A Second Look @ TimeShift

(Images taken from Gamespot)
 


TimeShift started life on the original Xbox and PC featuring the rugged, average, white male hero Michael Swift. After Sierra Interactive got the rights from Atari they gave the game a complete overhaul and created the Time Suit, making the player character anonymous in the process. Its a better a idea mostly because it feels like you are in control. You hold time in the palms of your... well, in your suit. From the sound of things, you almost expect the story to go from one time period to another, chasing down people or one man or even anomalies, setting things right in the past to make a better future, but unfortunately it never gets that imaginative.
The story puts you in the place of a highly respected scientist with a “mysterious past” who has been employed to work on a new ground-breaking technology. I'm sure we've heard the story before but I digress. It starts with the aptly named Dr. Krone (I can't think of that name without rolling my eyes) destroying the lab and using the Alpha Time Suit to make an escape. Acting quickly, your character takes the in-development Beta Suit and, as the lab explodes, uses it to time jump to a dystopian future where Dr. Krone has distorted history to make himself the ruler. What proceeds is a war between the governing army and the resistance. I know this story has happened somewhere but I can't imagine where. After waking up from the time jump, you are given a waypoint and told to just go there. It never reveals the reason why Krone altered the timeline and you're left to believe its just because he's evil. You just accept it and start shooting enemies. It becomes quickly apparent that your time suit is malfunctioning and will make random jumps to save you from detected danger. Its nothing more than just a lazy plot idea to move you from one point of the game to another without explaining where in time you are.



The main star of TimeShift is the time control, which is not given freely as the suit needs a certain amount of time to recharge the energy after each use. You can start and stop using one of the time controls whenever you want but when there are moments of heavy action you might tend to forget. Pausing time will drain the most amount of energy but during its use you can traverse certain obstacles, avoid gunfire, or even take an enemy's weapon from his hands. Slow Motion gives you the ability to move faster than everyone and doesn't take as much energy as pausing, but enemies can still fire on you. Rewind is rarely used and it only takes the game back by a couple of seconds but will never save you from dying. Later in the game you will encounter enemies with crude time suits of their own that can ignore your time controls. The best option to take care of these guys is to just shoot.
It seems the usual suspects in regards of guns are present: the KM2103 Karbine being your first gun is an assault rifle that can shoot grenades as an alt-fire. Each gun has a main fire and alt-fire: the shotgun can single- or double-fire, the pistol can semi-auto fire up to four bullets, the flamethrower (aka Hellfire) can shoot bursts of fire, the Thunderbolt is a crossbow with a zoom, the EMF Cannon, which is just an electric gun, shoots disabling electricity with shots that can be charged. There's also a sniper rifle and rocket launcher that deal the most damage. TimeShift never flexes its creative muscles enough to think of interesting gun mechanics that relate to time.
Guns aim steady but are never fun to fire and on the harder difficulties it feels like a chore to take down an enemy. They take their sweet time to die and will sometimes take a whole clip or more while a headshot may only knock off their helmet. The chaos of being shot at means you won't have much time to focus on who's actually hitting you. Enemy gunfire is also accurate and it seems that very few bullets actually manage to miss you. The Time Suit recovers your health automatically and using the fast forward time control quickens the recovery pace. When dangerously close to dying, the edges of the screen turn red and the only thing to do is take cover. The AI is too dumb to come out of hiding and attempt to flank you, which provides a whole new problem that TimeShift suffers from: lifelessness.
Allies, who are all male and have the same body type, are capable of taking out enemies but, again, you are the bullet sponge. While allies know how to fire they're also as dumb as the enemies. It screams of last-gen tech. You have little to no reprieve when being caught in the open and a firefight ensues. Its this idea in game design that makes it feel lazy, not because you have something to shoot, but because the game only does firefights and time "puzzles" instead of providing interesting things to do.
Unlockables include videos, concept art, and level music which are unlocked upon the completion of levels. There are no hidden collectibles or interesting easter eggs at all. It would have done the game good to have some newspapers or videos to give even a hint of a backstory as to how Krone came to power but its never that fulfilling.




