I remember playing TimeShift in numerous preview incarnations way back, back when to put it bluntly it was a god-awful game and it looked pretty terrible. I was always sceptical when I heard mention that the bods at Atari had dropped it and Sierra had picked it up. Yet my curiosity waned as time moved on, until once again whilst poking around Gametrailers I spied a TimeShift trailer.
The trailer was slick and it seemed to hint at a promise of things to come.
For the last couple of days I've been playing it, between bouts of the Witcher, to see if the developers could redeem themselves. I have to admit that I'm actually impressed with what they've done. The engine and the game itself has been torn down, rebuilt, torn down, rebuilt and has come together rather well this time. It won't stand shoulder to shoulder with the big A-1 titles that are out now or soon, but the most important thing is it keeps its head above water.
TimeShift can be a confusing game in terms of story however, there could have been more made of the game's plot and it definitely needs some polish in that area. There are events where you know what's going on and suddenly you're in another area without a clue why you're there. You have no name to identify the character with and unlike Gordon Freeman your John Doe style scientist is just locked into the game's Beta 'TimeShift' Suit.
Some uber-badass scientist has stolen the Alpha Suit and left you with the slightly less impressive one. Said scientist has gone back into the past and altered the present spewing forth a massive amount of alternate time-lines and turning himself into the unmitigated ruler of everything. You on the other hand dive into the Beta Suit and attempt to follow him.
You very quickly learn that TimeShift is a flawed gem; it shines so brightly in places but then tends to reflect dully in others. There's some gorgeous level design and architectural direction in many of the game's areas, but so many of them feel as though they were carved out of lifeless stone and after seeing the former you begin to notice the latter all the more.
The same can be said for the enemy models and various other models in the game, there are some really detailed ones and then some pretty bland ones. It's like someone lost heart mid-way through a design and then suddenly they were inspired. The same can be said about the whole experience of TimeShift, except the multiplayer, that has some innovative and downright fun things thrown in.
The game focuses on FPS combat, there are some truly overpowered weapons in the singleplayer and the crossbow is the most dangerous piece of your kit. Fitted with explosive bolts that dish out a massive amount of damage, it's supposed to be too easy to dodge. Only one problem for the bad guys, you're a TimeShifting badass that can slow, rewind and stop time.
Slow down time with the crossbow and enemies can't dodge the bolts, since they're not affected by your chronological trickery.
All the weapons have an alt-fire and there are the usual mix of rifles, pistols, shotguns and sniper-rifles in the game, enough to keep the weapons fanatics happy. There are even some vehicle turret sections to break up the game's frenetic gunplay, TimeShift likes to throw tonnes of enemies at you and with the correct use of time powers you can take down armies.
The suit is controlled by S.S.A.M, the game's AI that can select the correct power for the right situation, give you clues and hints and also warns of impending danger. The left bumper controls your time powers and just tapping it near a hazard or puzzle selects the right power for the job, it kind of makes those puzzles a bit easier though and takes away from the challenge of working out what you need to do.
You can hold down the left bumper and then choose from the 3 available powers, reverse, slow and stop/pause time.
Rather than just a gimmick, these powers have practical uses in combat. Should allies fall from a tossed grenade and you're quick enough, you can rewind time to give them a second chance. You can also use it to avoid a potential grenade yourself, if you're stuck with an explosive and death's only a few ticks away, turn back time and either move out of the way or watch as the bemused soldier wonders if he did indeed throw that grenade or not.
You can stop time to avoid a big explosion or just walk up to an enemy and purloin their weapon, this usually leads to them looking confused and either surrendering to your mercy (what mercy?) or running to try and get another dropped weapon from a dead enemy. When time's also slowed or stopped the suit's health/shield regen kicks in faster and heals you much quicker.
Slowing time allows you to walk past fast moving projectiles or even shoot them out of the air.
The time manipulation powers of the suit are also used in puzzle solving elements of the game. They're fairly simple, freeze time and you can walk on water, walk over a gantry that might be unstable or pass through a burning flame or electrical hazard without taking a single scratch. Sometimes you might need to rewind time to clear a puzzle or move something out of the way.
The AI in TimeShift works quite well and it uses cover and concealment, team tactics and even tries to avoid excessive combat. When linked with the excellent animations and physics even a shot to the knees can drop an enemy onto the ground where they'll try and get back up. Sometimes there's even a last-stand kind of ditch attempt where a prone guard will shoot at you before they either expire (from a hail of your bullets) or something else takes them out.
The AI also reacts to your shifting powers. Face and opponent, stop time and get behind them, when time resumes they'll look around for you. You can then beat them over the back of the head with your rifle.
The voice work in the game is Ok, but that's about it, there are moments where it's god-awful and there are moments where you can see someone put some effort into their lines. The score though is a bit flat and uninspiring compared to the very nature of the game; it should have been grander and certainly more sweeping. The sound effects fall between decent and bland.
The one area (over Live and System-Link) that really does shine in TimeShift is the multiplayer aspect of the game. There are several game modes on offer that most gamers will be familiar with.
Deathmatches, Team-Deathmatch, 1-on-1 duels, Capture the Flag are all in the game's arena-style combat mode and it harkens back to the good old days of Quake and Unreal Tournament in that respect. The weapons that were fairly overpowered in singleplayer have been balanced to near-perfection in multiplayer and none of the issues are prevalent.
The game's true strength is in the tactical use of chrono-grenades, these offer a slice or bubble of time-shifting power to anyone that hurls them. They project a chrono-effect into a bubble (like Halo 3's bubble grenades) and anything that enters that bubble is subject to the effect, so projectiles slow down for instance or players are frozen to the spot as time pauses.
There are variants of play in the game's modes too, there's a variant where one player has a full set of time-shift powers but is the target of everyone else, a mode where you have to catch enemies inside a time sphere to kill them and a gametype that's like attack/defend where you lob chrono-grenades into the enemies' machine to blow it up and win.
It's one of those multiplayer games where it's so simple its complex, the correct use of those time-shift chrono-grenades can turn defeat into victory and there's sparse cover so the firefights harken back to the good old days of shotgun-to-the-face Doom or Quake. There is a dearth of customisation options for your controller and it's nice to see the option to switch between right/left handed players included, since some developers actually forget that.
TimeShift has gone from being a weak, wimpy, completely pathetic excuse for a FPS into the realms of a decent game. Yes, there are glitches and a few clipping errors, yes it's not really going to push the 360's graphics very far and some people will argue it's a bland looking game. Well, yes and no, it does look bland in some areas and in others it looks positively gorgeous. It's a real treat to see the torrential rain reacting to the effects of a time shift power; it's also strange and somewhat hypnotic to watch the rain go back up into the sky when you reverse time.
The most important fact is that TimeShift is fun, the tactical options offered by the 3 core powers in frenetic gunfights both sp and mp give a real sense of joy. There are times in a shooter you just want to run into a big group, stop time, throw down a grenade and then run away. You can do that in this FPS or as we tested last night. Beat down guard, rewind time, beat down guard, repeat for a while.
The developers have put in some destroyable environments too, with certain walls being reduced to rubble when sufficient force is applied to them. You can rewind time as well to watch the wall rebuild, which is gimmicky, but also cool.
The time puzzles might be a little simplistic but they are paced just about right and you are never short of something to do in the game. The best feature by far is the mad chrono-grenade inspired multiplayer that is a true kill-em-all frenzy with enough weapons and ammo to make sure anyone can dive into the battle and start racking up kills straight away.
I think the developers have redeemed themselves and I'll be looking forwards to seeing what they can come up with next.