If I Could Turn back time, if I could find a way, I'd take back those bullets that have hurt you. And I'd place a grenade at your feet And then in slow-motion I'd knock your body through the air with repeated shotgun blasts. And there, for a little while, you'd stay.
Who knew that the plaintive words of Cher would be so apt when reviewing a stupid no-frills gib-hungry bad man shooter like TimeShift? Not her, presumably. And, what's more, neither she, nor I, nor you could ever have guessed that the lamest of FPS ducks, the most bunion-afflicted mallard on shootery pond, could have been turned into such a proficient action outing.
TimeShift isn't rocket science. It isn't Shakespeare either. It's a daft resistance fight set in a dystopian parallel timeline, with big stompy robots, steampunk heli-zeppelins and goons who explode into constituent body-parts with the mere brush of a rocket-propelled grenade. It's absolute no-brain carnage, with decent Al, and pretty explosions, and it's also the first game to do something new with the concept of time manipulation in donkey's years.
As is a la mode this season, the hero wears a special magic suit. The magic suit heals you when you get shot (anyone else miss health packs?), but what makes it even more magic is its ability to temporarily halt, slow or reverse the passage of time. Freeze a scene of carnage and you can fill a man's face with lead before seeing him cartwheel bloodily backwards when time reverts to normal, fly off a ledge on a speeding train and you can reverse it through time back onto the tracks, place angry grunts in timetreacle and your opportunities for headshots increase tenfold. Importantly, it's the enemies, vehicles and environments that feel the various effects of grandfather time - not you. This isn't like Prince of Persia in that you fall on a spike, then reverse time and drag yourself off the metal instrument of pain, and as such the reverse time feature rarely comes into play unless part of a puzzle or a scripted event Each time power you're using saps a reservoir of regenerating magic time fluid, and because the game assumes that you're stupid (this is a console co-release) when you tap the T key it'll select the power most relevant to your situation. If you're being a bit more choosy, however, pressing shift and the relevant key will deliver your own selection of time trumpetry.
The story, as told in professional, fast-cutting and increasingly confusing FMV flashback sequences, is that an evil professor called Krone has stolen the magic time suit he was developing and diverted the timestream to his own megalomaniacal whims. You, a former co-worker, are in possession of the Beta Suit and hot on his tail in a cloud of suspended animation body parts.
I sincerely doubt that much of TimeShift is scientifically accurate. In fact I certainly remember a doeful voice, proud holder of an Irish-equivalent physics A Level, complaining "that's not how time and physics work!" as I froze time in order to tiptoe across the frozen surface of an electrified pool of water. The time I froze time to walk through a wall of flame provoked an even more caustic reaction from our resident physicist.
What's more (let's be realistic) it's even more unlikely that wearing a magic time suit would gift the quad bike you're riding with similar qualities, or that crashing into the same time-frozen man three times would cause his legs, arms and head to fall off. Then again, I'm no expert in this field. If a professor of time and space is reading then I'd be grateful if they got in touch. The most immediate touchstone here is F.E.A.R. - a superior game in its Al and everengaging combat, but also one (at first) outdone with TimeShift by a laudable awareness that it needs more than drab urban corridors and gritty pock-marked courtyards to sustain attention.
After the Ministry of Love-esque buildings, rainy street battles and time-delays on the underground system, then, comes haring around on quad bikes in relatively wide-open snowy vistas and Medal of Honor-style assaults on trenches protecting military emplacements. The drip-feed of weapons is fun too, as with any FPS the shotgun is never eclipsed as the weapon of choice - but the array of flamethrowers, explosive crossbows and plasma bolts that open up to you never really fail to open up new avenues of fun.
Time After Time
Unfortunately, this isn't quite the case through the whole game. There is a definite point at which TimeShiffs bag of tricks runs ominously dry - all care for any particular storyline is lost and the game turns into a slightly vapid dash between checkpoints in metal-clad military bases.
The rough-and-ready grit-transplant supplied by Vivendi in revamping the game (see the What could have been... box) fades somewhat towards the game's latter half, as you simply get bored of gimmicks that were super-entertaining when you began playing the game - like removing a gun from the hands of an immobilised enemy, watching him come to and start panicking before calmly delivering a pistol shot to the back of the neck. This said, enemy grunts equipped with gear like your own that lets them speed around the map in a blur brings back heady memories of the assassins in Half-Life - but over all the last third of the game is a bit of a drudge.
TimeShift is essentially a lower-grade Crysis - somewhat letting you toy with enemy Al by freezing everything and running off to somewhere they're not expecting you. To another extent it's a lower-grade F.E.A.R. - giving you meaty satisfaction through time-assisted violence. To yet another extent it's a lower-grade Half-Life 2with its inventive weapons and occasional obtuse physics puzzle sitting in its linear gameplay funnel. I think you can spot the theme appearing here.
There's no doubt that TimeShift is a master of the brand of shootery that cartwheels enemies high, high in the air; but without character, humour or a sustained tone throughout the game it never leaps into your affections as much as it should. This said, full marks to publisher Vivendi who saw the potential in TimeShift and took it from the grasp of Atari - a company who were ready to proffer the game in its former lacklustre guise several moons ago. Back then this game was abominable and would barely have scraped 50%, but now it's a creation'that - if it doesn't sink in the preChristmas shooter free-for-all - is a solid game, and a secure base to build a lovely new brand of time-trickery.
If TimeShift were a movie then it wouldn't be one you'd get round to seeing at the cinema, but a few years later you certainly wouldn't begrudge pushing your bedtime back by three-quarters of an hour so you could watch it on Channel Four. It's little more than an amusing way to pass the time - but with that time passing backwards, forwards and sometimes not-at-all, you won't hear many complaints.
What could have been...
If Biff hadn't stolen that gambling book, things would be different...
Last year TimeShift was due to be unleashed in decidedly shoddy form by its publishers Atari. The old demo is available on the 'net and it's fascinating to play both and see what's changed -essentially the demo's maps exist in the full game, but the pace, weight and scripting of the action that takes place in them is remarkably different Before you might have been playing a shooter from 1998, and even though I'll forever love steampunk, the whole vibe of the game simply didn't fit
In this futuristic first-person shooter, you don't mess with time as a whole--you mess with time around you. That means hitting the rewind button doesn't reverse what you just did, like in Prince of Persia. Instead, use it to pull that live rocket back into your enemy's rocket-launcher barrel, and then shoot it with your sniper rifle so it explodes in his face. It's all about finding clever ways to manipulate time to your advantage...