Where's Marty McFly When You Need Him?
I’m absolutely certain I played Timeshift before. I felt like I’d worn this tricked-out supersuit before, seen this drab color scheme before, killed these fascist troopers before, fired each of these semi-futuristic weapons before, and walked through these post-apocalyptic streets a million times before. Was I caught in a time paradox?
Maybe. The more likely culprit, though, is FPS-itis, a disease known to infect over three-quarters of all first-person shooters. The only way to know if a game suffers from FPS-itis is to look for the telltale signs of derivative gameplay and clichéd FPS conventions. Suffice it to say, TimeShift is ill and needs plenty of fluids and bed-rest.
The game’s abysmally skeletal story opens with an evil physicist stealing a suit that can alter time and causing a change in the timeline. Instead of following in Biff’s footsteps and building his fortune through gambling, the evil Dr. Krone now controls the world by talking a bunch of mumbo-jumbo about enslavement and world domination. You play a good physicist (no, not that physicist), and it’s your job to wear the only other time suit in existence (what luck!) and bring an end to the other physicist’s ranting and raving. And, trust me, my cursory summary of the story is much more coherent and fleshed out than what you’ll find in the game.
Gameplay can be summed up even more easily. You wander through a post-apocalyptic environment, shooting anything that looks remotely threatening. This isn’t to say that anything stands out as particularly wrong with the gameplay mechanics. Movement and aiming both work smoothly and responsively. Level design is a good mix of tight hallways and expansive rooms. An arsenal built of the usual suspects is available: pistol, shotgun, sniper weapon, automatic rifle, grenades, etc. While the game does nothing wrong in these respects, nothing sticks out as particularly refreshing or exciting, either.
As in Half Life 2, you’ll run into NPCs who like to talk and who try, in vain, to flesh out the story. Elsewhere, the game tries to borrow from other storytelling techniques from Half-Life 2. In one of the game’s most obviously derivative areas, you’ll wander through a debris-filled city listening to the fascistic propoganda of the evil Dr. Krone broadcast on oversized displays in every corner of the city. You also find yourself on the side of a group of insurgents fighting against the dictatorial rule of Dr. Krone. But City 17, this is not.
And as in Halo, your suit will recharge its shield when you’re safely out of harm’s way. Your grenades (with a curiously familiar blue glow) will also stick to enemies. Everything else is pretty much par for the FPS course. Playing through the game quickly becomes an exercise in noting which other games TimeShift borrows from.
The game’s single saving grace is its use of the time suit’s powers. Starting very early in the game, you have the ability to slow, stop, and reverse time. As in the Prince of Persia, your time meter drains whenever you manipulate time, and similar to your shield, recharges by staying out of danger. It’s endlessly fun to watch as your enemies slow helplessly to a crawl as you blast away at them. Stopping time, planting a grenade on some poor soul, restarting time, and watching as he is blown to bits is a sight every gamer should witness. While reversing time doesn’t have many creative uses in battle, it does get put to use in a handful of environmental puzzles. Unfortunately, once you get the sense for how time manipulation works, the puzzles are a breeze.
As enjoyable as it is to assault your enemies with your time powers, doing so makes most battles so ridiculously easy that you feel like you’re cheating. Most of your battle strategy amounts to slowing or stopping time, killing and/or disarming your enemies, hiding out and recharging your time powers, then repeating the process. And while the enemy AI isn’t bad, it rarely puts up a fight. More often than not, enemies are about as smart as rocks (and just as fast) once you put your powers to use.
As with nearly everything else in TimeShift-land, sound effects are standard FPS fare. Bullets, weapon fire, and your enemies’ cries of agony all sound appropriately FPS-like. The one great addition, however, are the bits of dialogue you’ll hear from enemies when they’ve discovered that you’ve stolen their weapon during a moment of frozen time. They’ll also freak out when they see you change your position so quickly during a slowed sequence. It’s always fun to make your enemies feel stupid, no matter how repetitive or easy it might be.
Though there’s no offline multiplayer, online multiplayer contains a healthy mix of typical shooter modes: deathmatch, team deathmatch, capture the flag, and one-on-one. The game throws one wrench into the works by introducing “chrono grenades” which create a small sphere in which time is either slowed, stopped, or reversed. As with the single-player campaign, though, this introduces a minor novelty that doesn’t change the stale conventions of the genre.
Additionally, there are two game modes specific to TimeShift, King of Time, and Meltdown Madness. In King of Time (a twist on king of the hill), the “king” is impervious to time effects, and in Meltdown Madness, teams try to prevent the other team’s timer, manifested as a base, from counting down by throwing chrono grenades at it. There’s plenty here to keep you busy… if you haven’t played any other online FPS in the past five years.
Hopscotching its way from borrowed concept to borrowed concept, TimeShift is substantially less than the sum of its all-too-obvious parts. Many fans of the genre may take comfort in finding so many familiar, tried-and-true conventions. Many more, however, will likely dismiss this game amidst the glut of first-person shooters due out in the next couple of months. It’s not a bad game, but it’s also not a great one. If you’ve seen one war-torn urban landscape, you’ve seen them all. And you’ve seen this one many, many times before.