GamesCom 2009: Singularity Hands On Preview - If I Could Turn Back Time
Written Monday, August 31, 2009 By Dan WebbView author's profile
We all know Singularity right? I mean, if you don’t know it from its E3 2008 trailer, you must know it as one of the many titles that was running scared of Modern Warfare 2, right? This isn’t a presumption by the way... Activision actually came out and said this. Anyway, the first person shooter is now destined for a 2010 release and we got chance to go hands on with the title at this year’s GamesCom to see how it intends to separate itself from the rest of the shooter pack.
The roots of Singularity can be traced back to the childhood experiences of the Raven Software founders – the Raffal brothers – who grew up in the Cold War era. They were looking to bring the key elements of the conflict between the Soviet Union and the US to the table, whilst embroiling it in a tale of science fiction and exploration. Set in 2010, Singularity tells the story of a co-pilot of a spy plane that is sent to investigate the strange goings on at Katorga 12 – the scene of a cold war experiment gone wrong in the 1950’s. In the 50’s, as a result of a cataclysmic experiment involving the Russians and a material called Element 99 – a unique time manipulation element – the island was sealed off, records destroyed and removed from the maps for over 50 years. Singularity is played in two different time zones and has you flicking back and forth between the two, while you try to find out what happened, what they were doing back in the 50’s and why it’s coming back to the surface again in 2010.
Singularity’s main selling point is what Raven like to call the Time Manipulation device – or as we’ll refer to it, the TMD. It’s exactly how it sounds, but don’t think you’ll be turning back time to sit in on Winston Churchill’s “Finest Hour” speech or trying to stop Maradona’s “Hand of God.” Far from it. The TMD can only be used to manipulate (the key’s in the name) time with regard to relatively small objects or people, meaning that it will act either as a puzzle solving mechanic, or even as a combat tool. You will be able to perform bigger manipulations of time throughout as well, like resurrecting old navy liners, but you’ll need to super charge your TMD via various power stations placed at various points throughout the level.
As far as puzzle solving mechanics goes, Raven is looking to break up the fast paced and frenetic shooter gameplay by incorporating many of these into the game. On the one hand, you’ll be resurrecting dilapidated walkways so that you can walk across them, and on the other hand, they will have you restoring old pieces of machinery – like a rundown, rusted old lift – to get where you want to go. Obviously they don’t sound too overtly complex and that is simply because they are not... I mean there is only so much you can do with a mechanic that can either age things or restore them to their original state.
The game excels through the use of the TMD as a combat tool and its multi-layered nature. Firstly, you can use the TMD to pick up objects and freeze them in time – particularly useful with enemy grenades – and fire them at your opponents... a lot like Half Life’s Gravity Gun. Secondly, you can use the device’s age and revert functions, which are simply controlled using the left and right bumpers, on your foes, or their shields. It is pretty fun to age your enemies to dust or revert them back to some Big Foot-esque state – known as a Revert – that not only creates a distraction for your enemies, but will also cause them to attack whoever is nearest to them – friend or foe. And last, but not least, you can use the age and revert functions on various environmental objects; whether it’s explosive barrels, decaying an enemy’s cover, creating cover for yourself, and using it for bigger environmental attacks – like decaying the hinges of a shipping container’s holder that sits 10 feet above a group of enemies.
Of course, allowing that sort of free reign with a powerful device like the TMD would make the game seem imbalanced, right? You are indeed correct, which is why Raven has addressed that. The TMD according to Raven is limitless on smaller objects, like aging a shield or a piece of cover to dust, but when you use it against enemies, there will be a short recharge time in between uses. You’ll also have access to stasis bubbles, which stop your enemies in time for a short while, the E99 Revolver, which allows you to control your bullets after you’ve fired them, and the Chrono Light, which is more of a puzzle device than a weapon that allows you to access objects that have fallen out of your current time phase.
Raven are billing Singularity as the “thinking man’s shooter” but from what we saw, the action was a little predictable... age this, revert this back to its original state, destroy this bit of cover, drop this shipping container on their heads, etc. The TMD though is undoubtedly a fun piece of kit to take advantage of; and reverting your foes back to a primitive beast like state or a pile of dust never seems to get old. Is it going to be enough though to pull it out from the pack or is it just going to be another shooter with a gimmick? We look forward to finding out the answers next year.