Timeline is based on the Michael Crichton novel of the same name and was developed by Timeline Computer Entertainment. This cozy relationship doesn't bode well for the game. In fact, it's hard to understand what Timeline is supposed to be. It borrows good ideas from many different action games, but it isn't very fun. It's based on a lengthy page-turner; yet, it manages to include very little story of its own. And it is so short and easy that it seems like little more than a tutorial for a better game.
As Timeline begins, you are being trained in the protocols and procedures for time travel. You are Chris Hughes, a graduate student who must travel to 14th-century France to rescue his professor. The game skips much of the buildup in the book, including the pseudoscience that explains the theory of time travel, the suspense that leads up to the disappearance of the professor, and any explanation of just who these characters are. You are simply thrust into a world where time travel is possible, and you are about to do it.
Once you reach 14th-century France, a major setback threatens to cause problems with your mission plan. In any other game, this would be the event that triggers a whole series of events. But in Timeline, it seems to have little impact at all on your mission. Much of the game is like this: Some significant event occurs, which would seem to be the start of a clever new twist, only to be resolved within a few moments. For instance, at one point in the game, your character is shrunk down in size to a mere three inches tall. It's an interesting development, but it's over within minutes of occurring.
Timeline's structure doesn't lend itself to player involvement. It plays like a first-person shooter, though the actual action is more reminiscent of platform games like Rayman 2. The game is broken into chapters: Each chapter is short, and each consists of one easily accomplished task. When you first get to France, you'll need to slide down a hill, all the while avoiding rocks. Later, you'll need to joust in a tournament. Still later, you'll need to climb across rafters to a window. There aren't many chapters, and the whole game actually won't take more than an hour or two to finish. Each task is short and easy, and it's hard to imagine anyone needing more than a couple of attempts at any of them. The fact that the chapters are so distinct is somewhat jarring, so that at times it seems as if Timeline is just a collection of scenes from different action games.
The combat sequences in Timeline are poor. Timeline borrows a bit from Looking Glass Studios' Thief: The Dark Project; you are warned early in the game that you aren't allowed to kill anyone. You are given weapons that are meant to stun, not kill. But you'll learn quickly that avoiding fatal conflict isn't really an issue. Instead of having to sneak past potentially violent encounters, you'll find that it's simply impossible to kill anyone. Even in swordplay against the main villains (who, again, are never really introduced or established), your opponent simply surrenders if you win the fight. And why there are "stun arrows" lying around in 14th-century France is never explained.
Yet perhaps the most disheartening thing about Timeline is its almost complete lack of story. There's a bit of setup and a few small twists along the way - but unless you've read the novel, which is included with the game, it's doubtful you'll have any idea why anything is happening, who any of these people are, or, most importantly, why you should care. The game does have a tour mode, which doesn't develop the story, but it does reveal a little about the time period. Crichton himself narrates and explains the customs of 14th-century France as you walk around the game's locales. It's an interesting history lesson, but it adds little to the game.
The graphics in Timeline are fairly good though somewhat bland, and the engine renders outdoor environments particularly well. The voice acting is good, though your sidekick's habit of explaining exactly what you should be doing makes the game even easier than it already is.
Even if it's meant to be an action game for nongamers, Timeline isn't very successful. The game is far too short, and the puzzles would be easy for even the most novice gamers. There are some interesting ideas that crop up occasionally, but they, like everything in Timeline, aren't given enough time to develop. When the game is over, which is very quickly, you'll hardly remember a thing about it.