TimeShift E3 2005 Preshow Impressions

We take an updated look at this time-traveling shooter just in time for E3.

Just in time for E3, we had a chance to sit down and watch an updated demonstration of the PC version of TimeShift, the upcoming time-traveling first-person shooter from publisher Atari and developer Saber Interactive. As you may recall from our previous coverage, TimeShift will be a futuristic sci-fi shooter in which you play as a character who can manipulate the flow of time.

Time is on your side, thanks to your time-manipulation abilities.

We now have a few new details to share on the story behind the single-player part of the game. Specifically, you'll play as a test pilot named Michael Swift, who, like the test pilots who were once recruited by NASA to be astronauts, has been recruited to test some top-secret hardware. The hardware in question is a high-tech, $2 million suit that can manipulate the flow of time by slowing it, pausing it, or rewinding it. Apparently, Swift is trained in the use of the suit, and at the beginning of the game, he has been asked to perform a rudimentary test to travel very briefly into the past, but when he returns, he finds that the entire world has changed. Apparently, the game's mysterious villain, Krone, has somehow taken over the world by means of his own time-traveling technology. What's more, Krone is actively hunting Swift, who possesses the only other known set of time-traveling hardware. It's up to Swift to aid a ragtag group of rebels and infiltrate Krone's heavily guarded headquarters and overthrow the evil dictator.

We had a chance to watch a single-player level in action, which bore some resemblance to the level we had seen previously, though it looked noticeably better. If nothing else, the powerful graphics engine stood out. It renders individual blades of grass and real-time light and shadows along the length of carried weapons, and it features a robust particle system for both spectacular explosions and subtle details like clouds of dust that get kicked up by errant bullets. The level took place in an outdoor environment, a grassy, hilly plain just outside of Krone's complex, whose massive double doors (watched by twin guard towers) denied entrance to the Red Hand rebels that Swift was aiding. The rebels apparently had a munitions van loaded with explosives to blow the gates, but they got torn apart by entrenched gunners both along the perimeter and in the towers before getting anywhere close. We watched as the time-altering powers of the suit were used to slow time to let Swift harmlessly run past a field of bouncing betty mines that would normally have leapt out of the ground and blasted his chest open, and we watched as they were used to stop time to let Swift run circles around enemy soldiers in the trenches and even commandeer a huge mounted turret that would have otherwise torn him and his buddies to shreds.

TimeShift looks good, even when you're just blasting things.

As we watched, Atari producer Kyle Peschel reminded us that although Swift's suit will be extremely powerful, it won't be a "panic button" that you can use to rewind time to erase any mistakes. Wearing the suit makes Swift immune to time effects, so he won't be able to rewind time to drag himself up out of a pit he's fallen into or to excise any bullets out of his backside. However, the suit will apparently provide a layer of armor for Swift, provided he doesn't expend all its energy on using time powers--so carefully balancing your use of Swift's abilities against his armor will be important. But using Swift's powers will be absolutely crucial to your success and will provide some pretty cool strategies as well, such as running right past a guard and rewinding time just as he reaches for the alarm switch (so that he actually ends up unaware of your presence). You'll also be limited to carrying three weapons at a time, so you'll need to choose carefully between such items as the rapid-firing assault rifle and the powerful crossbow, which fires hard-hitting electrified quarrels that have a tendency to splatter their targets all over the place.

TimeShift will ship with a substantial single-player game with some 35 levels in total, but its multiplayer details remain undisclosed. "There will be multiplayer in TimeShift," affirms Peschel, but exactly how it will work remains to be seen. The game is still apparently in a pre-alpha state but looks very impressive visually thanks to a sizable draw distance and some very slick graphical effects. It'll be interesting to see how the time powers work in practice, as well as in multiplayer. The game is currently scheduled for release later this year.

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