By now, you know TimeShift is a time- and mind-bending first-person shooter set in an alternate reality ruled by a madman. You probably also know it was seven bugs from completion in 2006 (read: finished), but that Sierra gave developer Saber Interactive an extra year to polish its product to perfection. While we only spent a couple hours with TimeShift, the extra effort seems to have paid in spades.
The single-player game ran smoothly on the 360, though the developers warned us they weren't finished optimizing the frame rates for the PC version. As you hopefully read in Jason Ocampo's excellent hands-on preview, the story follows the adventures of a scientist who was working on time suits when his partner stole one, blew everything up, and escaped into a different dimension. The hero dons a suit and follows the madman, as explosions destroy everything he loved and lived for.
You, the good scientist, land in a dystopian alterna-Earth ruled by none other than your wicked ex-associate. As giant, mechanical war machines stalk the cityscape raining lasers and death on the terrified populace, secret police battle a rebellion in the streets. You quickly join the uprising, using the fantastic properties of your suit to loosen tyranny's grip. Your initial arms include a machine gun with grenade launcher attachment and a sweet crossbow that shoots exploding bolts, but the greatest weapon in your arsenal is time itself.
With the push of a button, your artificially intelligent suit will contextually pick whichever time ability would suit you best in the given circumstances--slow, stop, or reverse. However, you can also override the suit's preference and activate a specific power with a two-button press. Of course, you'll be able to see all of this yourself when the Xbox 360 demo hits.
What you probably won't be able to see is the game's interesting take on multiplayer action. The developer dabbled with letting players slow down and stop time, but decided that freezing or slowing entire games would kill the action. Instead, it's introducing time grenades, which will affect the flow of time in a typical grenade blast radius for about four or five seconds. Imagine you're in a firefight with a guy hiding behind a box. You chuck a "stop" grenade next to him and it goes off, freezing him in a timeless bubble. You run up, fire three quick shotgun blasts in his direction, and run on.
As soon as the bullets hit the bubble, they'll freeze in time, but when the bubble bursts, they'll immediately tear your target to little red pieces. Now, time grenades aren't things you pick up around the environment. Rather, they're manufactured from your suit depending on the amount of time energy you've accumulated. With just a little energy, you can chuck a "slow" grenade; with a moderate amount you can fling a "stop" grenade; with a lot, you can temporarily shield yourself from all time effects.
Like all grenades, the ones in TimeShift take a little getting used to. Not only do you have to figure out how far they'll fly and what kind of radius to expect, you also have to learn to quickly toggle beneath effects. Once you do, however, you'll be able to even the playing field against even the most heavily armed foes.
Which is important, because in the deathmatches we played, everyone spawned with nothing but a pistol and enough energy for a slow grenade. While the latter can be devastating, the pistol is so weak you're better off trying to whip people with it. As you might imagine, then, the first moments of each spawn were spent frantically hiding from people with real guns, while looking for one of our own.
The next game we played was capture the flag in a huge, indoor hangar. This showed off the nifty utility of time grenades when chasing down a carrier. We also picked up a few guns we hadn't seen before, including what can only be described as a semiautomatic plasma blaster, and a flamethrower. The blaster packed a wallop, while flames from the thrower continued to do damage after we'd stopped firing.
The third match type we played was the best. In it, each side has temporal generators that count down to zero. To win, your side's generator has to count down to zero first. To accomplish this, you have to make your way to the other team's generator and hit it with time grenades. To complicate matters, you have to collect time energy from power-ups located in the middle of the map, leading to some serious firefights. To further complicate matters, the developer turned on low-gravity and one-hit kills. That's right, TimeShift multiplay will be imminently customizable, allowing you and your friends to have exactly the kind of experience you want.
With so many options matched with such interesting and unusual powers, we suspect TimeShift will be fun, diverse, and worth more than a little time, online or off. We'll only know for sure, though, when this game hits store shelves October 30.