16 March 2008

Game review - Timeshift

This weekend i bought and played through Timeshift. My thoughts on the game? It was time well spent!

Timeshift is a game that had a lot of publicity before being released: There was the controversy of the much-hated demo that was released and also then the stories of how the peopel at Sierra (the publisher) asked the lead designer what he thought he would/could do with another year to finish the game rather than a month or so that was left before the original release date.
I'd heard that the new version still wasn't up to standard when it came out so i gave it a wide berth - now i wish i hadn't.

The game is very well put together (i'm playing on PC), i didn't encounter any bugs or crashes and it ran excellently on my mid/high range system: see bottom of post for the specs.
While i chose not to stick every detail on high (such as shadows) the game looked beautiful and i was pleasantly surprised by the semi-destructible environment (which added a nice touch to an already good-looking game).

The HUD and user interface are probably the best i've seen in a game to date. All the functions were spelled out and the information i needed was easy to read during hectic fighting (which was useful :) ). The thing that really impressed me was the options available for playing the game. You had control over the normal attributes such as inverted mouse, key changes etc... but also down to really useful settings such as FOV (field of view) size and crosshair thickness) - something i wish were in all games (without having to access the command console) as i prefer a wider FOV of around 110. These could all be saved to a profile, allowing more than one person to be able to play the game without having to twiddle with all the settings.

Control was the standard fare - WASD + mouse for movement and aiming - but the headlining features of the game are the time control powers: Stop, slow and reverse. Initially i had read in reviews that they were controlled by one button and that the suit 'AI' would select which power was most appropriate. However, a glance through the manual quickly informed me that you have direct control over the powers as well if you so wish (and believe me it makes it easier!). One feature that people could find annoying is that when there's an explosion in the direction you're looking, there is a brief zoom-in on that area of the screen during the explosion and this effectively disorientates and distracts you for a split second.

Gameplay itself isn't too innovative but that doesn't really matter because the time powers, along with the weapon configurations, really helps to make this something special. During the use of the powers, the player is able to move, aim and shoot at normal speed. This allows the player to steal weapons out of enemies' hands or take down 4/5 enemies in the blink of their eyes before ducking back behind cover. Which, i have to point out, is a requried strategy. While you may have limited god-like powers over time and your will health regenerate after a short time of not being damaged, you are quite vulnerable to enemy fire and so ducking and hiding before popping out to snipe at enemies is the easiest way to stay alive.
Luckily, the enemy AI isn't stupid. I'd put it on par with FEAR's enemy AI. Opponents retreat, search for cover and jump over obstacles.

The physics engine is also very well implemented - with many objects in the game world having a relatively realistic weight and interaction. One really nice facet of this is that enemies (and you) appear to be affected by incoming shots and collisions. If you hit an enemy hard enough but don't kill him then he will stagger, sometimes if you get them right they will lose their weapons and quickly scramble for them (or hide behind something) and other times, you can knock an enemy over - meaning that you think they are dead - before they sit up and collect their wits and begin firing back at you from the floor... eventually, if not dealt with, they will get back on their feet. One thing that was missing from this was that i don't think i ever saw a wounded opponent limping around... though considering what has been implemented you can't really complain.

The weapons are a nice variation on tried and tested FPS industry standards. Your pistol, assault machine gun and shotgun are all present in their various forms - though i never used the pistol passed the first level. Every weapon has its usefulness and while not all weapons will suit an individual player's tastes, the player is guarranteed to enjoy using 4-5 of the 9 within the game. The grenades on offer are also interesting and very useful in tactical situations and with the sticky grenade (combined with the recharging shields and health system) it's obvious that the developers have paid attention to the lessons learned from the Halo series.

Finally, the story. While a little confusing (by design) due to the flash-back heavy narrative during the game's progression, the tale told is interesting and links in well to the sci-fi bent on show. I hesitate to say this but i could easily imagine this storyline being shown on the silverscreen in a blockbuster movie with the time travel/alternate dimension elements being better than previous Hollywood offerings such as Time Cop and The One.
The end of the game leaves it open for the continutation of the story and i really hope the developers are able to do so.

All in all, i'd recommend this game to anyone.

P4 3GHz (single core, hyperthreading), 2 GB DDR400 RAM and an ATI 1950 Pro 512 MB.

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