FBT plays Raven’s time-bending Singularity. And wishes he could bend it all the way back to their Heretic days.

Raven Software; always the bridesmaid never the bride. Old neighbours of id during their glory days, their first major game was Shadowcaster, an early FPS-RPG mash-up made possible by Carmack’s engine genius. They followed that up with Heretic, the classic fantasy Doom-clone produced by Romero. Raven then licenced the gun-nut magazine Soldier of Fortune to create a shooter so extreme it seemed a parody of the mag’s readers, and licensing became the company’s focus; Star Wars, Star Trek, X-Men, Wolfenstein and Quake games followed. So this, Singularity, represents Raven’s first truly solo effort since … well, ever really. Are the training wheels off?

On a remote island, a long abandoned Soviet facility mysteriously kicks back into life, emitting strange pulses. US Marines, including our man Renko, decide to fly in and check it out, and a pulse brings us down. Making his way through the desolate island, Renko discovers a testing facility where, blundering into a strange displacement, he’s transported to 1955 where the island is in the midst of a catastrophic disaster. Fighting through the facility Renko saves a man, Nikolai from dying. Transported back again, Renko finds Nikolai now rules the world. Talk about your butterfly effect. A resistance group (what would shooters do without resistance groups?) tells Renko the island was a testing ground for time displacement, and this is all his fault - he must fight through both the past and present and stop Nikolai.

Trying to stop Renko however, is Nikolai’s troops and the tortured former inhabitants of the testing facility (both human and animal, plus pissed-off plants). Renko only has the usual two-weapon load-out and occasional weapon upgrade to even the odds - so far, so FPS. The twist in Singularity is the Time Manipulation Device or TMD Renko gets his hands on. A wrist-mounted time-gun, the TDM lets Renko age or de-age anything organic or materials infused with ‘element 99’, a compound painted on everything - Who was so careless with this stuff? It’s awesome rebuilding or aging things to navigate and turning soldiers into dust. It can also repel or move objects Renko can’t. Meanwhile, more displacements allow Renko to switch between times and see the impact of events as he progresses. However, it’s not the TDM that gives us deva-vu. We’ve been here before.

Singularity constantly calls to mind other, more original games – Fallout 3’s futuristic-retro look is throughout, while the facility comes across like a Vault, with the new residents led to believe the tests were for their benefit. It’s so Vault-like I keep expecting to find a bobblehead. There’s some heavy Bioshock vibes going on, as the TMD takes on a Plasmid-like quality thanks to various upgrades, ghosts and everything is tied into Renko in a Jack-like ‘it was always you’ plot, and then there’s Half-Life 2; not just in the look, but there’s a sub-Alyx companion and the TMD has some gravity gun-style options. And then there’s the shooting; Singularity is one half CoD, one half a zombie survival game; so CoD Zombies then. It’s not derivative, there’s just this ‘played it’ sheen and that’s largely because the break-out star, the TMD doesn't actually do anything; you don’t need a time machine to see this gadget is hobbled right from the start.

Conceptually, the TMD is brilliant, using time as a weapon but that just doesn’t happen and it's aggravating; only being able to use it where there’s E99 means you never cut lose; I have a time machine on my wrist and I can’t muck about with it? Most shooters corral you into a linear experience or give you a locked down arena to work your way through, but with Singularity that feels a lot more obvious because of the TMD’s limitations. You can't give me something as awesome as time to play with then not let me do anything with it.

If it had been like Red Faction where practically everything can be broken, giving the TMD control of the environment would have opened it up into something special; all manner of approaches, opportunities and silliness. If Portal’s mind-bending physics can allow you to go anywhere yet still be trapped, the TMD could have done more. The whole island should be open and ready for you to muck about with but the puzzles, battle opportunities, and environment are strictly controlled and far too convenient - If Renko could switch at will it would have been a real mind-twister; overwhelmed? Go back and even the odds by altering the environment; jump back and leave a weapon in the past to recover in the future and give yourself an edge – there’s carnivorous plants for example, how cool would it be to notice a sapling near some soldiers; age it and see it going Audrey on them. Basically, a shooter version of the Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure ending. Whoa.

The irony of time-travelling Singularity is it’s already happened - in other games. And a finale where Renko suddenly has a choice feels tacked on (now he can alter things?) - and none of the options work out well for him despite the fact that up until the ending, he wasn't a tragic, mysterious or morally dubious character. Just an arm with an unpowered Flux Capacitor strapped to his wrist.

2010 | Developer Raven Software | Publisher Activision Platform Win | PS3 | X360