There are trends in computer games just as there are trends in everything else. One month all the coats in Burton's or TopShop or Next, or wherever you normal people buy your clothes, all have hoods and zippers, the next month it’s all cowls and poppers.
It’s the same with computer games – there are the Doom clones, the sandbox games and Deus Ex-alikes (there isn’t enough of those) and there’s about twenty thousand other little trends which drift in and out of fashion without anyone really noticing or caring. One of those trends in the last few years has been games which use the theme of time travel – games like Blinx: The Time Sweeper and Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time.
Oh, and Timeshift, the game I’m looking at now. How could I forget?
Timeshift is a new game, available on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC, from Saber Interactive which uses time control techniques as the major game mechanic but distinguishes itself from the aforementioned titles by being a first-person shooter.
Now, when the Xbox 360 version of Timeshift first dropped through our postbox and landed on my desk my first instinct was to send it straight back to Vivendi with a note telling them to send it to me again at a time when I wasn’t as busy. Then I realised how stupid that plan was though and decided to just play the game instead.
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Set me up the story
Before the game landed on my desk, I had heard only bits and bobs about it. I knew the title and I could recognise the main motifs, such as the suit which allows time travel in the game, and I was also pretty well versed with the game's main idea.
Sands of Time with guns, right? Well, actually no, not at all but we’ll get to that later.
What I didn’t know though was perhaps the most important thing of all – at least to a geek like me; the story. The plot for Timeshift was a complete mystery to me and, going from the trailers and art style, I wasn’t even sure what time period the game was supposed to be set in.
“Nevermind,” I told myself “I’ll play the game and learn all that, right?” Well, actually no – it wasn’t quite that simple either and Timeshift proved to be a bit of an annoyance right of the bat in that regard. The story isn’t actually given to the player all that quickly and it definitely isn’t given with any grace or technique, as if the developers consider the plot extraneous. My old Creative Writing tutor would have pitched a fit at them.
As the game starts there’s very little in the way of exposition and I knew I was in serious narrative troubles when the loading screens gave me most of the information I needed, saying things like “SSAM develops two suit models – the Alpha and Beta suit.” while showing me generic images. Gee, thanks for that.
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The game starts off with a short cutscene of a collapsed building, which then un-collapses itself. Inside somebody hits a woman, who yells something meant to convey shock at something else which we can’t see. Then a countdown timer, which I think is a bomb, starts going. In between this we have glimpses of a man running – done in nauseating first person.
This second person jumps in a second suit. A black scientist appears to round out cast of scientific minorities and yells something about how stupid the first person camera is – the suit isn’t ready. Then an explosion kills him, there’s lot of blurriness and the next thing you know you’re lying in a ditch while a giant robo-spider crawls over you. A computerised voice says you’re in the 1930s, despite the obvious technological stuff around which proves this statement to be a load of codswallop.
A man appears and tells you to follow him. You do so because there doesn’t seem much else to do and you vaguely hope that he has some answers. Then after a while you find out that your suit can control time. That’s about all the story that gets delivered to you for the first chunk of the game and you’ll have to slog your way through lots of fighting – distinguishing bad guys from good guys only by the colour of your crosshair – before you even get a glimmer of some answers.