FBT travels back to 2007.
2007 saw the release of Mass Effect, Bioshock, Crysis, Halo 3 and Call of Duty Modern Warfare – it was the year shooters grew up, merged with RPG, got moral, got real. And there was TimeShift, where time itself was weaponised. Sounds up there with Plasmids, Biotics, a super-suit, a hot AI and a nuclear explosion, yet I’d never heard of TimeShift until a Steam sale. Did it go back and erase itself?
We’re a Gordon Freeman-style silent scientist who’s working on a time displacement machine; which somehow, we managed to install into not one but two suits, one of which is a militarised battlesuit with an AI. That was convenient because our boss, Dr Krone steals the other one, goes back to the 1930s and takes over the world. Sounds like he actually went back and stole a mid-nineties game plot. Our girlfriend dies during the event so we don the military-grade suit and go after him, but our suit can only manipulate time for a few seconds, so not only do we need to fix the timeline, we need Krone’s suit to get back.
Altering short time shifts seems like a great shooter mechanic and a way to introduce some head - spinning moral choices ... but really it’s just a gimmick, and one that ironically feels rushed.
When you activate your suit, you’re enclosed in a time bubble while the world is affected but not you - at first it’s the coolest thing ever, freezing time to change positions, spinning time forward to see what’s about to happen or back to reconsider options, but it quickly becomes a heavily scripted event generator and largely useless.
The most annoying is reversing time - we have a self-aware suit that incessantly warns you of dangers (it even warns you of ‘unsteady ground’, aka mud) but doesn’t warn you when you’re about to get offed. What’s the point of a suit that can rewind the last 10 seconds if it can’t save your own life? Surely when your health gets to near zero it should flag ‘go back and try harder?’ But it’s not you it’s the world that reverses so you’re still critically injured, and they all rewind and shoot you again. It could have been a great option, seeing events then going back and anticipating them, but it doesn’t really work like that.
Going forwards to see what’s going to happen is equally pointless because you’re not getting a glimpse, you’re just speeding things up. You can’t make like The Flash and zip around manipulating or setting up events for hapless grunts to walk into, you’re just hastening their arrival, and trying to combine it with backwards to find the sweet spot is like when you were a kid and trying to rewind/fast-forward/pause a VHS at a key moment …
The only option a shooter fan is really going to make use of is time freeze. This at least lets you be tactical, moving to better spots, avoid incoming tank fire, getting the drop on soldiers who you can even disarm. Obviously logic doesn’t apply in any time-travel scenario, but how does water become solid (although not raindrops) and fire loses its temperature when time is frozen, yet laser beams still insta-kill you? Quantum mechanics innit.
A lot of the encounters are designed to be unbeatable unless you time shift, which is fair enough but it just makes it feel contrived or for puzzle-solving not gameplay. Also, shifting requires multiple keys, when it should have followed Mass Effect’s menu pop up approach to be more reactive - after all, I don’t have to be quick - I have a time machine!
The suit AI is underused too. It bangs on about not allowing me to create a paradox - which we constantly do anyway – and it occasionally disables shifting to prevent one (usually in a moment where shifting could end the game early). But why not just have it warn me I’m about to alter the future, let me decide so I arrive back confronted by my choices; why can’t I keep looking at a photo of me and my girlfriend and she fades or reappears as I alter the future? I’m not sleeping with my mom though.
The AI of the soldiers is basic but they have some good reactions to you popping up next to them or nicking their weapons while frozen, and firefights are often fun if a little unfair (they take half a clip to the face before going down) and shifting only gets you so far - as soon as your bubble bursts they’ve reacquired you and you’re cut to ribbons.
Most levels open with us joined by a squad from the rebellion we’re aiding, but they all get offed almost instantly; there’s lots going on in the background but nothing up front, the narrative is (ironically) linear as are the levels, and while there’s options geared toward time-tinkering, there’s no real freedom. The whole thing just feels like it’s still reacting to Half-Life 2 and didn’t see the likes of Bioshock or Crysis coming. This feels like a game that got steamrolled, like SiN after Half Life or Blake Stone after Doom.
I really wanted to like this, and at first I was having fun, but those tactical moments are few and far between when it should be intuitive and cool, and it just feels messy and thrown together - it's dated, ironically enough, the opening cut-scene is chopped together, our mysterious hero has nothing to say about his dead girlfriend or what's going on, and narrative points just feel tacked on or redundant. It's like a rough cut of better games - and not so better games.
Three years later Raven would try time-travel shooting with Singularity, which looked better, played better and had a better grip on time displacement and its repercussions, but Singularity still mucked it up. Time Travel as a mechanic doesn’t work in shooters because to be a good shooter, you have to be aggressive, and any ability that lets you control the battlefield has to give you an edge. A certain prince of Persia managed it, but that’s about it. Otherwise it’s just a quickload really and TimeShift didn’t even manage that. If you take time out of the equation, all you’re left with is a fairly basic shooter.
It also ends on a cliffhanger which feels a little ambitious, with the AI claiming it can’t allow me to create a paradox – oh now you get involved. And that makes no sense. TimeShift is a paradox itself. It’s here, but it shouldn’t be really.