TimeShift as a game is saturated with the concept of time. Isn’t it then incredibly ironic that TimeShift has been one of the most famously delayed games in recent history? Or that it finally gets released now, right smack in the middle of one of the most competitive seasons for first person shooters ever? Ironic or just really unfortunate, you make the call. Either way it’s more than a little sad, because there’s nothing really wrong with TimeShift aside from being very average at a time when extraordinary is readily available elsewhere.
Don’t you just hate it when those wacky mad scientists go back in time and change history? You know, use their uber-knowledge of science to take over the world, yadda yadda, etc etc. Well, some renegade egghead has gone and done it again in his crazy time traveling suit, and you have to don a second time traveling suit to go back to stop him. Who, you may ask, are you exactly? Well, that’s not exactly clear. There’s some mystery about your identity, and some general pseudoscientific smoke and mirrors about multiple time lines and paradoxes and so on and so forth, but none of it is ever really explored or explained, and it probably doesn’t matter anyway. It’s all just an excuse for the time manipulation mechanics that TimeShift features, so if you were hoping for a rich narrative you’re really barking up the wrong tree.
As shooters go, TimeShift is about average in length, which is to say it’s reasonably short, and almost completely unremarkable in all ways. The environments in the past, which is where the entirety of the game takes place outside of cut-scene flashbacks to the future, are mostly bombed-out urban and industrial areas, and are pretty bland all around. The weapons, with one or two exceptions, are nothing special, with non-descript entries from the assault rifle, shotgun, rocket launcher, and sniper rifle families. There’s also an explosive bolt firing crossbow, which is sort of like the “for Dummies” version of Gears of War’s torque bow, and an energy rifle which if it did as much damage as it did make a crazy light show it would be the most powerful weapon in any game ever. It’s not. It’s okay. They’re all okay, just like the enemies, who are almost exclusively differently armored soldiers using the previously mentioned not-so-special weapons. They take cover and do all the usual things AI controlled goons do these days, and are effective fodder if none too exciting.
You’ll spend a lot of time running around fighting these grunts and hunting for buttons to press during the course of the story, with the occasional diversion of driving a no-frills ATV and obligatory turret gunner sections, until you’re ultimately rewarded with a final boss fight that is less than satisfying. What TimeShift counts on to set it apart is your character’s ability to manipulate time for fun and profit. What this boils down to is three separate powers—slowing time down, stopping time completely, and reversing time. Slowing time lets you abuse your enemies as they move at a snail’s pace, and stopping time is essentially the same except they don’t move at all and it burns through your energy bar faster. Reversing time is mostly reserved for some light puzzle solving and shedding undesirable sticky grenades from your person. Often you’ll be called on to use your time powers to avoid environmental hazards, but there’s never anything more to it than pushing the time power button at the right time. The game even selects the correct power for you. Yawn.
By now most of us have seen these bullet-time tricks before, in the likes of Max Payne, F.E.A.R., and even more recently Stranglehold, and we’ve seen them done better. Prince of Persia did wonderful things with time manipulation as a major gameplay element, but that level of finesse and creativity isn’t anywhere to be seen in TimeShift. Beyond the first few times that you run circles around slowed enemies or steal a weapon from a frozen foe it ceases to be anything special. You do it because you can, because you’re not terribly powerful without it, and because there’s nothing else to do. The so-called puzzles are hardly puzzling, except possibly for a few times when you won’t be able to find the right button to press.
All that wasted potential leaves TimeShift utterly mundane. There’s nothing wrong with it, in the sense that everything functions the way it’s supposed to, there just isn’t anything right with it either. Manipulating time is a super cool idea, but there’s nothing at all compelling about how it’s implemented here. Veteran FPS players are likely to be unimpressed, finding little challenge on even the hardest difficulty thanks to the ultra-effective time powers, and nothing of real merit in the lackluster multiplayer. Meanwhile shooter neophytes, who at least won’t be saddled with feelings of been-there-done-that, would be much better off with one of the truly great games that have landed recently (Call of Duty 4, Uncharted: Drake's Fortune, or The Orange Box, just to name a few). While TimeShift is perfectly adequate for killing a few hours, as a rental perhaps, it never elevates itself from merely okay, and if you only buy one shooter for the holidays you can do much better than this.