Frozen in Time
April 13th, 2007 – In today’s video gaming world, the development and release of new products has become a fine art. As with film studios, video game publishers know they can make more money with a carefully-crafted advertising campaign and media blitz upon release. The longer the wait, the greater the public interest, but how long is too long? This is just the question people are asking about Sierra’s much-delayed FPS TimeShift.
The story of TimeShift begins in 2005. Originally developed by Atari for the Xbox and slated for release in 2006, the game follows the adventures of “chrononaut” Colonel Michael Swift. As Swift, the player is outfitted with a special suit which can manipulate the flow of time. Much like his bookish Half-Life counterpart, Gordon Freeman, Swift’s meddling with the laws of Nature leads to total disaster. He returns from a trip to the past to find his present has become a hellish police state ruled by a maniacal evil scientist. The possibilities for in-game time manipulation seemed endless, and have sustained much of the game’s buzz over the last two years.
A PC demo was released in January 2006 to generally less-than-stellar reviews. It was clear the game had potential; it just needed a lot of work. It was no surprise to much of the gaming community when TimeShift hit its first delay at E3 in April 2006. Vivendi Universal announced they would secure the publishing rights and redevelop the game for Xbox360 and PC through their subsidiary, Sierra. The release date was pushed back indefinitely, and Vivendi began rebuilding the game from the ground up.
By the next summer, Vivendi had made major alterations in the script, which many considered “campy” and ill-suited to the dark tone of the plot. They also signed Hollywood leading man Dennis Quaid to voice the main character, rounding out the cast with go-to grizzled guys Michael Ironside (Scanners, Starship Troopers) and Nick Chinlund (Con Air, The Chronicles of Riddick). Vivendi also began reshaping the gameplay and the role of time manipulation.
Swift’s suit essentially works like a stopwatch: stopping, slowing down, or reversing time as the player sees fit. This has some fairly straightforward applications like freezing time to take an enemy’s gun or stopping rockets in mid-launch to avoid their blast and discharge them at a safe distance. In addition, the developers have found other, more imaginative ways of manipulating time. For instance, a player can freeze time, steal an enemy’s gun, and reverse time so that the enemy has no memory of having their gun taken. Vivendi has significantly scaled back the gore; in the Atari version, players could annihilate their enemies, freeze time, and casually traipse through the floating entrails. A practical component of the gore which may not make it to the Vivendi version is the manipulation of bodies in space. In the Atari version, bodies could be shot, moved, and otherwise manipulated in time. This could be useful for combat, as with the zero-point gravity gun in Half-Life II. I don’t think any gamer will forget the first time they used the gravity gun to pick up a guard and send him careening into his buddies like a row of milk bottles. However, certain enemies in TimeShift will have time manipulating powers as well, which will make for some exciting challenges for the player. While time manipulation has seemingly endless applications for combat, “TimeShift” will also incorporate it into solving a variety of puzzles.
One scenario requires that the player freeze time while surrounded by falling objects, and climb to the next area using the objects frozen in space. It’s a step up from the usual puzzle-solving FPS fare, but in the end it’s nothing they didn’t cover in the “Time Teasers” episode of DuckTales. As with any other FPS, the public will undoubtedly find all kinds of new uses for the game’s special functions and weapons. An insider at Vivendi indicated the multiplayer was “a lot of fun” and said “It felt like Counter-Strike with wider open levels.” This bodes well for TimeShift as Counter-Strike, with its simple and endlessly playable format, remains one of the most successful FPS around.
Graphically, the game has invited many comparisons to Gears of War, with its gloomy, bombed-out landscape and character design. Vivendi has made subtle changes in the realism of the environment, including parallax mapping for rendering bullet holes with depth and texture without sacrificing game performance. The environment itself is destructible, perhaps not on the scale of games like Stranglehold (a game whose primary hook was its utter destructibility), but the player can damage the environment and what they damage stays damaged. No self-repairing walls or disappearing corpses here, thank you. The graphics may be the best argument for Vivendi’s postponement and redevelopment of the game. The great strength of next generation consoles lies in their interconnectivity and their ability to handle dazzling graphics with the greatest of ease. With its potential for dazzling light and shadow effects, to say nothing of the physics of explosions and player movement, TimeShift demands the most muscular systems out there. It has the potential to be one of the most visually striking games on the market.
Mega-hits like Rome: Total War or Vivendi’s own Half-Life II were held back for years before their release, and the extra time spent in development paid off in spades. Whether because of an infamous stolen source code, a buggy game engine, or a much-needed overhaul, a game can only be pushed back so far before the public and the state-of-the-art move on. Vivendi is going to have to work hard to keep the buzz going, to differentiate TimeShift from other time manipulation games like F.E.A.R., and to capture the interest of the flooded and notoriously finicky FPS market.
Shoot first, ask questions later and then go back in time and do it all over again by Vaughn Smith
July 24, 2006 – If I had a nickel for everytime my daughter was killed in a freak bus accident and to alleviate the depression, I accepted a government position which involved using a time machine to go back to the year 1911 to plant an experimental probe and then once returning to my time, discovered I was now an enemy of the state which left me no alternative to go on the lam in an attempt to set things straight and return to my own reality, I’d have exactly, um…no nickels at all. But if my name was Michael Swift, well, I’d have at least 5 cents to my name.
That’s the broad synopsis of TimeShift, the upcoming time-travelling FPS from Saber Interactive. The boom-stick wielding protagonist of TimeShift, Colonel Michael Swift, is a world reknowned test pilot who finds himself wrapped up in terrifying circumstances when the world he once knew becomes a distant memory. Not unlike Homer Simpson’s time travelling toaster, Swift must use his Quantum Suit and the Chronomicon (the time machine) to get back from when he came – but that’s only if he can survive the bleak and volatile surroundings of the new reality he’s trapped inside.
Gamers will be able to slow, reverse and stop the flow of time while they remain completely in control. This innovative gameplay mechanic will figure heavily into the various scenarios Swift will find himself in and must be utilized correctly to overcome the overwhelming odds against him. With 35 missions in the single player mode, it’s safe to say that you won’t be beating TimeShift in an afternoon. Saber has also confirmed that the time-altering gameplay elements will be available online, but we’re not sure exactly how they will be executed.
Saber has created what they refer to as a “steampunk-inspired world” characterized by a predominance of metal, machinery, and steam power and from the screens and demo we’ve seen, the artistic direction of the game will strike a chord with gamers who are looking for something a little different.
While FPS games are about as common now as the untalented with stars on Hollywood Blvd., it’s nice to see development teams attempting to inject some new life into an old genre. TimeShift is currently scheduled for a release in early September.