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E3: Singularity

Rifty business.

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.

Singularity's similarities to Lost are not its fault - it was in design long before JJ Abrams' island started hopping back and forth in time. Borrowings from elsewhere, however, are slightly more suspicious.

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.

Not all references are encouraged: when the developer handling the demo accidentally mentions the so-so clockwatching shooter TimeShift, he winces as if someone's just backed a school bus over his toes.

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.

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Christian Donlan avatar

Christian Donlan

Features Editor

Christian Donlan is a features editor for Eurogamer. He is the author of The Unmapped Mind, published as The Inward Empire in the US.