Manipulating time is hardly a new feature in first-person shooters. "Bullet time" or slow motion has been a popular staple in games ever since The Matrix introduced the world to the cool visual concept. TimeShift wants to go much further than bullet time, though. This sci-fi shooter from Sierra and Saber Interactive will let you really mess around with the flow of time. You'll get a chance to play with a demo of the game this August, but we got an early hands-on play through of what to expect.
To make a long story short, TimeShift is about a scientist who steals a top-secret time suit and alters the course of history, and your character is packed into a "beta" version of the suit and sent after him. Your suit has its own artificial intelligence personality that helps guide you through the game, as well as three powers: It can temporarily stop, slow, and reverse time. Of course, the suit keeps you and your weapons immune from all its effects, so you can use your time powers to your advantage. Are you being attacked by too many enemies? Then stop or slow time and quickly unload a few rounds into several opponents; they'll drop dead as soon as time is restored. Or run up to a frozen enemy, grab the weapon out of his hands, and then restore the flow of time and blast him at point blank range with his own gun. With the suit, time is on your side.
The upcoming demo is taken out of the second level in the game, after you've arrived in an alternate history Earth where a ragtag insurgency is battling the high-tech forces of Krone, the scientist who stole the time suit to rewrite history. When the demo starts, you'll discover several insurgents being beaten up by soldiers. That won't do, of course, so you eliminate the soldiers and make some new friends. You'll also find yourself in a war-torn city that's going to hell, as battles are raging everywhere, and the goal of the demo is to get through the fracas in one piece. That involves a battle that's not unlike the latter stages of Half-Life 2, when you're running around the gutted City 17. In fact, the fictional city in TimeShift bears a certain resemblance to City 17, as it has a somewhat European look to it.
As you move through the level you'll engage in large-scale set piece battles, with rebels usually on one side and enemy forces on the other. It's a pretty chaotic mess. Huge, mechanized walkers lumber about, as well as helicopter gunships. Meanwhile, the bright red laser beams of sniper designators cut through the darkness. Buildings will collapse in somewhat scripted events, though it does show off the game's physics system. And you'll get plenty of practice using your time powers in firefights. For instance, if you're pinned down by enemy fire, you can slow time to pop out from cover and fire a few rounds at the guy pinning you down, and then duck back behind cover before he can even react. One of the nice visual aspects of the game is that it's raining heavily through the level, which means whenever you slow or stop time you actually see the raindrops hang or slowly fall on the screen.
We played the Xbox 360 demo, so to slow time all you have to do is tap the left bumper once. To stop time, tap it twice. A meter in the top left of the screen indicates how much power the time suit has. Slowing time will empty a fully-charged meter in about 10 or 12 seconds, while stopping time drains the meter twice as quickly. If the suit is inactive, the meter slowly recharges. While you have control over stop and slow, you can't really kick in reverse at any time. That's because the developers discovered that it was far too easy to break the game that way. So now reverse is a contextual time power, it kicks in at certain moments of the game. For instance, a walkway that you need to get through suddenly explodes in your face. No problem, activate time power and time reverses; the walkway suddenly comes back and you can sprint across before time moves forward again. TimeShift uses a regenerating health system like those found in the Halo and Call of Duty games. If you take too much damage, you'll die. However, if you're hurt and you can avoid getting shot for a few seconds, you'll automatically restore back to full health.
You'll have up to nine weapons in the game, and we were able to play around with a few of them. There's a standard assault rifle with a grenade launcher, a crossbow that's similar to the one found in Half-Life 2, and an automatic shotgun. The assault rifle has a nice punch to it, as well as a cool magazine ejection animation (all the weapons in the game have neat reload animations), but the grenade launcher is useful for knocking down guard towers and clearing out rooms. The crossbow is a decent sniper weapon that fires explosive bolts. And the automatic shotgun is your best friend during indoors combat, as it can spit out a stream of shotgun shells in no time flat, though the reload times can be a bit long when you're in the middle of a fight. There are also grenades, which can stick if they land on an opponent. On the flip side, they can also stick on you, though one of the nice things about having a time suit that has its own AI is that it can save you by automatically kicking in time reverse, which makes the grenade fly off of you. Finally, there are weapon turrets that you can man in the game. An example of this is found late in the demo, when you stumble upon a tripod-mounted machine gun that's conveniently pointed toward a large open area that's filled with enemy soldiers. While powerful, the machine gun has the downside of fixing you in place, and the enemies are pretty good about lighting you up with weapons fire.
The demo offers up intense urban battles, and it should takes about 15 or 20 minutes to get through if you know what you're doing, though your first time through may take longer as you figure out where you have to go and what you have to do. Still, the demo will showcase the combat and time powers in the game quite nicely. TimeShift has progressed quite a bit over the past year, when it was delayed on the cusp of completion in order to revamp the game. The fruits of Sierra and Saber Interactive's labor will ship later this year.