środa, 15 grudnia 2010

Short Review #12: TimeShift

So there's this guy, called Dr. Krone. He gets his hands on a suit which allows him to travel in time. And he creates an alternate reality in which he's the ruler of all, a tyrant, and then there's this rebel force which fights his Magistrate, but they're losing. In comes you, a unnamed, silent protagonist (the game suggests you're a physics professor) who gets his hands on a second suit and follows Krone to defeat him... why do you exactly do that is never explained. There's a suggestion that Krone's altered reality (which is somewhere circa 1936, only with high-tech weaponry, steampunk-like zeppelins vs helicopters and jets, and a giant robot reminescent of Wild Wild West) would eventually encroach on the main time stream or something like that... The plot is VERY hard to follow. You are given snippets of info in between missions, but if those are the protagonist's memories, or some sort of projection, we are never told. Also, they are so scarce and short they don't really reveal anything. So I guess it's safe to say that even if the plot has any sense (which I don't think it has), it's best to not pay attention to it because it's not very good. Moving on.

Gameplay. Well, Timeshift is a FPS, so you get a lot of action and shooting. You get some very interesting weapons to use, my favourite one being a crossbow with explosive tips (and why that is will soon become clear), and I also hold a special place in my heart for a machine gun which fires burning bullets which set enemies aflame. Also, it doubles as an old school flamethrower. Besides that there's a regular assault gun / grenade launcher, a pistol, a shotgun, a sniper rifle, a missile launcher... the regular. None of them are really anything new or interesting, though I have to admit they are sufficiently fun to use.

The game's main 'thing' is the time shifting mechanic. You get three ways you can influence 'time' around you, and those are a slow-down effect, a freeze effect, and turning back time. You have a limited amount of energy that you can use for these, so you can only have the benefit of those powers for a short while after which you have to wait for the energy to regenerate. How did I like it? Well, here's the thing. At first I thought this was a pretty pointless gimmick. Sure, it's shiny, it mixes things a bit, but in the end it's just a feature that makes a run-of-the-mill FPS a bit more innovative. I still think this holds true for the third, time-reversing power, as it is used almost exclusively for puzzles (and given that the game, by default, chooses a power most applicable to a situation automatically, they're not even challenging puzzles). However, I have to admit that using the slow-down and freeze effects combined with some of the weapons (especially the crossbow!) is pretty neat. You enter a room, freeze time (or slow it down, I found that either works well, but slow down lasts longer, so I found it more universal), pop a few explosive bolts into your enemies and then de-freeze time so they all explode in unison. Heh, amusing stuff. It's also very helpful for getting rid of snipers. The same applies - freeze time, fire bolts (or bullets if you feel like it), defreeze.

Still, as much fun as it is, Timeshift reminded me of Portal, though the two have really nothing in common, but hear me out. In Portal, the Portal mechanics were the main tool of the game. The whole gameplay was focused on those mechanics and how the player used them. In Timeshift, the time-altering thing is something of a bonus feature. Yes, you have to use it in order not to die (enemies are pretty good at killing you, plus you move quite slowly, so usually you can't really hide that well without getting a time boost), but it's not a game-defining element, when it should be. The puzzles feel forced, and when you finish them you're like 'Huh, ok, whatever.' In Portal, finishing each puzzle was exiliarating, I felt so proud of myself for figuring them out. Timeshift is an FPS first, and its game-specific mechanics come second, while they really should be there on the frontline.

Another thing about the gameplay is a somewhat low number of enemy types. You've got your basic soldiers (in two flavours - armoured and unarmoured), some chrono-soldiers (which either have special shields that are hard to get around, or can move at great speeds forcing you to slow down time to even be able to hit them) and finally a more powerful chrono-soldier who teleports and uses a pretty strong weapon. That's it, seriously. I didn't think it was boring or anything like that, I just think it's worth it to point out. Also, the game box tells you that you'll get to use vehicles. And, well, technically you do, but only a single vehicle - a quad. You can mount turrets on transport cars, and you find yourself on board of a zeppelin twice, using its turrets to fight off Krone's forces, but that's it. So, hardly a real feature of the game, I would say.

On the technical side of things, the game looks pretty awesome. Light effects are great, blur effects are cool, the rain rocks, character models are pretty and environments are well done, even if a bit bland (most interiors look very much alike). The sound is alright, but no audio awesomeness like in, say, Call of Duty 2. The music... well, it's there. But that's all I can say about it. Saying it's forgettable kind of suggests that you heard it in the first place. I *acknowledged* it's there, but after it was gone, I wasn't able to even remember how it sounded. The cut-scenes look great, but that doesn't help the fact that they're hopelessly muddled and too short to amount to anything, so it doesn't really matter that much.

I've got a single thing left to address, and that's the ending. It won't be much of a spoiler that you, of course, defeat Krone. What I think is important is HOW you do it. See, this is an FPS, and I was expecting an old school boss fight, maybe with Krone using his time powers and the player having to adapt, perhaps a final level based in a different reality or something like that. What happens instead is this - you fight with some guys, destroy three turrets on Krone's great walking fortress (mixed with dodging artillery barrage from said fortress), and then when the fortress prepares to shoot a great beam of energy from a turret of sorts, you destroy that turret. The end. Krone lies on the ground (how he survived the explosion and falling down of the fortress, and why is he lying on the ground remains a mystery), and the protagonist shoots him in the head during a cutscene.

I don't know if I'm a big fan of boss fights, but you have to agree, this is kind of underwhelming. There's no dialogue during that execution scene, nothing besides a few flashbacks or whatever, which don't really reveal anything. The game ends showing the protagonist as he averts an explosion which takes place during the intro, saving his... umm... wife? girlfriend? colleague who he only had casual sex with? No idea. And then the suit's AI says that a Paradox is imminent and you get teleported out of there. Huh.

So yeah. Timeshift is your regular FPS with an interesting feature in the time-altering mechanic which seems severly underplayed. I feel that the company had an idea for a mechanic, but not for a game - they created something which, in theory, was to be a full-lenght exploration of that idea, but they just weren't able to do that. That would explain the half-assed plot, the uninspired ending, and the fact that in the end, what is fun for an hour isn't necesarrily as gripping for the next several hours. I enjoyed Timeshift, it's not that I didn't - I just can't help but thing they could've made a better game out of it, and as it is, it's only a typical, railroaded FPS. The multiplayer has time-altering grenades, but I doubt that alone is able to provide players with a timeworthy online experience.

My final rating for Timeshift is a 6/10. If you're an FPS fan, feel free to check it out if you can get it cheap. Don't go out of your way to get it, don't expect a groundbreaking FPS with an innovative twist, and you should have fun.

PS: Forgot to comment on the resistance leader, Cook. He's as bland as they come. We know nothing about him, he doesn't even look much different than the others, we can't see why he's the leader, no characterisation AT ALL. And by the end of the game you want to shoot the guy, as he keeps telling you to hurry up, and do that, do something else and then do something else again. Because he says so, because he's the leader. Seriously, YOU ARE A BAD-ASS WITH A TIME-ALTERING SUIT and he's just some random prick. You're doing everything for this resistance, they haven't accomplished a SINGLE FRIGGING THING before you arrived... But yeah, that's just another part of the plot which sucks and is rather lame.

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