Reviews: Takes a licking and keeps on ticking.
The first person shooter market is huge but it can be tough for smaller developers to grab a piece of the pie when it is dominated by the likes of id Software, Epic, Infinity Ward, Valve and Bungie. So it's pretty cool to see a small developer make in-roads into the crowded FPS genre courtesy of some interesting and refreshingly different ideas.
TimeShift is Russian developer Saber Interactive's sophomore offering and shows how much they've learned since their first game Will Rock back in 2003. For starters, the game looks great, with nicely detailed environments, smoothly realistic NPC animation, cool ragdoll physics, impressive rain effects and messy bloody gibbing. Granted, the graphics don't hold a candle to Halo 3, Call of Duty 4 or Gears of War, but few games do.
But graphics alone won't make a game; fortunately, TimeShift has a fun twist on the common bullet-time feature we've seen for years. As the title suggests, you have the ability to alter time courtesy of an experimental time travel suit. You can slow or stop time altogether for brief periods, giving you an opportunity to take out pesky enemies or make a dash for cover. You can also reverse time, so that sticky grenade that just landed on you can be rewound back to the thrower while you step out of the way.
Your time shifting abilities let you do cool things like snatch weapons right out of enemy hands (after which they will stand in stunned amazement muttering, ?What the???), easily dodge incoming missiles, and create some funny deaths. When you pause time, your attacks don't take effect until time returns to normal, but they do stack up. This means three or four melee blows will send enemies flying across the room, while several shotgun blasts will instantly cause a bloody explosive sploosh. Nice.
Unlike the bullet-time we're used to, your time shifting powers are absolutely necessary to progress through the game thanks to several time puzzles. Most puzzles are pretty simple; pull a lever, hit time slow or pause, and run through the door before it closes, hop onto the lift before moves out of reach, or run up the board before it tips over like a see-saw. Further simplifying the puzzles is the fact that your suit's computer AI will automatically select the appropriate power to use. You can still manually override the AI's selection but pick the wrong one (usually time reverse) and you can create a ?time paradox? that ends the game. Whoops.
The simple puzzles are enjoyable but Saber missed a big opportunity to really take advantage of the time shifting mechanics and create something truly cool and engaging. I kept thinking that if they focused more on the puzzles in a Tomb Raider-style action-adventure rather than a straight up twitch shooter, they could have had something really unique on their hands.
Having said that, the shooting action is frantic enough to satisfy most veteran FPS fans. Enemies only appear in small numbers (usually no more than six at a time) and often respawn when you either wipe out the first wave or cross an invisible trigger point on the map. This means you will frequently think you've cleared out an area, only to take a few steps and suddenly be attacked by enemies who magically appear out of nowhere. It feels a little cheap and old school but I suppose it's done that way to make up for the simplistic enemy AI, which does take cover but not for long; instead, they prefer rushing you but only one at a time.
With your time powers and unimpressive enemy AI, you would think you'd be able to plow through the game like an invincible juggernaut but you'd be wrong. With the exception of the one-hit, one-kill Thunderbolt explosive-tipped crossbow (similar to the Torque Bow in Gears of War but with no charge time and a sniper scope), your weapons are pretty wimpy. When enemies are still standing after two or three point-blank shotgun blasts, you know something's wrong. Enemy shots are also pretty darn accurate and with several of them blasting at you, your health can diminish pretty quickly if you're out in the open.
Fortunately, your suit will automatically regenerate your health if you're behind cover. Unfortunately, most cover is destructible; crates, fences, walls and even thick concrete blocks can be realistically chipped away or destroyed altogether by enemy fire ? very cool.
Even though your suit is futuristic, the game actually takes place in the past. Dr. Krone, the brilliant physicist who invented the time suit, stole the first prototype (the Alpha suit) and traveled back in time, but not before he planted explosives throughout the research facility. You play a mysterious physicist (so mysterious we never find out your name or what the heck you were doing there in the first place) who takes the advanced Beta suit to follow Krone in the past. You travel back to 1939 where Krone has created a Nazi-like police state complete with advanced weaponry like plasma rifles, sniper rifles with laser sights, heavily armored mechs, helicopter-like gunships and huge armored zeppelins. You use your time powers to help the underground resistance fight back against Krone and his sadistic army.
It's a cool concept but the story really never develops. For example, you see flashbacks of events prior to Krone's sabotage but they're only random snippets that don't make a lot of sense. You also don't know why Krone went crazy and decided to set up a dictatorship in the past. The NPCs are pretty generic too; in fact, they can be damn annoying at times, continuously repeating commands and phrases so much that you find yourself yelling at them to shut the hell up. There's no character development at all, which feels like a missed opportunity to build a cool story and then have flaky characters which kill the immersion.
Fortunately, once you finish the 10-12 hour campaign you can hop online for some healthy 16-player fragfests. Time powers take the form of special Chrono grenades in multiplayer, which causes time to slow, pause or reverse for anyone caught in the blast. The Time Resistance powerup makes you immune to Chrono grenades as does Time Shield, which has the added benefit of slowing down bullets around you. These power-ups make for a unique twist to the usual run and gun multi-player gameplay. The usual deathmatch, team deathmatch and capture the flag appear along with Meltdown Madness, where both teams have a machine that counts down a timer; the team whose machine counts down first wins so it's important to keep chucking Chrono grenades at your opponent's machine to slow it down.
As with most FPS games, multi-player is fun and the addition of the time power-ups really makes things interesting (and sometimes frustrating if you keep getting caught in Chrono grenades) but with so many stellar shooters out there, it's tough to find anyone playing. And since most of the game's Achievements are for multi-player, this will no doubt turn Achievement junkies into sad puppies.