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Review: Timeshift

Posted Jul-21 2008 by ron, created under common review policies
For PS3, mandatory harddrive installation: 419MB (takes about a minute)

Ah, marketing budgets. They are such miraculous things nowadays. They can now reach out so far to even affect products that don't have them. Rally and inspire the troops enough, and the tribe will not just protect you, but actually go to war. It has been observed in the wild that fans of certain generic shooters with one or two gimmicks will fervently call out less financially blessed games in the same space (which they've never even seen, let alone touched) as nothing more than … generic shooters with one or two gimmicks.
Enter Timeshift (stage left). It's, in honest fact, a mildly sci-fi first-person shooter with one or two gimmicks. That's the material of perfect tens, and likewise a recipe for disappointment, depending on the title and box art, usually. Not here though. I've actually played it before writing my review.

Timeshift certainly has the looks, it features strong own ideas and there's also a public demo available. Still, with a marked lack of community cheering, it just came and went, relatively unnoticed. For shame.

Timeshift's controls follow the now established conventions of first-person shooters on consoles, with movement and strafing on the left analog stick, free aiming on the right analog stick, and dedicated buttons for jumping, an instant melee attack, throwing a grenade and reloading your current gun. Speaking of guns, Timeshift limits players to an arsenal of at most three guns which are procured from fallen enemies or out of weapon storage lockers. If you want another toy, you first have to decide which of the old ones to get rid of.
Still in line with conventions, your health starts to automatically recharge when you stay unharmed for a few seconds, so longer-term management of health isn't an issue. You can also crouch by clicking in the left stick, and zoom in a little (or a lot, if you use a sniping weapon) by clicking in the right stick. So far, nothing out of the ordinary.

It's par for the course that Timeshift throws in a vehicle segment. What an awesome opportunity to show off vegetation, enemy models and ragdoll stuff, all rolled into one screen capture!

Timeshift's differentiating quirk is of course the mechanic that has been hidden so masterfully within its title all this time. The game gives players a steadily recharging gauge representing a budget of energy to be spent on modifying the flow of time. You can either go into on a slow-motion mode, where you are the only entity that can still move at full speed, or outright stop time, which is more costly, but also more powerful. The flow of time outside your trusty suit can also be reversed for a few seconds (which e.g. makes live grenades fly back from your feet into the hands of their former owners, but is otherwise mostly a puzzle element). The game will automatically choose and activate the most adequate of the three powers for you if you just tap the L1 button, and does a pretty good job at it, but you can override the choice manually.
Time manipulation is crucial to progress in the game. The enemies are quite lethal, wield the same weapons (and grenades, too) as you do, and there are usually many of them. If you try to play it as "just" a shooter, the game is immensely stacked against you. Manipulating time gratuitously is your method of choice of turning rough situations around, but as that hinges on a limited budget you need to manage carefully, it also functions as a strategic element beyond just empowering yourself at will.

Especially against multiple enemies, slowing down time vastly increases your chances. Your own movement (and rate of fire) do not slow down. It's only your enemies' damage output and reactions that drop rapidly.

Like most fpses now, Timeshift throws in a few vehicle and turret segments and environmental puzzles (which are frequently augmented by the time manipulation stuff), but the vast majority of the time is spent on foot, fighting various humanoid enemies. The single-player campagin will scurry you through a few urban areas, construction sites, later through forests and mountain ranges. You will also spend a lot of time in and around a train station, sabotaging an arms factory, intruding a military base, dodging through a blast furnace, sniping around rooftops etc. With so much variety, Timeshift's levels, refreshingly, avoid sticking to one style the whole time. Some of the indoor parts resemble the Half Life style of bright walls and lots of rusty pipes, and the outdoor parts (before the snow) feel very Episode 2ish. Then again some of the more high-tech environments feel a lot like Doom 3, complete with red lights, shiny moving machinery and those surprisingly complicated sliding doors. Throw in some trenches, guard towers and wirefence for that certain whiff of war shooter, and all bases seem to be covered eventually. That's a good thing because it keeps the experience interesting.

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