Matter Of Perspective: Singularity

Everyone has that moment where they wish it would have turned out differently. That moment where you wished you said something else, decided to go out, decided to stay in, placed that bet or otherwise made a different decision.

Alternate histories are a popular trope in games and Singularity is one that embraces it by placing us in a story where the Soviet Union discovered and used Element 99 to construct a bomb. Unfortunately, it did not help the Soviet Union in our time because of an explosion trigged by the unstable element, destroying the research facility on Katorga 12.

http://youtu.be/lXkA5ywLtqg

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In the present day, another explosion rocks the abandoned island which leads to American soldiers going into investigate. This excursion enters a nightmarish twist of fate where their helicopter loses all power due to yet another explosion sending out an EMP, with Captain Nathaniel Renko making it to shore following the crash. This is just the beginning of a strange sequence of events for Renko as he discovers time travel in a desolate town.

As soon as Renko is flung back into the past to the fateful night of the 1955 explosion on Katorga, every moment from that point forward is thrown into chaos. In this new history Renko saves the life of a man who would have died without his interference, which leads to the rise of Nikolai Demichev, the first person to take over the entire world. You see, Demichev’s death kept the world in a relatively stable position, but when Demichev survived he managed to get hold of the time manipulation device (TMD) and used it to work his way into power.

And to be honest who can really blame Demichev for taking control, and doing so by manipulating time? He obtains the power of a god and can bend things to his will, so if something doesn’t go his way, all Demichev has to do is press a button and start again. He lives a life with no more regrets and without the wishing for different results. While I consider myself a good person, if I had that power I know I’d use it to improve my life, and I’m sure those of you reading this would do the same.

Demichev may be the Emperor of Earth because of what he has done, but we don’t really know what an Earth under his control is like. For the first time in history the planet is united, but as there is still a heavy military presence, it is likely there are rebellions and uprisings quite regularly, as is a common consequence of any empire. Other than that, we don’t know how a regular person lives and what their quality of life is. If you have a united Earth, then it’s much easier to coordinate the movement of goods and food, so for all we know famine is being combated.

Singularity-IL1

Renko tries to undo the rise of Demichev by once again going back in time to save a different scientist, Barisov, who he brings to the future in an effort to work out how to stop Demichev. However, his plan is flawed, not just by the act of once again altering history, but by also Barisov knowledge he should not possess. Barisov now wants Demichev dead so he can take control in his place. After all, if Demichev can manipulate time to serve him then why can’t Barisov, the person who invented the TMD? He sees himself as the true great, and the person who unravelled time itself.

Again, you can’t really blame Barisov for wanting the same power, because in all fairness he should be celebrated for his work; because of him time travel is no longer a fantasy, but a reality. He has unlocked one of the greatest mysteries of the universe so he is owed a lot, and if he wants to test the time travelling capabilities himself then he of all people is entitled to. Just as with Demichev’s empire, the ability to rewrite history could have made Barisov’s Earth Empire the greatest in history.

Yet the fate of the world ultimately lies with Renko, who can choose to go back in time and let Demichev die, killing himself in the process and leading to Barisov’s rise to power. Or Renko could kill Barisov and join forces with Demichev, although this leads to a cold war between the two over the ruling of the empire. The final option is that Renko kills both Russians and takes power for himself, imposing his own will on the world. He isn’t an infallible hero, just a man who has been handed the power to control time.

Given this is a player choice in the end, would you have handed this gift back?

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6 Comments

  1. Great article again Aran. Its been a long time since i saw this game anywhere. Great game i thought, really liked the tmd mechanics, wasn’t fond of the mp.

    Well if i stumbled upon this power you would have to pry it from my dead cold hand! :p

    I think Renko made the wrong decision when he encountered demichev. Time travel 101 don’t frell with the timeline!

  2. Superb article.Loved this game, played through 3 times now and yes, would have liked more opps to use my ‘powers’ in-game, to effect the enviroment etc, what it did serve up was substance enough.Always thought it deserved better than the 7/10 scores i saw in mags at the time.

    As for the question? well, it’s put with all of us having the benifit of hindsight/knowing outcome of choices we made in-game at the time (no pun intended), so i’m going to answer it in a sideways manner, could the player not have had the option to destroy the ‘gift’ knowing mankind was not yet mature enough to handle the responsibility that came with it?……

  3. Must get back into this game, I enjoyed most of what I played but got stuck on 1 level and haven’t tried since. It’s sat on my desk with a pile of other unfinished games staring at me, trying to make me feel guilty about wasting money on too many ‘bargains’. (Bargains at the time, but, by the time I get around to playing them, you can buy them cheaper so I might as well have waited ;p)

  4. From memory this game was pretty much left to die by Activision in that it got naff all marketing when it came out but i recall completing it in a few sittings which is rare for me. Up there with Bioshock in terms of atmosphere and inventive methods of death and destruction (arguably better). Truly excellent game. Glad to see it still holds fond memories for some. I even penned a very rare review for a certain large online retailer so thought I’d share it here:

    I’d never really heard much about this game prior to release. It came from publisher Activision with little to no fanfare so I approached it with a degree of trepidation (though having seen many surprised yet positive review scores) and was I glad I played it? The answer is an utterly emphatic yes! I’ve completed the game once and played very briefly on the multiplayer (so the MP part does not form part of my review score as I’ve not spent sufficient time with it).

