The name inspires thoughts of B-Movies starring Jean-Claude Van Damme as a futuristic police officer sent back in time to do the splits and pronounce words in a hilarious fashion. Hearing the game's premise (evil corporation, dangerous technology, alternate history, etc.) does nothing to dissuade the suits at the Sci Fi Channel from salivating over the film rights for what could possibly be their next Mansquito, but getting beyond the clichés and the fact that I'm actually watching Mansquito right now and will probably mention it three or four more times during this review, how did Timeshift actually turn out?
Hit the jump to find out.
Timeshift (Xbox 360, Windows, PS3 in January 2008)
When I was seven years old I read a story in Asimov about a group of scientists (from the future) who have to travel back in time to capture a malfunctioning robot (from the future) who was trying to escape a life of servitude by traveling through time to live amongst dinosaurs (not from the future). Of course, the dinosaurs attack, the robot makes some extremely insightful observations about the human condition, and the scientists realize it is they who are the monsters, not the robot (or the dinosaurs). I think it ended with the Predator blowing up a large portion of the jungle, but I might be misinterpreting the meaning a bit.
What does that have to do with Timeshift? Aside from the fact that both have scientists and touch on the extremely overused science fiction convention of time travel, absolutely nothing. I just remembered the story as I was watching Roger Corman's Dinocroc earlier, and I figured I should really get some mileage out of all these horrible movies I'm ingesting.
The story propelling Timeshift is almost exactly what you'd expect just based on viewing the boxart and seeing a trailer or two. Basically, a megalithic corporation creates two suits that allow for time travel. Aiden Krone, who represents the Kobra Kai dojo in this story, steals the alpha suit and leaps back in time to mold the world in his image. You, as a nameless, faceless protagonist are tapped to take the beta suit, and via a series of time jumps you must foil his plans. If this sounds at all like a particularly confusing episode of an NBC drama circa 1989, you aren't alone, as I was pretending to be Scott Bakula the entire time. "Al? Are you there?" I'd ask as I fired a rocket launcher, but sadly, no answer was ever given. It was the most depressing episode of Quantum Leap since the one where Sam jumps into the body of Abraham Lincoln moments after he was shot.
Assuming you've played a shooter recently, Timeshift will initially confuse the hell out of you. The game is not a run-and-gun shooter. Even on the easiest settings, if you try to sprint through levels, you will be blown into pieces very quickly and even with your ability to reverse time, all the king's horses, men and trained surgeons won't be able to put you back together. Enemies are the toughest bastards this side of Lee Marvin, and armor works even more realistically than it does in reality (somehow). If you shoot a guy in the chest, it's going to take half a clip to drop him, so you'd better aim for the head. Of course, if he's wearing a helmet, you either have to aim for the neck or blow the thing off, and then you have to worry about him having especially attractive eyes that you just can't bring yourself to destroy. In short, the only way to progress is to stalk the levels methodically, making good use of your crouch, zoom, and especially your ability to screw with the laws of time.
The developers have given you the ability to slow time (more creative minds once called this "bullet time"), freeze time (just like Zach Morris!) and reverse time for short intervals. While the latter really only helps in solving puzzles and shrugging off the occasional grenade, the first two are absolutely crucial to your survival. There is simply no way to play the game without using these abilities every minute or so, and asking a non-existent Laurence Fishburne if you can dodge bullets.
It's awesome that the developers gave you the ability to use their gimmick almost as often as you'd like (it has a recharge time of 10-15 seconds), but it also lends to one of the games huge flaws: visual overkill. Timeshift is a gorgeous game. It's easily on par with BioShock and Halo 3, but the developers of Timeshift seem to have made the conscious decision that more effect always equals more awesomeness. As a result you have standard gameplay that's vibrant, but distracting and when you add the time effects and their visual filters, it becomes difficult to even see the enemies until they fire a shotgun at you, or their cell phone rings. That cell phone thing doesn't actually happen, but if I hadn't told you so, you'd be asking why you never got the Crazy Frog Achievement, and I'd hate my audience even more.
Of course, when you can see what's going on, the game does provide some very cool moments. Being fired at from across a room, only to freeze time, sprint over, steal the gun from your enemies' hands and then beat his face in with it is the most satisfying moment I've had in a game since I single-handedly ended apartheid and freed Nelson Mandela in 1997's Black Heat/White Fury: An African Story.
On the other hand, the game is incredibly short. Even with the methodical pacing you're forced into, you'll complete it in less than ten hours of gameplay. It's nice that they included a multiplayer component, but the majority of people who would be playing a game like this online are already busy playing Halo 3 or drinking Snapple and selling real estate. The multiplayer system is adequate, but it doesn't compare to Bungie's extensive, full-featured iteration, and you can almost hear it weeping softly as a result.
"Nex, get to the damn point! What's the verdict?" I hear you saying as you impatiently tap your fingers on the hood of a car you're leaning against while trying to evoke Richard Grieco's appeal circa 1989. Honestly, it's a bit of a toss up: the game is a solid, creative FPS that brings a lot of new ideas to the genre, despite its minor flaws. Unfortunately, due to the short story, and multiplayer overshadowed by better games, spending more than you'd need to to rent this thing from Blockbuster would just be a waste of money that you'll probably need to purchase food, or paper towels for some reason.