Monday, March 03, 2008

Timeshift Playstation 3 review

TimeShift has been in development for some time now, so long in fact that it was originally intended as a PS2 release, before being re-crafted for it's younger sibling to enjoy sadly at times this seems all too apparent.

The Story

The opening sequence is promising with a newsfeed from outside a destroyed laboratory before everything including the blast rewinds and your viewpoint switches to the last few moments inside the lab. Someone wearing a fancy suit plants a bomb and 'vanishes' you the unseen hero don a similar suit just as the bomb goes off and then everything freezes before you're hit with a montage of images and awake in a bombed-out alley listening to someone on a big public screen talk about registration and killing POWs; a voice from the suit tells you you're in an alternate 1930's you watch a giant mechanical four legged death machine stomp past you before you black out.

You're picked up by a resistance member who takes you to see his bosses, despite not knowing who you are and that you later discover you're dressed in the same way as some of the enemy. You then have to prove your worth, beat the bad guy you saw jumping out of the lab and nick his suit controller to repair your own.


Here's the bugbear, you can't change them; they're the standard FPS set-up, but you can't change them.

Controlling time.

You don't get this ability to start with or for most of the first level it's an auto function controlled by the suit that only activates in emergencies, when you first hit an emergency it malfunctions and you gain control… sort of.

See you have three options Slow, Stop, and Rewind mapped to the square, triangle, and circle buttons each running your time energy down by different amounts. Press the left trigger then one of these and voila, except you don't need to. Just press the left trigger and the 'suit' will decide what is most appropriate to the situation, the buttons are just to override its decision.

This is a problem although you can override the controls the simplest option is to just accept the suit's decision, except at times it can be completely wrong, Stop time to walk through the flames, step forward to take out some guards and the suit will still default to the energy sapping Stop rather then the longer-lasting Slow. I lost count of the number of times I expected a Slow and got a Stop because the game was expecting me to perform a certain action close to where I was standing. It does highlight which option is defaulted if you can spare the time to look at it.

As a result on subsequent plays I ignored the default option and always opted to override the system.


Not bad, not good; but not bad. Shooting one lone guy brought in a nearby bunch to surround my position, that said I had a duck shoot when I hid in the back of a lorry and an squad came round to investigate one at a time.


Here's the killer. At times you think this is nice - bleak tenements constant rain, which also slows, stops and rewinds, then you start to move and it all goes wrong. As has been mentioned elsewhere I play on an SD screen that means the PS3 doesn't have to generate as many pixels to throw at me, despite this it couldn't keep up with the camera moving; extreme vertical tearing.

What's vertical tearing? Point your camera at that post, now move from side to side and you'll see that the post splits in two; the two halves aren't being updated at the same time. Well that's what you get in TimeShift; not in just one enemy or feature heavy level, but all the time and with every single movement.

[Before Dan or someone else mentions it, apparently the vertical tearing is a PS3 only 'feature' and doesn't appear on the Xbox360]

It gets even worse when you get out into the sun - all the shadows are hard-edged. It sounds silly, but again it hurts the eye and even reduces visibility. On one level climbing up some scaffolding the paths were edged with wire mesh, I couldn't tell at times what was wire mesh blocking my path and what was a shadow cast by the mesh. Oh yes that's right you don't cast a shadow so that's no guide either.

Everything is just too harsh and jerky. The game is simply unplayable for any length of time due to eyestrain.


With the aforementioned caveats the time-controlling aspect of the game is fun, but can readily become too easy. Get a hold of the easily dodged slow-moving one-shot kill crossbow and you can simply Stop/slow time for a headshot every single time; with ammo crates that refill all held weapons being plentiful you never need use another weapon.

Stop time and you can snatch their weapon out of their hands, start time again and laugh at the expression on their faces; sounds good doesn't it - well it doesn't work. The first problem with it is that you can only carry three weapons at a time, grab the soldier's and if it's not one you're already carrying you'll ditch whatever you were using; there's no option to just chuck theirs away.

The second problem is trying to snatch the weapon in the first place; the game uses an area-mapped context system. What that means is if you're not standing in just the right place then your frantic button presses will get you nothing. This wouldn't be a problem if the prompting for such actions didn't lag behind being in the correct position to carry them out.

This is most noticeable with vehicles which use the same system, head for a vehicle to clamber onto the back and use the turret and up will pop the context action to do so, oops no it's gone you've stepped out of the zone. When you're doing this in slow time watching your meter running out the last thing you want to do is dance around a vehicle or turret attempting to get the game to recognise you want to use the damn thing.

The game itself is linear though press button A to open door B use time shift to freeze these platforms so you can cross, but despite this you enjoy a freedom on choice beyond 'which weapon shall I use' based on the time controls, stop time and walk past the guard, slow time and kill him, rewind time and completely avoid him it's all up to you.

Sadly what with the poor graphics and context actions you start to get the feeling that this came out a bit too soon, before it was really ready. This is reinforced by a couple of major mistakes. Firstly the loading screens are a bog-standard static image with progress bar, as I say as per normal, except they've decided to add 'game tips'. Now with some specific games this works, namely big RPGs, but if you can't figure out how things work in an FPS then you've a bigger problem at hand.

The descending note about these 'tips' is how bloody awful they are and how they break you out of the game "In the game you play a scientist with a mysterious past" Oh right okay "Try using a swarm grenade on a group" a what; what's a swarm grenade? I've never picked up any other type of grenade except a clutch grenade. Yep that's right it's a multiplayer item only. The others tips are equally as inane.

The second clanger is the ending. It's a complete waste of time, much as I hate spoilers I have to do this. You remember that giant mechanical death machine at the beginning; did you wonder how much fun it'd be to infiltrate and take it apart piece by piece? Well don't bother thinking about it as you'll never find out; instead you'll be sniping at it from a distance before somehow teleporting to the site and shooting the bad guy in the head as he stumbles from the wreckage.

It's pathetic you could have climbing through it, altering time to cope with moving pistons, and shooting down soldiers. Then a climax in the control room facing someone wearing a similar suit to your own with the same powers, but nope you get peek-a-boo long-distance sniping with a scripted-events boss.


Oh this game could have been good; sort out the graphics, ditch the suit 'AI' and the loading 'tips', re-jig the context actions, and put in a proper ending because, despite all these faults, the game itself is quite fun to play; more then that it's quite fun to re-play. Instead of slowing time how about rewinding it and getting in position to shoot that barrel as the squad charges around the corner; the possibilities are fun to play with. Ah it could have been so good, but it just feels like it was rushed out too soon. Rent it or look for it cheap.