Friday, 26 August 2011

TimeShift (Demo) (PC) - Guest Post

In the early 21st century, Saber Interactive created a first person shooter named TimeShift for the PC, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. Little did everybody know that this TimeShift was not the first. Before the 2007 game, another TimeShift was nearing completion, with demos of it released in early 2006. Shortly after, this TimeShift and its characters, setting, weapons and plot were all completely erased from history due to their being absolutely pants.

We are going to undo that event.

You can play along at home too! If you search online for a demo of TimeShift for the PC, you'll find this version and the released version all mixed together. This version of TimeShift is dated 2006.

You are Michael Swift, the world's first Chrononaut, wearing a $3 billion Quantum suit capable of shifting time.

Swift got ripped off, I think. For $3 billion, I'd expect a helmet. And boots that don't look like bunny feet.

Gage Blackwood's various Jumpsuits from the The Journeyman Project series look way cooler. The first ones look like massive spacesuits, but the one from TJP 3 is just awesome. Swift's just got some Quake armour with some glowy arm and leg bits on.

So what are we doing today, Mike?

I'm supposed to infiltrate a facility run by Krone, the corrupt despot of the universe. The first stage is to get past the perimeter wall and find the entrance to the parking garage. There's automatic turrets guarding the front gate, and forcefields block the only other road into the base. The forcefields only go down when a transport vehicle passes through them. So, shooting or sneaking then.

I don't know Mitchell can say 'Maybe your time shifting powers can help.' with a straight face. Maybe they can help! Maybe.

And we're back with Mike. You start off facing two guys who'll kill you instantly if you're not expecting the game to start. You get about two seconds before they realise you've appeared. That's a bit harsh.

If you react fast enough, you can either shoot them first or take the opportunity to use one of your Awesome Time Powers: Slow, Stop and Reverse. I've used Stop, so I can safely wander up to the goons and put a couple of bullets into each of their heads. When the Stop wears off (or I turn it off), the bodies twitch and flail from the shock of it all.

I really hope that both of these guys weren't on my side. It's really hard to tell at the best of times, and the Stop power makes everything go grey!

The first thing that struck me about this game when I first played it is that the weapons are really weird looking. Take a look at the pistol. The magazine is the curved part. When Swift reloads, the spiked blade retracts into the top of the gun temporarily. It's suprisingly detailed and nicely animated.

I like the LED display on the side. Sticking the ammo counter in the top right of the screen was a really daft idea. If they had any sense, they would let the player pick where it goes.

And what the hell is this thing supposed to be?

It's got a belt of bullets and a crazy cog mechanism sticking out the left like a machine gun, a pilot light on the front and a tank on the side like a flamethrower, a bunch of sights on the top as if it were to be used at long range and you hold it one handed.

It turns out that it is a flamethrower. That's the alt fire. The primary fire is a flame assault rifle. You shoot people and they catch fire. What more could you want?

Don't step into the pretty moving searchlights. One false move and you'll be turned to mush by the automatic turrets hidden in the walls. There's a couple of comic relief guards in the gate around the corner, moaning about how they're not going to get a promotion just by standing around. Oh, you guys!

This guy's job is to fly around the city slowly and make the game look more awesome than it already does.

Krone's secret police are everywhere. And they're not very secret. Neither are their weapons.

I wish I knew what was going on. All I can gather is that Krone went back in time and did nasty time travel things to take over the world. Mike's got to go back and do nice time travel things to un-take over the world.

He's called Krone. And he went back in time. That's gone over my head for five years.

If you're not spotted, you get to hear funny dialogue from the guards. And then you get to interrupt it by stopping time and throwing grenades at them.

After killing these guys, the radio CO yells at me for trying to start my own war down here. He then sends me a troop transport full of reinforcements anyway.

But then the enemy sends a bomber!

Slow time! Stop time! Shoot it! Shoot it down! Argh!


Ah well. I couldn't drive it, only use the turret. There's no city to explore anyway. I've got these screenshots a little out of order and I think it's making the demo longer than it really is. You'd think that a city would naturally present more than one path to an objective, but that's a big no-no for TimeShift.

