age as if the years are catching up with them. We don't let you turn soldiers into babies though. We thought that crossed a line. However, we do let you soldiers back in time. Because is unstable, the resultant entity i longer a soldier... but definitely baby!" ome sort of terrifying corporeal ifestation of pre-birth, then? Jon won't tell us - though we have the twitching corpses of mutants ed about Katorga-12. Probably stick to ageing your enemies into red skeletons instead.
You're often ceremoniously dragged back through time to 1950 by a Timewave emanating from the ; centre of the island, a phenomenon which leaves you standing in exactly the same place but 60 years previous. The 1950 version of Katorga-12 is a fully functioning research station run by some hostile Soviets, and it's your actions in this timeframe which effect changes in 2010. The past looks suitably desaturated and is far cleaner than the dank future, while remaining similar enough to allow you to identify the same locations in both time periods. Your back and forth jaunts through these two points in time form the meat of Singularity's puzzles - and as any aspiring physicist knows, time travel is confusing as hell.
"We've painted ourselves into the I corner a few times by coming up with a set of rules and then realising we can't break those rules," admits Jon Zuk, rubbing his head. "For instance, say you need a fuse to power a door. If you go to that door in 1950, should there be a fuse there? If there is and you take it, is that why the fuse was missing in the present? Another one is a broken catwalk you come across. You repew it to a brand-new state and continue. Later, you see the catwalk get destroyed by something. So did you arrive at the catwalk before or after? A lot to think about, huh?"
At certain points in Singularity, your Time Manipulation Device can be used to resurrect massive objects from the past. In one sequence Nate coaxes a rusted sunken freighter from the bottom of a harbour - the ship rises from the water, the cracked hull miraculously mends itself, the rust seems to melt away like frost, and beams, cables and cabins crawl back into their original positions until the freighter is once again floating in the dock. Inside lies your objective and, oddly enough, it seems that very large objects can only retain their futurestate for short periods of time. This means that as you fight your way through the hull of the ship, defending yourself from Russian agents bent on protecting the island from prying American eyes, the entire structure slowly corrodes around you. As the boat lists, you find yourself having to re-futurise individual doors just to make your way to the objective. It's an impressive transformation in a short space of time.
"The Unreal 3 engine allows us to pull a lot of cool tricks with streaming in levels and manipulating materials," explains Jon Zuk. "We take the rusted hulk of the freighter, animate it back to a new state when you manipulate it, and then we load the interior as basically a new level."
Other tricks up Singularity* sleeve include the Time Rifts, an effect strikingly similar to Prey's portals, except here you're looking through (and seamlessly travelling through) time rather than space, from desolate and ruined surrounding to glorious and well-maintained rooms.
Is this all bit tongue-in-cheek? Surprisingly not - Raven are deathly serious about their time travelling wondergame. If they can keep up the pace of insane ideas, expand the glove's uses beyond repairing and wrecking objects, and not allow themselves to fall back on the game's unremarkable shooter roots, Singularity will be the most interesting FPS of the year. As it stands it's an parcel of bizarre ideas, which may or may not work.
Systems: Windows 9x, Windows 2000 Windows XP, Vista, Win 7, Win 8, Win 10.
Game features:Single game mode