If it seems like you've been hearing about the still-unreleased TimeShift for years, it's probably because you have. The game began as an Xbox first-person shooter under Atari's auspices, before jumping ship to both a new publisher, Vivendi, and a new platform, the Xbox 360. We expected the finished game to finally hit last fall, when we even played several levels from what seemed like a nearly final version. Since that time, though, developer Saber Interactive has practically gutted the game, with a visual overhaul, mechanical redesigns, and more. The result is a game that's not even recognizable to anyone who played the old builds of TimeShift in the last few years.
What remains from the previous game is as follows: You're still a guy with a fancy suit who can bend time in multiple directions, and you're still fighting alongside a ragtag rebellion against a nefarious, imperialist chrome dome named Krone. Just about everything else is different, though. You're not playing as square-jawed Colonel Swift anymore; the newly redesigned main character is encased in a full-body suit that makes him look like a high-tech cybernetic ninja. In fact, the entire story (aside from the aforementioned points) has been scrapped, so you likely won't hear the voice-overs provided by Dennis Quaid and Michael Ironside in the final version of the game, either.
As mentioned, TimeShift started out on the original Xbox, and to be honest, it showed. That's not the case anymore, though, as Saber has apparently invested a lot of effort in shoring up the artistic and technical execution of the game's visuals. The game finally looks like it was created for next-generation hardware, with extensive new surface and lighting effects that are up to par with competing games. (You can contrast the latest batch of screenshots with previous ones for yourself.) TimeShift will also be one of the first games to ship with the 4.5 version of the Havok physics engine, which will allow the designers to use more fluid surfaces and more rigid bodies in given environments, as well as add better rag-doll physics to the characters.
The vaunted time-control mechanics in TimeShift--which brought to mind the similar abilities in the cutesy Xbox platformer Blinx--have been thoroughly condensed. Previously, you could stop, slow down, or rewind time at your leisure, but this proved too complex for many of the game's situations. Now, your suit will do all the decision-making for you. At any given moment, it will be tracking all the specifics of your situation, and you'll merely have to hit a single context-sensitive time button to engage the most appropriate power. The developers are referring to the suit as Sam right now, since it's sentient and sort of a character in its own right, somewhat like Halo's Cortana. In essence, the designers have taken the puzzle-solving element out of the game and made it a faster-paced experience more along the lines of Call of Duty--less thinking, more shooting, in other words.
That was evident when we got to see a brief sample level from a current build of the game. Saber has tossed out just about all of the game's bathwater at this point, including the art design and a number of the early levels. The new version has you fighting against a darker and more sinister imperial force amid a more dystopian, bombed-out urban landscape. It's a little reminiscent of F.E.A.R., which is appropriate considering that the new art director previously worked on that game. The old version of TimeShift featured a lot of open, unprotected expanses that forced you to use your time powers to survive, but the new game is a lot more about intense firefights, ducking for cover, and going up against imposing forces like a couple of massive bipedal robots that demolished an entire building looking for us.
Some games languish notoriously in development year after year before their release, but few of them have done so publicly as TimeShift has. This is now essentially the third incarnation of the game, but it's encouraging that Vivendi has taken the extra time and made the effort to improve the experience when it was previously below par. The result, from what we saw during our demo, is a striking contrast to the game that was previously slated for release last year. TimeShift is now scheduled for the fourth quarter of this year, so hopefully we'll find out by then if the extra development has paid off.