If a few business deals had gone differently, TimeShift would have been out months ago, and odds are it wouldn't be nearly the same game it's currently shaping up to be. That was before Vivendi Universal picked up the game's publishing rights from Atari, and subsequently decided that developer Saber Interactive ought to be given a bit longer development cycle and a few more resources to polish up the project. VU assures us that the final version of TimeShift will be a whole lot better than the demo that Atari released a good long while ago, and from what we saw of the Xbox 360 version recently, the game indeed seems to be going in a positive direction.
If you haven't been keeping track of TimeShift, here's the condensed version: You'll play as "chrononaut" Colonel Michael Swift, a soldier outfitted with an experimental suit that can manipulate time. After Swift mistakenly mucks with the past, he returns to the present time to find a rewritten version of history. Apparently he never saw Back to the Future. In the new-world order, a power-mad evil scientist named Krone has established a fascist state and made the world a not-so-happy place to live, so it's up to Swift to use his suit--along with an arsenal of heavy weaponry--to shoot a whole bunch of bad guys; slow down, stop, and rewind time; and ultimately fix the mess he inadvertently created in order to restore the present to its previously blissful state.
The core gameplay in TimeShift hasn't been overhauled since it was being produced for Atari--you'll still engage in a diverse array of shooting and puzzle-solving situations that you can approach from different angles with your time powers. But some of the peripheral aspects of the game have been almost completely redone. VU cited an overly campy tone in the original script as the reason new writers have essentially gutted TimeShift's script and rewritten it with a darker, more serious tone that should fit in better with the game's dystopian vision of the world.
In an effort to further polish the production values, VU has also tapped some celebrity voice talent to bring the major players to life. Dennis Quaid (Traffic, Any Given Sunday) will provide the lines for lead character Col. Swift, and Nick Chinlund (Con Air, Training Day) will voice Swift's superior, General Mitchell. Rounding out the celebrity element will be Splinter Cell's own Sam Fisher, Michael Ironside, playing the villainous Krone. In addition to the big-name actors, more voice-overs are being added to the game to give it more personality, such as when you'll overhear enemy characters engaged in conversations about your activities when you sneak up on them, or when they express surprise based on your time-controlling antics.
Speaking of which, during our demo we got a look at some of the more interesting applications of Swift's time powers. In one instance, the player had to take on an attack helicopter, which launched a flurry of rockets at his position. The solution we saw here was to freeze time with the missiles close enough to shoot with your sidearm, then put plenty of distance between you and them, resume time, and watch the fireworks. When time is stopped in the game, all physical interactions are also on pause until you turn off the effect, which means you can do things like this and still get away before the explosion hurts you. Luckily, Swift was armed with a Half-Life-style guided rocket launcher in this area, so the player was easily able to slow down time and leisurely guide his own rockets into the chopper to bring it down.
As mentioned, TimeShift will encourage you to use your time powers in creative and not always obvious ways, which we saw a couple more examples of during our demo. For one, you can engage in an unconventional sort of stealth by running right past a guard and then reversing time to the point where he won't even know that he's seen you, effectively allowing you to bypass him entirely. Or you can freeze time, move up to guards who are standing watch, and disarm them while they're motionless, which not only gives you a new weapon, but also confuses them and neutralizes their offensive capability. (Watch out, though--disarmed enemies can intelligently pick up other dropped weapons and quickly get back to killing you.)
Another interesting scenario had the player fleeing through a series of tunnels and coming upon a door that could be blasted open using an explosive charge. To prevent pursuit, you'll be able to blow open the door, quickly run through, and then reverse time once you're on the other side to have the door return to being solid as it was before. You'll have to do things like this as fast as you can, however, since the game only lets you reverse a finite number of seconds.
It looks like Saber is shining up the graphics in the game a bit with its extra development time, too, as some new enemy animations and the like have been added since the demo was released a while back. We also got an up-close look at the game's parallax scorch marks, which seem to combine the traditional bullet-hole effect on walls with a bump- mapping-like technique to give actual depth to the dents, craters, and holes your weapons leave in the various environments. Add in all the other improvements being made to TimeShift, and it looks like Vivendi's influence on the game will lead to a higher-quality result overall. TimeShift is due out in September, so we'll have the final word on that soon. In the meantime, check out some new HD gameplay movies of TimeShift in action, as well as a developer interview further commenting on VU's changes to the game in the past few months.