TimeShift hasn't had the smoothest of times. When the game was still scheduled to be published by Atari a demo was released, which sadly didn't really live up to the game's time controlling promise. Some months later, and now a Vivendi published title, the guys at Saber Interactive are well aware of the problems seen in the demo, but saw it as a way to gain valuable feedback about what needed changing. With the Xbox 360 and PC versions on display at a recent press event, it was time to see if any progress had really been made.
First things first. Both versions will be identical other than the achievements tied to the Xbox 360 game - while a small thing on the face of it, it's a reason to choose the 360 version. Visually and feature set wise they're the same game. It looks like it'll be a considerable amount of game too, with the single-player campaign said to take at least fifteen hours to complete and online multiplayer support for sixteen players on both platforms. So, is development moving in the right direction?
While still a few months from completion, things are certainly looking more promising than I'd imagined. The time control mechanic is still the core gameplay element, tied in to traditional FPS action. Your time meter allows you to slow down, reverse or even stop time. As you can imagine, stopping time is a very powerful ability to have up your sleeve, even more so than the other two, so its use drains your time meter more quickly. As you'd expect, while every character and object in the game obeys the time rules you dish out, you can move at full speed, enabling you to make the most of your incapacitated enemies.
Freezing time and shooting a motionless enemy, before restoring normal time and watching him helplessly fall to the floor in a bloody heap has a sadistic feel to it, but it's hard to resist the temptation. However, there's more to the time control than making enemies easy pickings. TimeShift features a number of puzzles that require you to make use of your abilities. At first these will be simple, introducing you to the mechanics, but as the game progresses you'll be asked to solve far trickier time puzzles. Should you become stuck a help system is on hand to give you a push in the right direction, but hopefully the puzzles will be devised in such a way so that this isn't an issue. The puzzle element could well make the difference between another fun shooter and a great game, so it'll be interesting to see calibre of puzzles on offer in the final game.
Time is the game's major selling point, so no idea is left unexplored. Certain enemies can use time altering powers as well, and depending on which power they use, you'll see their movement change accordingly. If they slow down time you won't be moving in slow-motion, they will appear to be moving at an ultra fast speed; likewise, if they stop time, they'll be seen teleporting around the environment, making them almost impossible to track down and shoot. It's a neat idea to give the power to the enemies as well as the main character, and will hopefully translate into some interesting combat.
With games like Gears of War raising the bar in terms of presentation, TimeShift looks a little dated in comparison, but it's still got a next-gen vibe. Character models - especially during in-engine cutscenes - look great, and there's plenty of next-gen tech going on, including normal mapping and parallax mapping, as seen in Perfect Dark Zero. The audio has been completely re-recorded since the demo hit the internet, and Hollywood actors will voice the main characters. What's more, Saber Interactive are targeting 60 fps for the Xbox 360 version, which would be nice to see on a platform starved of silky smooth games.
A robust sounding online component will also be part of the package, although details on game modes and the number of maps weren't forthcoming. What makes multiplayer sound interesting is how the time control is implemented. Giving everyone the same time control abilities as in the single-player campaign would have been a recipe for disaster, so time is controlled via the use of grenades. The two on offer both slow down anything that enters their blast zone, but the more powerful grenade will almost bring things to a complete standstill. These grenades have numerous offensive and defensive possibilities, and they're sure to make for a different online experience.
The benefits of releasing a demo at the time they did can be argued, in particular to how the public now see the game, but it has certainly made for a better product. Recent development on the title has created a rather fun FPS with plenty of puzzle elements, but it's not without its niggling problems - slow movement speed being the worst of its troubles. Still, it's not due for another couple of months, so things can change. A new demo just prior to release would do wonders to change the minds of many gamers who have already established an opinion on the game, and we'll bring you a review in time for the game's release.