The graphical effects are one of the few good things to mention in terms of looks. While surfaces are awfully bland, the water effects and depth of field are well done. Glass shatters nicely, lighting effects are competent, and the effects when controlling time are nicely crafted. As everything blurs, events rewind in real time, or everything slows down as you speed past and it all holds up well. But take away this and it only goes to show that the amount of time taken to develop a game doesn't always mean its going to be the most spectacular looking.
Level design leaves a lot to be desired as narrow spaces and cover objects abundantly scattered about are what you'll find here. Its the same old "pathway-into-arena" gameplay that is present in most FPS games and the linearity is broken up with a sky level wherein you shoot a turret at enemy mines and jets.
Some explosions can shake the screen and are actually satisfying to see, but it doesn't happen very often. Enemies can get ripped apart and there may be some body parts lying around, you can also leave bloody boot tracks, making it definitely not one for the kids in this case.
You do get to drive an ATV on some occasions, which gets caught on nearly everything due to twitchy steering and has a needless turbo boost. The ATV sounds overpowered while the mounted machine guns and turrets sound weak. Its a bad case of audio mixup.

The constant sound of rain on the main menu and through several levels can get tiresome but its ignorable with distant gunfire and explosions echoing throughout the city, these give a nice depth to the action of an otherwise lifeless setting. The downside of the audio being that the guns you shoot never seem powerful in sound or effect. In fact, the suit is more noticeable by always making some sort of sound, whether beeping when low on health, the S.S.A.M. system telling you that danger is close, or the way it distorts sounds when using the time control.
There's very little music present, in fact there's almost none at all besides the moments of "epic" encounters. You hardly notice it and, sadly, I didn't notice it all even after turning all other sounds off just to try and hear it. I know its there because the soundtrack can be unlocked and played in the main menu. What we do get in the ways of musical offerings is an electronica-drenched, moody, eerie-sounding mix of songs that fit well with the mood of the game. Its actually good. Possibly the best part of the game overall. The shame of it is that you hardly hear it when playing 

The usual Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Capture the Flag, and One-on-One battles make up the multiplayer aspect. TimeShift gives us two unique modes called Meltdown Madness and King of Time. From the in-game description, Meltdown Madness is: "Throw Chrono Grenades at the opposing team's machine to prevent it from functioning. Your team wins when you machine completes its countdown." And King of Time has the players vying for control of a Time Sphere, which gives immunity to all time effects.
There is DLC available in the form of maps for multiplayer. One of them has 5 new maps and is free, the other is $10 and uses 5 maps from the single player campaign as battlegrounds.
What gives the multiplayer a unique spin is that the time suits don't come in to play. Instead, the energy meter is present and a small area is time-altered through player-thrown grenades. These grenades can slow or stop a player in their tracks. In defense, you can select a temporary burst of "time resistance." There are also several power-ups spread throughout that include time resistance, energy refill, armor power-ups, and heavy damage. Its unfortunate that most players will seem to rely on the random throwing of grenades to get kills so instead of the hectic mayhem that can determine which player is better its reduced down to who can manage their energy the best.
No one is playing TimeShift multiplayer these days, so the only thing to do is check out what it could have been like.




TimeShift is a lesson in de ja vu and contradiction: you get the sense that you've done this all before with some other game but here it wants to make you think  its original. It can't stick out on its own because other games have used the time control aspects and used them well. Its not bad. In fact it fails at failing. TimeShift is a solid effort at a game mechanic that we don't see very often and for that it sets itself apart from other FPS games. But its this reliance on the time control aspect to carry the bulk of the game that only makes it come across as unimaginative and just plain boring in every other area. A dull story, dated graphics, pathetic AI, and scripted action means you should never start playing TimeShift, that way you'll never have the disappointment of having to stop. Those of you who think you've missed out on it can find the physical 360, PS3, and PC versions dirt cheap on a used game rack or in the bargain bin, $30 on XBL, and $15 on Steam. Maybe it should have stayed on the original Xbox with Michael Swift. It may have improved it as, at that time, the FPS craze was just starting and the time control mechanics would have made it stand out.
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If I may speak candidly, and this includes spoilers: The comparison to Half-Life 2 is something that needs to be addressed. You are given a suit with certain powers, sent to an unknown time and city. You fight your way out to the countryside only to fight your way back into the city against a single regime. The dictator is speaking to the citizens through various displays placed all around the city. The suit recovering health automatically. The player character having an unknown past. There's a bridge level....
I found it hard to review TimeShift because I had to play it again. I've already done so twice before, on normal and hard difficulties only for the achievements, and that felt like enough. Plus the comparisons to Half-Life 2 makes it feel like I've played it a dozen times already. It's just not very fun to play. It can get intense and the game is solidly built, but it never gets fun. The ending to the game gives a finality to this story, only to undo what was done at the lab explosion, leaving it open for a sequel. The longer I took to write this review, the more I began to think of this as one of my all-time hated games, but I can't hate it because it did what it set out to do: make an FPS game based around time mechanics. For that, it begrudgingly gets my respect, but I'll never enjoy playing it.

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