Review: TimeShift

TimeShift PC

PC – Keyboard/Mouse – 2007
Developer: Saber Interactive
Publisher: Sierra Entertainment
Playtime: 7 hours
Paid: $11.24 from Steam
Metacritic: 71 (70 on PS3/X360)

Consider 2007’s first-person shooters with either a silent protagonist, a special suit of some sort, or both. Did Half-Life 2: Episode Two come to mind? Or perhaps Crysis? BioShock? Portal? I could continue. The point is, TimeShift probably wasn’t your first choice, nor mine. In fact, it actually felt to me like Saber, the developers, had recently played Half-Life 2. TimeShift features a silent physicist in a special suit which allows him to – and here’s the crux of the game – shift time by slowing, stopping, and reversing it.

The traditional shooter mechanic of “if it moves, shoot it” more or less applies here, but has been modified to “if it moves, play with time, and then shoot it”. Obviously the real question is in how entertaining you find this. I enjoyed the demo enough to drop some money for more. The game finds a lot of cool uses for the three powers you have, although the puzzles they provide are never altogether hard, being that there are basically three possible answers. The player can either select the power to use manually or use the suit’s auto-suggest feature. It may be a stretch to refer to the obstacles put in front of you as puzzles, but they require some thought and are satisfying to get past.

TimeShift uses the regenerative healing system for both health and timeshifting powers, which makes sense given the context of the suit.  The ridiculous battlefield advantage given by the powers is balanced by the low amount of health you have, although it does regenerate very quickly. Combat is the focus of the game, as suggested by the seemingly never-ending supply of enemies. I found it to be a great deal of fun, though – which is good, because the game absolutely depends on it. Stopping time to run behind someone, blast them with a shotgun at point-blank a few times, and then starting time again to see them explode in front of you is just one of many, many ways to frankly be just mean. Less cruel players can just use the time-slowing ability as bullet-time, making battles a lot easier. Or you could stop time and steal an enemy’s gun, or reverse time if you want to try something again. Battles offer a fair bit of choice to the player and let them make their own fun, to an extent.

Much like Half-Life 2, the game begins in an oppressed city, then visits the countryside and other enemy industrial complexes, then returns to the city. Also, in the city, the ruler (a scientist!) does a great Dr. Breen impression, with an endlessly-repeating message over the loudspeakers, essentially telling the citizens to behave. Even the rocket launcher feels like HL2’s, following the cursor after being fired so you can aim during flight. This is one of 9 powerful weapons available, though only 3 can be held simultaneously. The plentiful enemies means a great deal of dropped ammo, although I still found myself running short – probably because of my tendency to unload a ridiculous salvo of ammo on a hapless enemy. These weapons and abilities mean that TimeShift really is quite bloody, with exploding bodies aplenty.

The “silent, mysterious protagonist” gambit stretches to the story, which is unveiled gradually through extremely short (but pretty!) cut-scenes, leaving the player to piece it together for the most part. This is a refreshing method of exposition and all, but it left me occasionally wondering what my motive was other than “survive by shooting dudes”. The setting is an alternate-timestream in the late 1930s, with visual design occasionally reminiscent of BioShock’s. The lead antagonist is another physicist, Dr. Krone, who has made himself leader of this ‘30’s word. The game does escalate, as you go from fighting standard humans to others wearing time-shifting suits (which is very cool), and other machinery; also, there are a couple of brief aerial combat sections to break up the monotony.

Visually, TimeShift is okay. Sometimes it looks great, at other times…less so. Visual effects caused by the time-shifting powers and more extreme weaponry are quite impressive, such as rain falling in slow-motion. Some of the countryside views are impressive, as well. In general, they’re not fantastic, they’re not awful. As far as the audio goes, sound effects are again competent, but not memorable. The dialogue can be hilarious, with the expressions of surprise and disbelief from the enemies after you use your powers generally providing a good laugh – particularly since the vocal work itself can be quite cringe-worthy, either cheesy or just not well-done. The vocals in the cutscenes were a cut above, however.

TimeShift is a decent effort, and can be extremely enjoyable. I felt as though I’d been playing for longer than 7 hours, although I’m undecided as to whether that’s a good thing. It can feel repetitive and uninspiring, and the enjoyment comes solely from the time-control. The thing is, this is exactly what players would expect, and the developers made the most of these powers. The ending leaves the possibility of a sequel wide open, but whether or not there are another 7 hours of unique situations to use these abilities in is pretty questionable. Now at a heavily-reduced price, TimeShift isn’t a bad way to spend a few hours, and is definitely worth a look if an FPS with time-control powers is what you crave.

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