It won't go down as a groundbreaking game, and it certainly isn't perfect. But Killing Time, one of the newest 3DO-to-PC conversions from Studio 3DO, manages to stand out from the crowd of first-person action games on the market, thanks largely to a thoughtful design interweaving setting and story with healthy doses of gunplay and gore.
You play an Egyptologist exploring the island of Matinicus, home of the estate of wealthy heiress and lavish party-giver Tess Conway, in search of an ancient Egyptian waterclock said to grant eternal life to whoever possesses it. Unfortunately, it appears that even though Tess Conway was deeply intrigued by the occult, she didn't know exactly how to utilize the waterclock's powers: On the summer solstice in 1932 she vanished, along with several of her friends. Your obvious goal is to find the waterclock, but during the course of your adventure you'll begin to unravel secrets that have been locked inside the Conway estate for more than 60 years - secrets that will reveal just what happened to Tess and her high-society pals.
But before you can even start worrying about all that you'll need to get busy finding ammo and weapons so you can mow down the innumerable hordes of ghouls, ghosts, and critters who don't share Tess Conway's sense of hospitality. The pistol you've brought with you is more than enough to handle the zombies stomping around the entrance to the estate, but once you get past them you'll quickly discover you need more firepower - a lot more.
There are eight weapons in all here, including a crowbar (definitely a last resort), shotgun, tommy gun, double pistols (a la John Woo), flamethrower, Molotov cocktails, and an ankh that wipes out every enemy in a room. While the more powerful weapons sound cool, they're a little difficult to use accurately: The flamethrower requires a nearly perfect hit to be effective, and finding the right range when tossing a Molotov cocktail can take several tries. But you'll get such a kick out of the enemies (22 in all) that you won't mind struggling to master the weapons one bit. Using the trappings of the Roaring Twenties as a touchstone, Logicware has created a crew of nasties who are as hilarious as they are dangerous. In the wooded area surrounding the mansion you'll meet shotgun-wielding hunters and their two-headed hounds of hell; you'll be tipped off to their presence when you hear the hunters whisper a throaty "Here boy!" and then chuckle ominously. Demonic clowns in festive polka-dot jumpers cackle as their arms windmill toward you in a dance of death; portly chefs roaming a flame-filled kitchen hurl knives and cleavers that slam into walls and columns when they miss their target; maids and serving girls with blood-covered blouses chase you down narrow corridors; grasshoppers spit acid in your face as their heads bob inquisitively - the list goes on and on.
Even though the enemies are 2-D sprites (as far as a piker like me can tell) they're rendered excellently, as are the scenery and object graphics. The musical score is also first-rate, building an ominous sense of dread before switching almost seamlessly to a hot jazz motif when you enter areas where Conway and friends were cutting the rug and guzzling bathtub gin those many years ago.
It's all a breath of very fresh air, especially after dealing with the pretentious ZPC or the throwback Alien Trilogy. But as you can see from a glance at my scores, Killing Time has a few problems in the gameplay department - the biggest and most glaring being the lack of any type of multiplayer option. Considering that multiplayer gaming is probably the hottest trend in PC entertainment software, such an oversight is at the very least inexplicable; even two or three multiplayer levels would give this game a much longer shelf life.
Another problem is the level designs. You're frequently forced to maneuver through cramped rooms and corridors in search of enemies and power-ups, which slows the action to a crawl. While there are a few puzzles to solve here (most based on finding an object to open passages or gain entrance to a new area), this is first and foremost a first-person shooter, where the real premium is on adrenaline rushes - and you don't get a lot of those when you're struggling just to move through a series of nooks, crannies, and tiny rooms.
Fortunately, Killing Time is challenging enough - and fun enough - that the vast majority of gamers will get their money's worth just by finishing the single-player game. It may not push the technological envelope, but I've never heard it said that a game has to use new technology to be enjoyable - and if someone has said that, this one's proof of how wrong they were.