TimeShift review

16 Jan 2008

An interesting idea shoe-horned into a very generic first-person shooter.

Price when reviewed: 
18inc VAT
3

Originally slated for release in 2006, the first version of TimeShift floundered, with publisher Sierra believing the title wouldn't compete against Unreal Tournament 3 and BioShock. A complete redesign followed to ensure the game could stand alongside these illustrious games without embarrassment.

The irony is that for all the delay and style changes, it still can't compete: TimeShift, despite the intriguing time alteration, never manages to rise above mediocrity, and is further shamed in a year when the likes of Crysis and Call of Duty 4 have truly raised the bar.

The plot focuses on the plans of twisted scientist Dr Krone, who's invented a time machine, zoomed back to the 1930s and founded a dystopian society in his name. You're a physicist who's zipped into another time-travelling suit and sent after the evil dictator.

Time-bending additions apart, gameplay mechanics are similar to most other FPS games. Beginning in a grimy city, you convene with a group of rebel fighters surrounded by video screens of Dr Krone telling them to behave - it's all a bit 1984. You take down Krone's, well, cronies with a variety of weapons that straddle realism and fantasy: a shotgun hurls out serrated shrapnel, and a crossbow launches explosive bolts.

The game's malleable approach to time is its biggest success, and you're equipped with a variety of methods for bending the rules. Each power expends a limited supply of energy, with pausing time requiring the most. Time reversal is possible, which is handy for solving certain puzzles and rescuing yourself from precarious situations.

Unfortunately, you're never really given free reign with these powers. The game suggests which abilities work best in certain situations, but although you can use any power at any time TimeShift is far too linear - choosing an alternative skill often makes no sense. You're funnelled from street to street as, time after time, first-person clichés are rolled out to slow your progress: barrels block off corridors, or the only possible route will be a green-lighted door, all others being locked with a red light.

It's like The Terminator being followed around all day by an overprotective mother: every time something goes wrong - bar death - you can reverse or pause time to regain health and extract yourself from lethal situations. The linear environments, while pleasing on the eye, also encourage you to merely pop your head above the parapet and fire off some quick shots, rather than the all-guns-blazing attitude the hefty weaponry begs for.

The extra development has obviously paid off where graphics are concerned. It's no Crysis-beater, but the dystopian world you fight in is evocative, with rain streaking down your visor and a huge number of structures fully destructible. Your foes receive this treatment, too, flopping around comically when killed. The AI is decent, with soldiers shouting at each other to man powerful guns should you kill the previous operator.

Multiplayer is well catered for, with the usual range of game modes spread over more than a dozen well-designed maps.

In a year that's seen a near-constant stream of innovative blockbuster first-person games, this may want to reverse a few years so it can really stand out.