Achron PC Review
Finally, we come to the issue of time travel - Achron's central gimmick and the point around which almost the entire game rotates, with players empowered to traverse the chronology of a match at any point. You can jump to the past and erase past events, or peer into the future and get a glimpse of future events, although even these functions are just for starters compared to the potential tactics.
The idea sounds ludicrously complex, and it definitely takes a while to get to grips with the fundamentals of time travel, but that's mainly down to being unused to playing in this way, rather than the UI itself. In fact, time travel in Achron is disarmingly simple in presentation thanks to the introduction of a timeline along the bottom of the screen.
This is how time travel works in Achron then, okay? There's a timeline along the bottom of the screen and an energy meter above it. Clicking on the timeline will let you view that moment in time which, if it's the future, shows only what would happen if units complete current orders. Actually interacting with units in the past or future uses up your energy, which automatically recharges quite speedily, with events further from the present costing more than those which are closer.
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Crucially though, events in the past don't immediately affect the present or the future. Instead, Achron features time-waves that ripple regularly through the timeline, collecting all the events they pass over and propagating them in the future. If you move from +1:00 back to -0:30, issue an order and then move back to +1:00, then you won't see your order realised until the time-wave crosses that point in the timeline - at which point it will instantly appear like it already happened.
In multiplayer, this is a fascinating and game-changing idea. You can scout out what enemies are doing in the past and then create counters in the present or future. You can send units back in time to reinforce themselves - a technique cleverly referred to as pre
inforcements. You can go back in time and rebuild your base on the other side of the map to where attacking forces are headed - and your enemy can do the same
. This is amazing.
Mastering the timeline is fundamental to success in Achron, although the UI makes it easier for you via a chart that shows what events are currently active at which points of the timeline. Getting to grips with it is still tricky, though, especially when you forget to undo orders you've issued in the future, or accidentally cause a grandfather paradox, but Achron does everything it can to make the system accessible.
While the tactics allowed by time travel are amazing though, Achron is still let down by the fact that the surrounding game is dull and dreary. The graphics are flatly terrible and while it's easy to tap some interesting narrative out of the game - 'I went back in time and killed the unit that killed me thirty seconds in the future!'
- it's a lot harder to extract any real enjoyment from the game. Achron is incredibly intelligent and functional at its core, but ultimately not very entertaining.
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There are a mire of niggles that many gamers might not expect to see in full, commercial products too - such as text that's not properly aligned in pop-up boxes or having to fiddle with network ports merely to access the multiplayer component. Considering the sophistication of Achron's competitors on this front, this is a major weak point. Frozen Synapse, for example, is neater and cheaper, while Civilization V costs only a few quid more.
Achron's core time travel feature is smart and fascinating - especially in multiplayer, where it has the occasional ability to dazzle and, theoretically, enable incredibly intricate play between high-level players. However, what Achron offers when it works isn't enough to compensate for its faults the rest of the time. Aside from the rare occasions in multiplayer where two equals might meet, the time travel system is really just a rod that breaks the back of a StarCraft wannabe, with matches often devolving into ironic waiting games as energy recharges or time-waves move along.
A single novel mechanic might be enough to win Achron a small number of incredibly ardent fans, but it's not enough to inspire our recommendation.