Like Stuntman: Ignition, TimeShift is another game that was once being published by the cash-strapped Atari but was flogged off to another publisher (Sierra in this case) to help with their money woes. It was initially due out late 2005 on the original Xbox but has since been delayed more times than humanly possible to count. Signs of a troubled development are more than evident, such as the patchy visuals, slack presentation and lack of character, but the ‘big selling point’ – the ability to play around with time – goes a long way to making up for these shortcomings.
The plot isn’t explained in great detail but starts off in a science lab on the brink of explosion. The mysterious muted lead has no choice but to strap himself into a prototype time-altering suit to escape being burnt to a crisp, and ends up caught in the middle of a future war. Sadly visiting the past is out of the question, but this does mean that there are some neat futuristic weapons and grenades to play around with. The balancing in the weapon selection isn’t perfect – the thunderbolt crossbow is rapid firing and will kill just about any enemy with one hit – but all weapons have alternative modes, most of which use ammo more quickly.
This rather tight fitting suit – which is backed with AI that forewarns of approaching danger – can also be used to pause, slowdown and rewind time. This spices up combat no end – you can pause the action and still move around freely to line up some perfect headshots, not to mention steal an enemy’s gun right out of their hand providing their grip isn’t too tight. If somebody throws a sticky grenade onto you it’s possible to rewind and move out of the way, and if your recharging health bar is low simply pause the action and wait for it to refill.
These skills are also applied to puzzle solving, although it seems that the developers had run out of ideas halfway through and ended up recycling the same ones over and over. Pausing to walk over water is a common one, while often there are gears to turn that operate lifts (and doors) but you have to slow down time so you can leap on before it goes back up. Things feel a little experimental at times – early on in the game a bridge explodes while you’re walking on it; if you’re not quick (or smart enough) to use the pause power then you’re a goner – but moreover it’s a shame that there weren’t more elaborate puzzles based around time fiddling.
The main game is fast paced and gritty, with plenty of explosions and set-pieces. It’s pretty linear but there are a few vehicle sections and you’re often joined by fellow ragtag crusaders, albeit pre-scripted ones. We once saw a cohort get shot to bits, with gallons of blood spraying out of him, but he barely flinched.
Multiplayer continues the fast paced theme and is arena based. It brings back fond memories of Unreal Tournament and Quake III Arena, with plenty of high-powered weapons dotted around and boost pads to get to higher areas. The time powers are used slightly different here – you can create a small dome and trap individuals inside, forcing them to move in slow motion. There are team deathmatch and capture the flag matches, as well as one-on-one which nobody seems to play, but despite some nice ideas we can’t imagine it dragging anybody away from Halo 3’s faultless online aspects. But if you don’t go expecting cutting edge visuals and an abundance of polish then you should have a good time.