Written : Thursday, February 14, 2008
By: Lee Abrahams (GT: jackanape)
Time travel is cool, you know it, I know it, Doc Brown knew it and apparently so does Saber Interactive who have decided that their take on the stale old FPS genre will be to allow you to control time in order to aid your cause. Can a cross between Prince of Persia style time mechanics and Halo result in a game we would want to play over and over if we were stuck in a time loop? For a first time 360 developer it’s a pretty big ask. Still it’s nice to know that someone is prepared to take a bit of a chance and do something a little bit different.
The game itself has gone through some pretty well known delays, as the project was at first going to be published by Atari but then switched hands to Sierra back in 2006. The project seemed pretty much dead in the water until April 07 when it was announced that the game was to be given a total overhaul and finally be released. Thankfully the team seems to have made the correct decision as the end result is, if not entirely worth the wait, at least a lot better than a lot of similar offerings that have flooded the market since the 360 launched.
When this baby hits 88mph.......
Story-wise this game is covering well trodden ground and it never really strives to go all out in order to immerse you. A team of scientists have managed to create two time suits, which allow their user to have total control over time and to travel wherever they wish. The prototype suit was designed with no restrictions whatsoever and the scientists, seeing the danger this could present, built a number of fail-safes into the secondary suit to prevent the user from interfering with the timeline too much and to ensure a paradox couldn’t occur as a result of the actions of the user. Unfortunately one of the scientists (the dubiously named Krone) has gone rogue, swiped the prototype and vanished into an alternate timeline to create his own despotic reign. As way of a goodbye present he has also left a bomb in the lab to blow up everyone who could possibly follow him. What a gracious gesture.
It’s therefore your job to strap yourself into the backup suit and hurtle after him to prevent his timeline from destroying our own. Obviously the game would be pretty short if you just leapt into the split second Krone was on the loo and just bashed him with a brick, so the suit predictably malfunctions and you must battle your way to Krone in order to make him meet his maker. All the while helping out the local rebels fighting his regime – the enemy of my enemy is my friend so they say, and so it goes.
The only glimpses of most of this plot come at the beginning and end of the game, plus a few very short cutscenes scattered throughout. As you are actually playing the game there never seems to be any point that you feel you are directly fighting for a cause, it is more a case of blasting your way through enemies just to get from A to B. If that was all there was to it then the game would be very disappointing indeed, but that’s when the major selling point comes into play: the time powers.
His time is up.
Your powers are split into three main areas, whereby you can stop, slow and reverse time. All of these powers can be used in combat or to help you solve a variety of puzzles. The A.I. smartly decides what powers to use when on the run, usually using stop time when you are in the midst of your enemies or slowing them down when you are at a distance. Alternatively you can choose your own powers to inventive effect, using reverse time to remove sticky grenades from your person or stopping time long enough to steal a weapon from an enemy. Puzzle-wise there is nothing too taxing but the game does at least make fun use of your powers such as using switches to call an inaccessible lift and then reversing time to ride it to your destination for example. Stopping time also allows you to walk on water or move through flames unharmed. It’s all very cleverly done but you just feel that so much more could have been implemented considering the powers on offer, the puzzles aren’t hard and are even fun in places but there seems to be some wasted potential. The time powers also give rise to what could also be the games greatest flaw: they are just too good. Your powers recharge over a short period of time and it’s all too easy to find a safe spot, pop out, pause time, gun down some enemies and then repeat until the area is clear. Even on the hardest difficulties and up against enemies with similar powers the game is little more than a stroll, it seems to boil down to finding a safe place to hide until your powers are available once again.
The single player mode also seems oddly disjointed, with the opening two chapters over in a real hurry then the next two often seeming to overstay their welcome, the final chapter is also little more than a boss battle which lasts merely a few minutes. It’s a fun ride while it lasts but there is practically zero re-playability to be had due to the fact it’s so linear, at no point does it let you stray off the beaten path and the only room in which the player is allowed some invention of their own merely involves how you use your powers and what weapons you decide to carry. The weapons are all standard fare as well (pistol, machine gun, sniper, rockets etc) and you can only hold a limited amount as has become the vogue, but the tactical aspect of these choices is partly dulled by the fact re-supply crates are everywhere and you can completely refill your ammo when you find them. Once you’ve got a rocket launcher why give it up when you know a refill will be just around the corner?
Looking at the audio and visual side there are some genuinely nice touches, the time effects in particular adding a nice level of shine to proceedings. You do get the feeling though that the developer has played it safe rather than done anything too spectacular, generic futuristic soldiers and backdrops not doing a lot to show off compared to plenty of similar games. However, the frame rate is solid and no amount of action ever causes any discernible lag online or off. The soldiers voices can be amusing at times as they exclaim about your time travelling prowess when, to their eyes, you vanish from sight only to pop up next to them guns blazing. The rest of it is a mixed bag, with some depressing menu music and spartan voiceovers for the cut-scenes meaning you never really get to know any of the characters as well as you should. I suppose the lack of a strong plot line is partly to blame for a lack of dialogue, but it feels that you are a loner just killing for the sake of it rather than part of a rebellion against a time travelling dictator.
Your suit can get you out of sticky situations, like self-exploding doors.
Online the game was killed before it even launched, coming little more than a month after Halo 3 when everyone was still in the grip of Master Chief fever. It’s a shame as there are a number of modes that help to make this a lot of fun and the time powers have translated over nicely into grenade thrown bubbles that can trap your enemies for your killing pleasure. Everything runs smoothly, the time powers work perfectly, there are a number of maps and modes to take your fancy but even taking all of this into account the lack of people is the clincher, without a good online community any game is going to struggle. The odds of you getting a one versus one game going is pretty high, but any hopes of a four on four bloodbath is dead in the water unless you have like-minded friends.
Achievement-wise we have an almost perfect list. Almost. The developers have seen fit to throw in a 48 hour hosting achievement for online players, and while you can manage this time in small parts rather than in one go it’s still a pretty big ask for a mere 15 points. Not helped by the fact you can’t even play the games you are hosting due to the fact you have to set it up as a dedicated server, for shame. The rest of the achievements are split between completing campaigns and creative use of your time powers both on and offline. The achievements actually act as a nice incentive to use certain powers and make the game more interesting for you: stealing so many weapons, removing grenades from yourself and walking on water to name but a few. A lot of them will come as the game progresses and the online achievements are easily boostable with even ranked matches only requiring two players. Truly a point grabber's paradise.
Poor menu music and generic sound effects, helped by some decent voice acting.
Wonderful time effects and visuals that run smoothly, but are doing a job rather than dazzling.
Surprisingly enjoyable and the run and gun nature of the game will keep you playing it until completion, not a lot to go back for though and the online portion of the game is somewhat of a ghost town.
Brilliant use of time powers which means it fulfills it primary purpose, misses out on reaching its full potential though as the puzzles and game are made far too easy.
A pretty standard list, with a few fun achievements thrown in. The whole thing is ruined by the presence of the evil 48 hour server achievement though.
This is ideal rental fodder, with a fun single player experience that is too short and familiar to justify a full purchase but still a lot better than you may be expecting. There is plenty of fun to be had with the time powers however and hopefully the shortcomings could be looked at for the inevitable sequel. Probably falls into the “could do better, see me after class” category but still worth a punt.