You can't get more direct than 'Don't go that way, player.' - BANG, you're dead.

I'll get my revenge, cool spaceship. Next time.

My assault rifle looks awfully complicated. Did Mike make it himself out of several other different types of rifles he found lying around?

I was shocked at how good TimeShift can look when it wants to be. It's very good at effects involving light and shadow. It's dark without being drab. On the contrary, it's very colourful. Take a look at 'real' TimeShift (external link). Where did all the colour go?

After solving a Tricky Time Powers Puzzle, this guy comes along in a cutscene and starts shooting homing missiles at me. Uh oh.

The puzzle is: You have to pull a lever to lower the forcefields, but the lever resets after a second. If only you could stop time... In case you're a complete fool, the interface tells you exactly what power you should use whenever something like that comes up. The hard part comes when you have to actually execute it. You've got movement keys, three weapon keys, Reload, Jump, Crouch, Use, and then the Slow, Stop and Reverse time power keys. It's hard enough when you're using WASD, can't see anybody doing it easily with the cursor keys.

Before anybody gets any bright ideas, this demo doesn't support gamepads. Gamepads for an FPS? Get real.

I found some brief respite by taking cover behind this glitchy corpse that got lodged in midair.

There's plenty of weird things happening like this in this demo. Strangely, none of them seem to be related to the time powers. They work. Everything else doesn't.

The sound effects sometimes sound muffled or don't play at all. The game actively resists my attempts to take screenshots. I tried it on three different computers, and even then only a third of the screenshots came out right. The rest of them had mangled colours, messed up lighting, inside out people, the works. There's a screenshot key in the game, and it appears in the controls menu, but you can't redefine it. It appears in several of the .ini files, but even if you change it in all of them it stays bloody PrintScreen. Argh.

To be blunt, Mike's a bit crap in combat. Using any of the time powers guarantees a win in most cases because they all interfere with the enemies' ability to shoot you. Not using time powers guarantees you'll take a lot of damage before you can get to safety. The enemies are crack shots at any range and some of them seem to be able to kill you very quickly no matter what you do.

It's really difficult to see when and where you're getting hit. You don't get a good audible response to getting hit and the pain indicator in the middle of the screen is very subtle. There's a radar but I kept forgetting I had it. The interface is so small and transparent I kept thinking it'd all disappeared when I wasn't paying attention.

One thing you can't do is head round the corner to see what enemies are ahead, then load a quicksave to prepare a time power based assault. When you load a save, there's no 'past' for the Reverse power to work on. As a result, the developers decided that after loading a save you only get at most two thirds of your time energy so you can cast a short Slow or Stop but not enough for a Reverse. Because you're often weaker after loading a quicksave due to not having as much time energy, having recharging health (grumble grumble) doesn't seem so bad. The screen doesn't go red when you're low on health, so that's a relief.

You've got recharging time energy so you're free to screw around with the powers. Which you will do. With the flame rifle. And grenades. And other kinds of grenades. Over and over again. Take that, The Man.

Even if you use the time powers carefully, that damn invincible homing missile guy can get you pretty much anywhere on the level when you're powerless. I died a few times trying to figure out ways I could take cover. No luck. Trees don't seem to count as cover; everybody just shoots through them.

That's okay, there's nothing really past this point anyway. You go down a ramp and there's a garage. Then the demo ends.

It's not a spectacular game. It's not the kind of demo you play over and over again because it's just that good. (It's not Split/Second: Velocity.) Yet, what I saw in this demo was stupid, entertaining, functional and pretty.

There's a trailer with the game that shows a couple of the other levels and weapons, so it seems like they got pretty far with this before they erased it. I could be mistaken, though. This might be the only part of the game they made before they figured it was all a bit silly.

Why didn't they release it? If they didn't have enough for a complete game, they could have made the little they had into one or more playable demo level special features on the final TimeShift. Why do RoboCop and Rex Blade get to exist and this doesn't?

I think we're all a little worse off for this game not existing.

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