Singularity: Making the Cold War Awesome

Skeletons... Commie propoganda... 'Splodes... This is the best screenshot EVER.

Last week in my Anthropology lecture, we watched a movie called The Atomic Café – a hilarious look at American propaganda about nuclear weaponry, circa 1950. Full of excellently stereotypical voice overs announcing that nuclear weapons were as American as apple pie, and that the tests on Bikini Island which displaced countless natives and irradiated a million cubic feet of topsoil were God’s will. Which doesn’t sound all that hilarious, but when you watch the collection of infomercials and PSA’s that featured, it transcended human horror, and descended into sheer, incredible parody.

Of course, the propaganda was all part of the Cold War, the most ridiculous piece of history the 20th Century has to offer – 40 years or so of mild tension between two superpowers with the capacity to destroy innumerable amounts of human life, but never actually did anything. Sure, there was a missile crisis here and there, and there were probably some prank telephone calls exchanged, but for the most part, nothing happened. It’s a bit like if Superman and Lex Luthor just stared at each other across a large table for the duration of a movie, pulling tough faces at each other every now and then, and maybe kicking each other under the table to break the monotony.

But then, if there was a Superman movie that attempted to represent the Cold War (and there might be, I really don’t know), it would undoubtedly descend into some kind of time-travelling, conspiracy-laden cover-up nonsense, which would automatically be twelve million times more entertaining than the Cold War itself. This is where Singularity comes in.

In development over at Raven Software in Wisconsin, it looks like a brilliantly demented idea for a game: the Russkies have been conducting super-secret experiments involving the mysterious “Element 99” on an equally mysterious island since 1950, which appears to do unnatural things to the time-space continuum. So clearly, when the American lead character crash lands there in 2010, he’s forced to fix everything with shooty-guns and – here’s the kicker – the Time Manipulation Device, a glove-like device that can move things forward through time, backwards through time, freeze things in time, and generally throw things around.

You might think the daft story is just an excuse to let players run amok with the TMD (and you’re not far wrong) but there’s a bit more thought gone into it than anyone would have expected. There’s some pretty intriguing viral stuff going on over at the “unofficial” Mir-12 blog, and the videos do a good job of fleshing out the the back-story to the whole unlikely scenario. It’s certainly shaping up to be more interesting than the WW2-based Wolfenstein game Raven are developing simultaneously.

The game itself looks relatively promising – it’s all running on the Unreal 3 engine, so it looks suitably beautiful, even if its not state-of-the-art, and the run-and-gun gameplay looks like it might be invigorated by the introduction of the TMD: you can age support pillars so that they crumble and collapse on top of enemies, or cut out the middleman, and just age the enemies themselves, or even rewind them back into a placental state. The TMD also looks like a vital part of the obligatory puzzle-thinky pieces – need a whole in that wall? Rewind time on that empty can, so that it’s full of oil all over again, and explode it. Out of ammo? Rewind that crate till it’s chock full o’ bullets.

Raven are responsible for some genuinely great games over the last ten years or so – Jedi Knight: Jedi Outcast and Star Trek: Elite Force immediately spring to mind as good indicators of what they’re capable of producing. Jedi Outcast in particular stands out as one of my favourites of all time. That said, they’re also responsible for some fairly average games – Jedi Academy and Quake 4 were hardly at the bleeding edge of FPS technology or innovation. But this game, despite the obvious ludicrousness of it all, has me excited.

It’s set for release this autumn, apparently.

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