Timeshift’s story had gone through a heavy revision when Sierra had decided to give the developer an extra year to work on the game, but if the script had been fleshed out, the final result is something of a surprising disappointment. You’d think that a title based on the idea of time travel would be throwing years at you like it was going out of style, but the only mention of a year is that of 1939, and then only once at the very start before you ‘jump’ somewhen again, plunking you down in an unspecified year where all of the action takes place. I guess it could be 1939, only different.
A scientist by the name of Aiden Krone has created the Alpha Suit, a device that allows the wearer to travel through time. A second suit, the Beta Suit, is a refinement of the technology behind the Alpha Suit and in the game, you play a faceless character who uses the Beta Suit to escape the destruction of the lab by Krone who journeys to the past and reshapes the future into a world that he rules. Or at least, that’s how it’s supposed to go.
The manual does a better job explaining some of the background, but the game drops the ball in picking it up from when it starts to when you reach the ambiguous end. There’s not a lot of coherence to this story, the pre-rendered cuts telling bits and pieces of what had happened before as a string of events that the player is supposed to piece together. It doesn’t work for several reasons. One is that the broken memory approach feels just as it sounds: broken. It’s a lot like reading a comic book, only someone has decided to mix the pages and leave out some of the panels. Did the hero lose his memory? How did that happen? Why should you care?
The story has more holes than swiss cheese. Did he give the Third Reich technology in exchange for becoming its Fuhrer? Did he make a killing on Wall Street during the Great Depression and buy up the world? By changing the past, wouldn’t Krone have prevented himself from doing what he just did? Where’s Christopher Lloyd when you need him? The ending opens up a whole new can of temporal worms, none of it satisfying.
Everything might as well have taken place on an alternate Earth, or a completely different world that was merely working with the idea of time travel as opposed to having actually changed from the actions of a mad scientist. Unlike Resistance: Fall of Man which did a great job in altering real-world history to fit in with its alien infected future, there’s none of that here, nothing to tie it back to a world that you may have once known. There’s also supposed to be some kind of token love interest in the game that never goes anywhere, feeling like a waste of CG.
Anyone familiar with an FPS on the 360 will get right down to business with the controls, although it does take a little getting used to in how to use your suit’s time powers. If you aren’t too familiar with FPS’s in general, a series of actions at the start guide you through how to shoot, pick up weapons, and generally move around, and learn how to use your time powers to avoid getting killed. You can carry up to three different weapons in the game making it something of a challenge to pick out the ones you want to take into battle, but chests of ammo scattered at key points allow you to refill as many times as you need which is a good thing considering how much stuff the title throws in your way.
Fans of Prince of Persia may get a sense of deja vu here as Timeshift’s hero. Your “time powers” regenerate since you’ll be using them a lot in the title to get through an army of soldiers and a host of natural disasters that get in your way. Each time ability draws from your power at varying rates leaving you to decide when best to use what. Freezing time allows you to run up to foes and snatch their weapons, or trip two switches at the same time. Slowing it down allows you to move faster than lightning, getting the drop on a squad of soldiers. And reversing time allows you to get through certain puzzles such as reversing the collapse of a tunnel as you run through. There aren’t too many of those last few situations in the game, but they’re pretty creative in making you think as to what power you should use. Fortunately, your suit is armed with an AI that will warn you of situations and predict what power is best able to handle what’s in front of you. It’s not chatty, and it’s not Cortana, but it works for what it does.
Multiplayer allows you to match up to sixteen players in your usual deathmatching, capture the flag, and one-on-one roles, but with the ability to use time itself as a weapon in the form of “time grenades” that create bubbles of altered time in which you can trap opposing players in across fourteen different maps. This adds an interesting twist to the formula with bullets getting frozen inside the bubble, weapons dropping to the ground from a foe you’ve taken out while they were trapped inside, and so on. As for gaming modes, two are focused on this twist. “King of Time” allows the player who holds the Time Sphere immunity to the time effects as they try and rack up enough kills before they lose it. “Meltdown” pits two teams against each other where they have to use their time grenades to damage the opposing team’s machine. There are also quite a few presets that you can use to customize your own private session with, such as “Slow to Kill” in which you actually have to use time grenades to take down your foes as opposed to simply gunning them down.
As fun as the game can occasionally be both off and online, the thin story is the least of its problems. The graphics were given a massive overhaul to make the world of Timeshift far more grittier and the difference between this and the first demo that had been released in 2006 for PCs was for the better. Blending together steampunk steel and modern firearms, the Orwellian world of Timeshift can look good from a distance, but close up, the flat textures can make many scenes appear bland although the physics lend a satisfying crunch to the explosive firepower especially the splatter effects for particularly brutal hits. There’s also plenty of earsplitting sound in the game, especially when it comes to the boom factor, but the electric guitar riffs and rock-styled soundtrack should have simply been left out. Voice acting moves the dialogue along, but given how bland the story is, don’t expect to know any of the characters outside of what they’ll ask you to do next.
Twenty four different stages make up the single player campaign as it sends you out to shoot your way through the Krone Magistrate’s army both in the sky and on the ground. For much of the game, you’ll be asked to simply shoot your way through each obstacle course with the occasional time-based puzzle, but the repetitive setting linked to an equally awful story make it hard to get through without being bored. Most of the enemies that you face will be Krone’s ill-trained soldiers acting as cannon fodder until later when other soldiers with time enhancing technology arrive to make things more challenging. The one vehicle that you do drive in the game, an ATV, controls like it was floating on ice, but even that doesn’t change the feeling that the stages are strung together just to give you something to do.
Messing around with time, freezing enemies and stealing their weapons, moving like the Flash…it’s all fun, but take that away, and you get a pretty bland FPS. It’s also coming up against the wake of Halo 3’s release and COD4 gives the player very little reason to look to Timeshift’s vague story and by-the-book action pieces. On the other hand, multiplayer with time powers makes that a unique online experience, but the lack of any serious online presence may give players little to look forward to compared to its more conventional peers. It’s a decent shooter with a twist on the formula, but it’s hard not to feel that you might want to spend your time with something else.