Here at the 2009 DICE Summit, Raymond and I were treated to a live gameplay demonstration of Raven Software's Singularity, a new IP that they are aiming to release in 2009. Described as a thinking man's shooter, Singularity will use time, as well as the manipulation of time, in some unique and interesting ways (read: way better than TimeShift). Running us through the demo was Raven Software Co-Founder and Studio Head, Brian Raffel.
The game's setting revolves around past and present conflicts with Russia. It's time mechanics will actually take players between present day (2010) and the 1950's. Singularity's main character, Nate Renko is an Air Force pilot that has crash landed on a mysterious Russian island. As he searches for his co-pilot, he begins to uncover some of the mysteries. Wait? Time travel... island? Is this a new LOST video game?
Singularity’s plot is centered around a new element that Russia has discovered on this island: Element 99 (E99). This new element led to a catastrophic event that has caused a lot of problems on this island. It also led to the creation of the Time Manipulation Device (TMD) that Nate will acquire on his mission.
The TMD which attaches to Nate's left hand, will allow him to gain control over time itself, opening up a lot of interesting possibilities. Sure, the TMD has the requisite "gravity gun" ability for some fun physics-based moves, but that's where its similarity to other game items stops. The abandoned installation on the island is full of decrepit, non-functioning equipment and items. For example, a barrel of fuel is rusted and drained of its explosive cargo, but Nate can send the barrel back in time to the 1950's. This restores the barrel to its shiny, explosive state and can now be used against enemies or to solve puzzles.
Take the same property of single-item time manipulation and apply it to people -- in the other direction. Nate can rapidly age an enemy until they are a pile of bones and dust, complete with a lovely Raiders of the Lost Ark effect. Corpses can also be reverted back to a living state. Unfortunately, the corpses mind doesn't come with it and the body is turned into an aggressive "zombie" that will attack other enemies.
I've discussed how the TMD will be used in combat, but it will also drive the game's puzzles and problem-solving sections. In the simplest example, Nate might be required to restore a capacitor to a working state and insert it into a machine to power-up another device. It gets more complicated when you start looking at situations that require Nate to travel back to 1950 and make a change in the past to get by an obstacle in 2010.
Some puzzles require the opening of a rift that works as an instant two-way portal between the 50's and present day. Raffel explained that this was a technical hurdle as they need to put two different game worlds into memory. These rifts allow the player to see the results of their time manipulation in order to solve puzzles.
Another item Nate can use is a small orb-like device that can create a "deadlock," which is a circular stasis field where time stops. Nate, while wielding the TMD, can walk freely through the deadlock, but enemies and bullets cannot. This makes it possible to use the deadlock as cover since bullets will stop as soon as they enter the field. The device can also be destroyed to unleash a shock that is fatal to enemies.
With regards to enemies, Nate will encounter two distinct sets of Russian soldiers with some otherworldly creatures that have been created from E99 and ongoing time anomalies. The soldiers faced in 1950 won't be as smart as the Russian special forces in 2010. The AI sets are different, using different tactics to engage the player.
One of the "monsters" we saw were "Phase Ticks," which are tiny insect like creatures that can explode and cause mutations to humans trapped in their attack. Their hives can be shot to release a group of Phase Ticks. Nate can shoot hives near soldiers to have the ticks attack, but the AI soldiers can do the same thing to Nate.
We also saw a giant creature in a boss battle that took place on a train. The scripted destruction of the train was impressive, but Raven wasn't ready to release any details about what the creature is and how many of these giant baddies exist in the game.
While the game is in pre-alpha, the demo we saw today was promising. Some of the technical aspects aren't yet there, but that is to be expected with a pre-alpha build. The framerate is a little choppy and there is some graphical tearing. The gameplay itself, however, seems solid. There are a lot of interesting things with the game's time mechanics. I'm a little wary about the character of Nate, but Raven wasn't ready to go into huge amounts of detail on his story at this point. It's incredibly hard to craft a new protagonist, but we witnessed sections from the middle of the game, presumably after Nate's introduction and characterization. Hopefully, we just missed everything that makes him awesome.
Activision tells us that the game will include a multiplayer component that will make use of the TMD. They could do really creative things with the TMD in multiplayer, especially if the multiplayer levels exist in 1950 and 2010 simultaneously. Expect much more information as we get closer to E3 2009.