    Story

    – This is a straightforward story revolving around covert experimentation with a new element (E99) and time travel. Raven (the developers) have crafted, in my mind, a simple story that’s easy to follow but interesting. From the minute the game commenced I was intrigued by where the story was going and gripped. The ongoing story is told in very much a Half Life / Bioshock (more comparisons about these games later) method – silent protagonist with key plot points / exposition being related though tape recordings you pick up along the way, projector films, NPCs and scribblings on the wall. There are no cut scenes. I personally do not have an issue with cut scenes but this game handles the story well.

    Graphics / engine

    – This game uses the Unreal engine (as I believe the Bioshocks did) and looks good for it. There’s a nice sheen to the weapons and the environment and I noticed very few glitches. The way the time slips occur and you get brief glimpses into the past is well presented.
    – However as with many a criticism of Unreal the game has got the usual love affair with the colours grey and brown. Given the environment and the context the story takes place in this would be difficult to avoid though a few more splashes of colour would’ve helped and could have been implemented.

    Combat

    – A key area for an FPS. I started (and finished) the game on normal difficulty (the middle of the three available) and in the early hours found the combat to be quite difficult (at one point when stuck in a particular courtyard I was getting very frustrated) though persevered and was soon granted TMD (Time Manipulation Device) powers which turned a relatively fun game into a really new and different experience. This turned the basic FPS combat into something really entertaining.
    – I must have played through 75% of the game with my two preferred weapons (the sniper rifle and autocannon) and when you factor in the TMD powers (especially the `freeze’ power) it makes the shooting mechanic fun and unusual but arguably a little too easy. Once granted these powers I barely died which meant little combat frustration but I did use pretty much the same TMD / shooting ploy every time though to be honest I didn’t find it got old as was just fun to carry out and watch. The TMD isn’t as varied or as interesting as Bioshock’s plasmid arsenal but I found it to be a good mechanic well implemented. If there’s a sequel, which I’m afraid there may not be if my understanding about the sales figures is right, I think they could explore this mechanic far more. All in all though a very fun combat experience that definitely didn’t outstay it’s welcome.
    – A downside here is that there were not many enemy types. I believe there were about 2-3 types of soldier and the same goes for the `monsters’ which all felt a little identikit. There were a few larger creatures towards the end and one memorable (but typical shoot-the-shiny-parts) boss fight.

    Sound / voice acting

    – I’m not a great audiophile but thought the sound was acceptable (i.e. the weapons made the right sounds at the right times) and the voice acting convinced me. However I do have some niggles in this dept but not sure if this is an issue with the game or my sound set up (and my Xbox is very noisy these days!). I had my TV volume at a decent level though struggled to hear a lot of the dialogue and this is obviously a key factor for a story driven game. I fiddled about with the sound settings but this didn’t seem to help. Personally I feel this was an issue with the game as sound effects and music were clear as a bell. Think it would have been a good idea to include subtitles (which though I’m not hard of hearing I like to put on so I don’t miss any important dialogue) which would have somewhat overcome this issue.
    – And Nolan North makes an appearance!

    Other points of note

    – You level up your weapons and TMD powers / perks in a very Bioshock way and use E99 Tech to do this. Again this worked well but there could have been a little more diversity to the offensive time powers to really make this special.
    – `Pick ups’ for the completists include tape recorders with story exposition, black boards, notes and wall scrawls which all add to the story so are well worth seeking out where possible.

    Summary

    I really enjoyed this game. As previously mentioned it has a very fun combat mechanic, looks and sounds good and has a gripping and comprehensible story – a thing a lot of other devs could learn from – don’t make your plot too crazy just for the sake of it. I really hope Raven get the plaudits they deserve and pick up good word of mouth sales as this is a team who have great potential and I’d love to see more from.

    If you had any enjoyment at all from the Half Life and Bioshock games then you’re bound to like this too. Yes it cribs heavily from both these franchises and others but if you’re going to homage a game do it from the best and Raven weave in their own ideas with enough skill to allow forgiveness when taking concepts from others’ games.

    In short it’s a must. I haven’t felt this strongly about a game in some time and feel a large part of this is the sympathy I feel towards it as a result of the complete lack of marketing / publicity it seemed to get at release. Buy if you enjoy story driven FPSs. This is an achievement Raven should be proud of.

  5. Singularity is a brilliant game that was hampered by the pure lack of advertising of the product when it was released – I seem to recall there being a reason (like Acti were heavily promoting something else at the time or something), but it was nothing less than a crime as whilst this wasn’t the most innovative game harking off of themes from Bioshock as well as more military driven shooters, it did combine them nicely & came up with its own identity.

    Single player story & TMD aside (both excellent) I recall countless Fridays plying through the Soldiers vs Monsters scenario of the multiplayer with friends & it was an absolute blast. It even got to a point where I was doing well in each match (with teamwork being strong between my merry band) & that is a rare thing.

    Overall, I would say that if you haven’t played it & you can find it somewhere (ooh, that sounds a little like the opening to the A-Team!), definitely give it a go. You won’t regret it.

  6. Really liked Singularity

    Many moons ago I wrote http://www.thesixthaxis.com//2010/07/05/first-level-singularity/

    I was hoping to review the game fully, but I got stuck so couldn’t contribute more than to the ‘First Level’ TSA feature

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