Time travel is something that we all sometimes wish was real, and has appeared in nearly every genre of game. Raven Software’s 2010 game Singularity for the PS3, Xbox 360, and PC brings us the fascinating concept of time travel in a post-Cold War setting and then slaps the player in the face to remind us that there are consequences for our actions. The game holds up well enough even in our own time of 2022, presenting a compelling story and fun mechanics.
The game begins fairly normally for a modern shooter. The player is Captain Renko of the US army, on a mission to explore and gather intel in an abandoned Russian facility when, as in all games with helicopters, yours crashes on the island and you’re left separated from your team with no equipment. After wandering around for a bit, there’s an explosion and you’re thrown back in time to 1957. The facility is collapsing, and you decide to help a man escape the fire with you. You’re then thrown back to the present, where it turns out that Russia has somehow conquered the world and mysterious monsters have shown up out of nowhere. As it turns out, the man you rescued is the same man who brought about world conquest, and the rest of the game becomes a struggle to correct your actions and all of history. This opening is a great setup and establishes the stakes very well. While the time travel here is a cool concept and gameplay mechanic, it also serves up the classic question of “would you go back in time and kill someone evil?” In this instance, it also adds the complication that you, the player, are responsible for the evil you’re fighting in the first place. Saving a man from a burning building is a good thing, but would you take it back if you knew who it was or who they’d become? Most of the game is fairly cut and dry stuff for a shooter, with a rather weak direct choice at the end. You can choose from a couple of different endings, but without a fully-fledged moral choice system in the entire rest of the game, it feels less impactful. Regardless, the game asks a rather daunting moral question and seems to not want to answer it, leaving that up to the player. That approach seems to be something that games are very skilled at, letting the player decide what message the story has. However, it also means that depending on your willingness to go against your moral compass, you might not see all the different endings, although in Singularity’s case, the only difference is right at the end. That said, the player does have to make a decision in order to finish the game. (Mild spoiler warning) My playthrough ended with me going back in time and shooting my former self in an attempt to restore the original timeline. In the moment, it seemed like the right thing to do, since I was preventing the game’s plot from happening at all, but it turns out that someone else gets control of the time device and takes over the world anyway, so my noble intention felt squandered and inconsequential. The choice ultimately feels like one where there are no right answers and the player must select the lesser from a selection of evils, and it ends up being a tonal clash with the gung-ho heroics of the rest of the game.
The gameplay, as it happens, is just as thoughtful as the story, featuring fun shooting sprinkled with light puzzles. The beginning of the game continues to shine in this area, providing organically flowing “tutorials” for each of the main weapons before turning you lose with only two weapons and a ‘good luck.’ There’s your standard pistol, rifle, shotgun, and sniper, with later mix-ups providing a healthy variety of fun gadgets. Three unique weapons let you control projectile trajectory: the Seeker, a rifle with a time slowing effect, the Dethex Launcher, which lets you freely move a grenade, and the RLS-7 rocket launcher, whose rockets follow your crosshair if it moves. Somewhere in all the philosophy, someone remembered that games have to be fun, and these weapons do just that, providing the player with useful tools and plenty of opportunities to use them. Your time-travel device also has certain powers, like a quick-melee attack and aging enemies into nonexistence. Fun!
Puzzles also break up the moments between heated gunfights, and using your time device to interact with the environment feels intuitive, mostly. These puzzles aren’t necessarily designed to fully test your intellect, but they do make the most of the time device mechanics, and feel satisfying to complete all the same.
The biggest weakness of Singularity is that it expects the player to know how to play a video game. Very few things are tutorialized with text boxes and explicit instructions, and while showing is better than telling, not having prompts like “use WASD to move” or “right click to aim down your sights” feels slightly awkward, even for someone who’s played a lot of different games before. Otherwise, Singularity is a stellar example of a game that has a good story with fun gameplay. It’s a nice 6-hour first person shooter that asks a unique moral question and leaves the player wondering whether they did the right thing or not, which isn’t necessarily the best ending for a game.
Violence: Lots of violence with guns and war crimes, pretty cut and dry for a modern shooter
Foul Language: Yes. There is frequent foul language.