Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Review: Timeshift

Timeshift gives us a concept that appeals to the god-moder in all of us. What if, in a first person shooter, we could slow, stop, or reverse time? My question is, what if a neat concept actually had a decent game behind it, huh?!

The concept behind Timeshift is very compelling. So is the plot's premise. So compelling you keep trying to push forward, get farther, just to find out what happens. It's a pity the game is another slack-dev'd, console-hobbled, twisted mishmash of bad ideas that eventually it just feels like you're stabbing yourself in the fingers over and over again just to see if it eventually starts to feel good.

It doesn't. And I'm talking about both the stabbing and Timeshift.

Well, that's not fair to say... I don't know if eventually Timeshift does get better, because eventually I just couldn't take it any more and I had to stop. So I don't know how it ends.

Now, it has a few good things going for it. The graphics are great, the levels are competently designed, and as mentioned before, the plot is intriguing and the ability to screw with the flow of time is fun. The problem is the rest of the game.

My Gripes With Timeshift:
1) The Controls
Oy, the controls. You can tell this game was ported to the PC as an afterthought because you need a bajillion different buttons to activate all your different abilities. A console controller may have 13 different buttons, but on a keyboard/mouse setup, us PC gamers like our controls sleek and efficient. Crysis did this right... a simple hold and drag of the middle mouse cursor to switch between various abilities. Timeshift has not done this right. You have different keys on the keyboard for each ability, and another for "I'm too lazy to pick an ability to use now, you pick one you think I should use, computer." Then, to make matters worse, the game ignores established PC FPS conventions for common tasks. Are you used to grenades being G? Use/get in being E or F? Well forget all that noise. X is now use/get in, Q is now grenades, E is zoom, and you're just damn lucky WASD do what you expect them to. Middle mouse button is Melee attack. Re-binding aside, the entire paradigm of one key/one function should no longer even be an issue. It's a failing of design.
2) The Voice Acting
Apparently the game's budget ran out when they got the point they needed to hire actors to voice all the characters... because every single enemy character sounds exactly the same and says the exact same things. A lot of times, when you are listening to them around a corner, it will sound like one guy having a conversation with himself because he's so damned lonely. It's a small point, but one that just makes the game feel chintzier.
3) Artsy Fartsy "Our game is rad because you don't know what the F$%# is going on" bullshit.
Ok, I get it.. I traveled in time and into an alternate timeline. I think. But do I have amnesia too or something? Why else would little spurts of "memories" be popping up between levels and stuff? Just because the time stream has become fractured, does that mean my own personal recollection of events has to be disjointed and incomplete? Is it entirely necessary to throw me into the game's situation wondering who I am, what the hell is going on, and exactly what it is I'm doing here, not to mention how things came to this point?
4) Only sniper-type weapons have reticles smaller than a JFK Half-Dollar
Come ON. Alright, I get it, the assault rifle can be a little off sometimes.. but to make the reticle a big circle just feels dumb.
5) The zoom and the "focus."
I mentioned above that E is zoom. I can't tell you how many times I tried to zoom with middle or right click, or tried to get in a vehicle with E, only to have the wrong thing happen. But what makes zoom really irritating to me, is that somebody apparently thought it would be cool to make things not at the same range as what is directly under the reticle be blurry. All this means to me is that whatever I look at is blurry. When I look around, I should not need extra keystrokes... it should be in focus. A glance away from my gun's sights should not require me to push the "I'm looking around so please don't give me eyestrain" button. It's another layer of disconnect between game and gamer, which is something this game really did not need to hobble itself with (even further).
6) Mucking about with Time - The Bait and Switch
I was also a little disappointed in the time abilities themselves. They last too short a duration and take too long to recharge. I do like that your built-in CoD-esque healing continues to progress at a normal subjective rate even if you slow, stop, or reverse time (so you can literally stop time to heal), but slowing time lasts about 10 subjective seconds, and stopping and reversing time each last about 5 subjective seconds. Not really enough to truly feel the "god mode" the marketing tantalizes you with. And then to recharge takes a good 10 seconds in which you have to just cower behind your box and hope you don't catch a stray bullet.
7) This is the "military grade" suit?
Why do you cower? Because it takes about 2 shots to kill you. This was a poor time to embrace realism in a game based on surrealism. You literally can take less punishment than an asthmatic kitten. This is especially irritating given how often enemies will depend upon the "surprise I'm behind you!" tactic.
8) We know our gimmick and we milk the S#!@ out of it!
Using time manipulation in combat is all well and good, but I guess the developers didn't feel that making you so fragile that you risked disaster if you were fighting in any other circumstance OTHER than an altered time flow was enough to press home that this game was about mucking with time. Every level is chock full of little puzzle-obstacles that can only be overcome with the use of the right bit of time manipulation. YES. I GET IT. TIME IS MY PLAYTHING. So why does it feel so much like work?

I wanted gripe number 9 to be the ending. I was so looking forward to saying "and then to top it all off, they ruined it with that dumb ending that I could have told you was coming." But I can't say that. Because I didn't see the ending. Because I couldn't stand playing all the way through to the end. Maybe this game could have gotten a "C" if it came out in any other month than November 07, but all the other top shelf releases have firmly put it in my "never gonna touch this again" pile. Verdict: D

And that's the word from Bandit camp.


node357 said...

I agree with all your points, but I happen to have the game on 360 and it sucks there too. :(

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