If you've received your education exclusively by playing videogames - and what better education is there, Professor Kirby? - you'd be forgiven for thinking that shadowy soviet experiments almost always end in disaster. In the real world, Russia was launching dogs into happy orbit (granted, where they then expired) long before the US was capable of creating a rocket that did anything other than wobble uncertainly towards the sky at a strangely rakish angle before crash-landing into the forecourt of a nearby KFC.
But, if most Cold War titles are to be trusted, there's barely a scientist anywhere - Communist or otherwise, to be honest - who can do so much as plug in a kettle without accidentally booting open a doorway to some strange rift-world where time flows sideways, the clouds are dark with swooping anti-matter demons, and nasty worm things saunter about with handy glowing bits you might want to fire something at, pronto.
Singularity, Raven's shiny new shooter, clings tightly to this tradition. In the present day, you've innocently flown your fighter jet right into some flickering sci-fi doughnut, and have subsequently ended up stuck on a mucky old island, where, back in the era of the Flower-Pot Men, Uncle Joe was conducting all manner of strange space-time experiments. Guess what? Those experiments didn't go according to plan, and lots of people died as the island was liberally sprinkled with the strange Element 99.
And just what is this Element 99? It's a plot device, apparently, and one that has sent the island into a temporal meltdown, with past, present, and some odd, flickery, black-and-white dimension known as the Null Zone all stacked unpredictably on top of each other like deadly sci-fi Tupperware, along with scary lights in the sky and lots of those shockwave effects that were very popular in movie trailers 10 years ago.
So it's a guns-and-gimmicks game, then: a shooter with time-control elements. And it's not a bad-looking one either, the island lost in decidedly pretty dereliction, interiors of shattered factories picked out in murky blues and greens, with rusty orange sunlight shining in through broken windows.
The Null Zone is similarly evocative, a spooky, static-filled, half-presence flooded with creaky old scientists and shifting wraiths, which reminds me a little of the time my Sky box had a funny five minutes and started taping Jerry Springer at the same time as I was recording Grand Designs, and for a full hour of playback, angry monochrome yokels would flip mysteriously in and out of vision, superimposed on Kevin McCloud's majestic head.
While the Island is happy to shuttle you back and forth between disorientating packets of the past and present as the plot requires, you've also got the opportunity to mess around with time a little more directly, via the Time Manipulation Device (or TMD - the Russians were clearly as rubbish at naming things as they were at conducting experiments), which looks like a cross between a piece of dental equipment and a halogen desk lamp you've clamped to your arm.
The TMD allows you to move objects forwards or backwards through their own history, which opens up a playful world for the game to then exploit. As a weapon, it lets you age enemies into dusty corpses or revert them to squeamish embryos, or even reduce any crates baddies try to take cover behind into rotting trash. Powered up, it also allows you to freeze grenades and bullets in mid-air, and fling objects about, a bit like Half-Life 2's gravity gun. In fact, quite a lot like Half-Life 2's gravity gun.
All of that seems to be a lot of fun, and Raven can presumably be relied upon to craft anther competent blaster. More interesting, however, is the role time-manipulation plays in the game's puzzles, the examples I'm shown giving you the ability to take a wall that's blocking your path and fast-forward it until it's fallen down, rewind a collapsed staircase to the point where it was brand new, and even bring shattered crates back to life in order to get ammo out of them. (The latter is undeniably a nice spin on the ol' crates-in-games routine, but you can't help feeling if the developer knew the ol' crates-in-games routine was so dull in the first place, it could have just done away with it entirely.)
Later on, the TMD receives an upgrade which allows it to show you items trapped outside of your own timeline, which enables you to fit spooky trans-dimensional fuses into real-world circuit-boxes in order to open doors, or pull a girder through from a parallel universe to get across a broken bridge.
Only certain items can be chronologically tampered with, and Raven handily picks them out for you with a glowing aura. You can only crumble a section of brickwork if the game's made sure there's something waiting for you on the other side, in other words, and a staircase can only be reconstructed if the designer has built it with that in mind. While this stops the game from becoming a confusing mess, it will also make things rather contrived if Raven isn't exceptionally skilful in deploying the smoke and mirrors - and as we've only been shown a handful of simple puzzles so far, it's hard to tell how well Singularity subsequently riffs on its basic ideas.
At the moment, though, there's a sense that this is a game that's always anxiously reaching for greatness. Like the shadows flitting about the Null Zone, nestled in amongst concrete evidence of the likable, slightly predictable experience Singularity currently appears to be, you can see regular hints of the titles it aspires to become - its time-bending weapons eager to bring with them the puzzley creativity of Portal, while its narrative, told in snatches of trans-dimensional conversations with 1950s scientists and tape-recordings uncovered in the present day, calls to mind the careful scrapbook approach of BioShock.
And, to its credit, Singularity has shown a handful of promising moments to date. A cut-scene in which a vast crumbled laboratory is resurrected from its own rubble effortlessly summons all the magic of time travel, while an echo-zone replaying the same five seconds of 1950s soldiers being ripped apart by an explosion is genuinely creepy. There's hope for the combat, too, with strange lizard-type baddies who retreat into the Null Zone in-between attacks adding a little variety to the standard Russian soldiers you're up against, and the island's own mutated flora and fauna posing increasingly deadly threats as you head deeper into the adventure.
Raven rarely makes bad games, but it doesn't always make entirely memorable ones, and Singularity is currently looking solid, colourful, and a little derivative. If the designers can mesh their skill at combat with puzzles that offer genuine surprises, rather than simple variations on locks and keys, there's a distinct chance they could be onto special.
Until we've seen that, however, it's ultimately rather hard to say if this chronology-bending shooter is going to be worth very much of your time.
Singularity is due out for PC, PS3 and Xbox 360 later this year.