On paper TimeShift sounds like it has what it takes to compete with the big first-person shooters of the season (such as Halo 3, BioShock and Call of Duty 4). After all, who doesn't like the idea of running around killing people with the power to stop, slow down or reverse time? Unfortunately Sierra's newest Xbox 360 first-person shooter is a by-the-numbers shooter that is guilty of the one crime you shouldn't commit while making an action game ... it's boring.
TimeShift starts out promisingly enough; the game gives us a slickly put together cinema that brings us up to speed with what is going on in this futuristic world. Apparently the evil Dr. Krone has stole a special suit that lets him travel through time and create an alternate reality. Since the doctor is using this suit to terrorize the world and control everything that happens. It's up to you to take an experimental beta suit and defeat Dr. Krone once and for all. While that is essentially the story that is laid out for you, deciphering that can be tricky because of the game's incoherent narrative that at time feels like it's working against you on purpose.
The good news is that you won't need to pay close attention to the maddeningly twisty story to enjoy yourself while playing TimeShift. For the most part this is one of those action games where you kill hundreds of similar looking soldiers as you try to reach the next checkpoint. A lot of your time will be spent behind cover waiting for the right moment to pop out and kill as many bad guys as you possibly can before retreating for cover again. Chances are you've played this game before, because in a lot of ways TimeShift feels exactly like every other first-person shooter on the market right now, from Call of Duty to Half-Life to Killzone.
There is one thing that sets this game apart from all of those other shooters, though. The big new addition to this game is the ability to manipulate time, which sounds like a really exciting new wrinkle for the slightly stale first-person shooter genre. At pretty much any time your character has the ability to do one of three things - stop time, reverse time or slow down time. These abilities will only last for a short amount of time, but if you use them correctly you will be able to gain the upper hand on your enemies no matter how many soldiers they throw at you.
It won't take long before the player's experimental side comes out to play. All of a sudden you're trying out new things that you normally couldn't do in other first-person shooters. For example, it's always fun to stop time and run up to your enemies and take their weapons. Or how about stopping time so that you can literally walk on water? Perhaps my favorite thing to do is get stuck with a grenade and then reverse time, so that the grenade flies away from me back at the person that originally threw it. All of these things (and many more) are possible when you start to use your time suit properly.
As you might imagine, these time-changing abilities also come into play when you're trying to solve puzzles and make your way through the world. From time to time you'll have to figure out how to walk through fire, make it through a timed door, escape a time bomb, and other events. Most of these puzzles can be solved by doing little more than stopping time, but from time to time you'll have to actually slow down time and in some cases reverse time. The problem is that the developers tend to recycle the same types of puzzles without giving us new puzzles to solve. Even worse is how easy most of these puzzles are, pretty much any time you're stuck someplace all you have to do is stop time and you've solved the puzzle. It would have been nice to see a little more creativity in the various puzzles, as it is these events just feel tacked on at the last minute and never fully realized.
Unfortunately that explains the action, too. TimeShift is an extremely linear experience where you go from one checkpoint to the next shooting your gun and altering time. This would be fine if it weren't for the fact that you're basically doing the same thing time and time again. None of the objectives are much fun to complete, it's just the same old shooting gallery from one part of the level to the next. The game does throw in a few different environments to shoot up, but even then the game comes off as repetitive and kind of boring.
Not even the time shifting is very exciting. At first it's a lot of fun to play with the various enemies on the screen, but the joy of stealing guns and reversing grenades starts to lose its appeal when you realize that there's no challenge to it. The game itself is actually very easy, all one really needs to do is activate a time ability (such as the one where you slow down time) and then run around killing as many people as possible. Once you've run out of time that's your cue to run back to cover and wait until you can do it all over again. If you play the game like this you should have no problem beating the game in a roughly ten hours. Obviously you don't have to play the game like this, but TimeShift gives you very little incentive not to just be cheap with your powers.
As if the time powers didn't make the game entirely too easy to begin with, you are also given a whole collection of incredibly powerful weapons that make cutting through the enemies easy and painless. At any given time you can hold a few different weapons at once, so feel free to mix and match the guns as you feel fit. A lot of the weapon selection is right out of other first-person shooters, so expect a handgun, shotgun, automatic rifle, etc. The good news is that there are a few surprises along the way, as well as a few guns that don't act quite like you expect them to. Unfortunately these weapons are a little too effective, which means that if you couple these super powerful guns with the time shifting abilities you will be practically unstoppable. I suppose that's the point of the game, but outside of a few cheap deaths there just isn't much challenge in TimeShift.
With powers or without, TimeShift's story just isn't interesting enough to keep me captivated from beginning to end. While I'll give Sierra high marks for making the game longer than your average first-person shooter, some of it feels like they stretched only three or four hours of actual game into ten to twelve hours of repetitive shooting. Worse yet is the anticlimactic ending that fails to impress on every level. Gamers can have a moderate amount of fun while playing the single-player campaign, but it's hard not to feel a little let down given the potential of the gimmick they were working with.
When you're done with the single-player mode you can always head over to the slightly more exciting online multiplayer mode. The online multiplayer works pretty much as you would expect, only now you have to worry about people using time tricks to gain the upper hand. The way it works online is that you have these time grenades that will affect everything in a small blast radius. That is to say, you can throw a grenade that slows down time and only that small part of the map will actually be affected. In theory this is a great idea that can change the way we play online first-person shooters. Unfortunately this unique gameplay mechanic comes with a few hiccups that weigh this game down. For example, it's all too common for people to rely solely on the time grenades. When I played online it seemed like that was the first thing everybody did when they saw somebody else. I suspect that once the die-hard TimeShift players start to settle down you'll start to see more strategic gameplay, but so far that has not been my experience.
The online modes are pretty much what you would expect, including everything from Capture the Flag to Deathmatch to the One-on-One battles. There are a few interesting variations on the theme worth mentioning. The first is called King of Time and it involves players trying to control a time sphere, once you are holding the sphere you are impervious to all of the time attacks around you. Another mode is called Meltdown Madness. In this mode you work as a team to keep the other team's machine counting down by throwing the time grenades at it. The game also gives you the ability to create your own gametypes, as well as add new abilities to each of the players online. This is definitely the highlight of TimeShift, which is unfortunate given how groundbreaking this game could have been.
Despite its flaws, TimeShift is a solid looking action game from beginning to end. I do have a few issues with repeating backgrounds and textures, but for the most part the game looks surprisingly good. I act surprised only because of how long this game has been in development, given that the title was announced years ago I was expecting the game to look decidedly worse than it does. It's certainly not on the same level as Call of Duty 4 or BioShock, but there are moments when it comes awfully close. There are some effects early in the game that will definitely give you the impression that the game is going to be awesome. Sadly that is before you realize just how average it actually is.
Outside of some repetitive gameplay and a convoluted story, TimeShift is a decent action game with a few interesting gimmicks. Had this game been released earlier in the year when there was nothing else to play I can see it becoming something of a cult hit, but Sierra decided to put this game up alongside a half dozen of the biggest names in first-person shooting. When you have games like Call of Duty 4, Halo 3 and The Orange Box upping the high water mark, it's hard to come out with a shooter that is just average. You can tell that the developers are trying to do something original, but TimeShift is never as exciting and original as it could have been.
TimeShift has a great concept that should have added something new and original to the crowded first-person shooter genre. Unfortunately Sierra's newest action game is marred by a boring story, an easy difficulty and time shifting abilities that aren't nearly as much fun as they should have been.