Among the coming wave of next-generation first-person shooters is the promising TimeShift, from St. Petersburg, Russia-based Saber Interactive. Publisher Atari has previously shown us the game, which stars the world's first "chrononaut," Michael Swift. You take control of Swift, who dons an expensive time suit and travels back to 1911 on a top secret mission. But due to that pesky butterfly effect, Swift's tiny changes to history ripple into a total rewrite of the future when he returns to 2007. One of those darn evil warlords, a guy named Krone, has apparently gained total dominion, and it'll be up to you to stop Krone and try to set things aright.
But wait, don't forget about that time suit! The hefty piece of space-age technology Swift carries on his back will give him unmatched temporal powers--he'll be able to slow down, pause, or even rewind time at will, with usage of these amazing feats governed only by an onscreen meter that recharges fairly quickly after you deplete it. The twist here is that when you invoke your time powers, you'll be immune to damage, meaning you can come up with some really creative ways to dispatch enemies and get past obstacles as you fight your way to a showdown with that old baddie Krone.
Time powers like those found in TimeShift have been seen in plenty of other action games in the last few years. But producer Kyle Peschel described to us a game that will let you use these powers not just to more easily waste your enemies (though you will have the upper hand in combat), but also to creatively get around certain obstacles. The game won't rely on stealth in the traditional sense, requiring you to sneak past guards or spotlights at set intervals. Rather, Peschel mentioned one possible scenario in which the player could pause time, run right by a group of enemies, jump into an open container bound for transport into an enemy base, and then close the lid. Restart time, wait for your box to be shipped, and you've infiltrated the base. Sounds creative to us; we hope the final game indeed contains such imaginative uses of your abilities.
Of course, the combat itself will be a primary focus in TimeShift, or you couldn't call it a first-person shooter. Peschel showed off a new level set in the seat of Krone's evil empire, the war-torn former Washington, DC. Peschel showed us some basic uses of Swift's time powers, such as pausing time so he could waltz right in front of some big turret-mounted spotlights without getting shot at. Things got more interesting when he engaged a number of enemy soldiers and started trading fire with them. Of course, you could always slow down time and gain an advantage in a shoot-out. But how about pausing time and firing several grenades at one soldier's feet, then resuming time to see him blown sky-high? Or coming up behind an enemy, hitting pause, and walking up to him and taking the weapon right out of his hands?
Toward the end of the level, we witnessed a street war of pretty epic proportions, with waves of soldiers taking up fortified positions behind barriers equipped with machine gun turrets. There was even a bomber that swooped in, leveling large portions of the street. In addition to your time powers, you'll be able to fight back with around 10 weapons, which seem pretty conventional so far. Pistol, shotgun, guided rockets--they're all here. Yet each weapon will have an alt-fire mode that will certainly add some nice variety. The flamethrower, for instance, actually shoots rapid-fire incendiary bullets with its secondary mode, which makes it easy to torch pesky enemies from afar.
And when you do set that last annoying guard alight, it'll look real pretty as he burns. Saber Interactive has custom-built TimeShift's graphics engine, and we got to see a tech-demo level that proved the developer's efforts have borne some delectable visual fruits. The heat effect around the flamethrower warps the air in a nice-looking fashion, and the fire coming out of the gun (and enveloping the poor enemy in the level) was among the more realistic we've seen. Much like forthcoming technology such as Unreal Engine 3, TimeShift is using advanced displacement effects to give greatly enhanced detail to simplistic geometry. For instance, you can walk up to a flat wall made of the minimum of polygons and see each brick protruding outward, with no ugly texture pixelation. The game's got graphical effects to spare, and Peschel gave us indications that these effects will be used tastefully. For example, he promised up and down that light bloom won't be utilized to excess.
TimeShift seems to have all the earmarks of a great first-person shooter, with some innovative new mechanics and notably impressive graphics. There's also a multiplayer mode on the way that Atari isn't ready to talk much about yet--but purportedly, you'll be able to use all your time powers against human opponents. Will all these disparate elements coalesce into a winning whole? We'll find out when TimeShift ships for the PC next March.