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Review: Timeshift

Posted Jul-21 2008 by ron, created under common review policies
For PS3, mandatory harddrive installation: 419MB (takes about a minute)

Through all the stylistic variations, Timeshift's engine always keeps up and always keeps delivering. There's no shortage of bumpy and/or shiny, dynamic shadows and lights and convincing surface materials. Especially when you begin facing enemies that share some of your time manipulation powers, the new threat combined with the moving, flickering shadows and the excellent audio can produce a couple genuinely eerie moments. Like with every other type of ambience the game touches, it moves away from that way before it becomes stale, and switches over to something different.

This is one of those moments in Timeshift that remind me of Doom 3, with bumpy, bulky metal contraptions and sparse light casting sharp shadows.

Timeshift should take around 18 to 20 hours to complete, and if you couldn't tell already, is one heck of a ride. Clearly many of its elements are borrowed from, or at least inspired by other popular shooters, but Timeshift does them all flawlessly, and what's more important, it doesn't trudge on with one thing forever to fill up a target game length at the expense of pacing. It just moves on to the next thing, plausibly switches over to a new location built with a new style, while still keeping the feel of a cohesive overall place. In that respect it one-ups all of its obvious role-models.
The time manipulation as an integral, required part of combat is the constant of the game, while everything around it is in pleasant, soothing flux. Ranges, widths, visibility, type of available cover, viability of weapons, that all is under constant adjustment. There aren't many different types of enemies, but they wield different weapons, sometimes even shields, use cover, and work together in groups to always provide a challenge.
The design also incorporates good forward guidance to the player, with rooms clearly distinct, mostly asymmetric and with strategically placed highlights. It wouldn't even require so much guidance because it shows a radar with an objective compass at all times, but it's nice to have it both.

Another level, another distinct visual style. This scene also happens to appear in the demo, but if you expect the whole game to keep this tone, you're in for quite a few surprises.

As a word of advice, I recommend playing on "Skilled" at least, not on the default "Casual" setting. Challenge is important. The monikers alone would make it clear that the low difficulty level is not suitable for experienced gamers, and, indeed, if you disallow the game from pushing you so hard, its time manipulation mechanic will lose most of its relevance. As with every shooter really, if you want to have fun, play on a harder difficulty setting.
If Timeshift had a marketing budget, friendly representatives would have visited reviewers to tell them that face-to-face, but fortunately I don't need such hints. I just happen to remember these things on my own and apply them to every game, no matter where it came from.

Rating for Timeshift

+2, highest possible score

Classification (not part of the rating)

Story focus: two alternate reality dictatorship overthrowings
Style focus: two secret agents and a half-rusty, half-shiny pipe
Mechanics focus: two soldering irons, two hammers

As far as single-player experiences go, there is simply nothing else I could demand from a first-person shooter. Timeshift has, and nails everything: perfect controls and feel of movement, great encounters, excellent guidance, tons of variety, an impressive engine and a hallmark gimmick that actually makes the game more strategic and more engaging. By giving the player that tool to compensate in a pinch, the game can rack up the challenge of all, even the most basic enemies, and that makes it all that more satisfying. The story and plot are just there, presented through very short FMV clips and radio chatter, which is nicely unintrusive on the gameplay.
Also of note is the sheer convenience of play. Unlike certain lesser shooters, when you bump against a tight crawlspace in Timeshift, the game puts you into crouch mode automatically, and once you leave the crawlspace, because you didn't explicitly go into crouch mode yourself, your character will stand up again, automatically as well. Ladders, likewise, are handled with elegance, allowing seamless ascent and reliable descent, without superfluous action buttons, careful crawling towards the handrail and falling to your death.

The one moment in the campaign that felt iffy was the rocky switch between the last two levels, where the game kind of just jumped from preparing to go somewhere to already being there, as if a transitional level was missing for some reason. Otherwise no complaints. Nothing is half-baked. Everything Timeshift touches even briefly, it turns into excellence.

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