We're not sadistic bastards by any stretch of the imagination. We'll give over our seats on the underground to elderly folk and those suffering from pregnancy, cross roads only when the green man is showing and never, ever, under any circumstances set fire to innocent people. In normal life, that is.
Hand us a controller and a copy of TimeShift, however, and it's fried Krone soldier every night of the week. We're sitting in a quiet room just off the main lobby in Atari's London offices and we have to wonder if our demented cackling is starting to worry the poor lady behind the desk at reception...
Perhaps we'd better explain. We've been sitting in a comfy chair for the better part of an hour with Atari's new first-person shooter. We were given an initial outline of the story, which is a cross between the Butterfly Effect theory, much-maligned Jean Claude Van Bam Hollywood 'blockbuster' TimeCop and that episode of The Simpsons where Homer accidentally destroys the delicate fabric of the universe with a time machine made from a toaster. But it's mostly just an excuse to show off a funky, frantic time altering gun-toting firefight of a first-person shooter. Some two hours later we stumble back out into the chill winter with ears still ringing from massive explosions and a head rolling with mixed emotions. You see, for better or worse, TimeShift harks back to the glory days of the FPS genre, way back in the 1990s...
The weapons are the first clue. It's like a 1993 Videogaming Weapons catalogue - we've got pistols, rifles, sniper scopes, plasma guns and even the mandatory grenade launcher. Yet the feel of each weapon somehow retains that old school magic, making each a joy to discover and use. We spent a lot of our time just enjoying the feel of each as we pried them off the cold dead hands of the enemies we just killed.
A GUN THAT FIRES TIME?
The second clue is in the gameplay. The time controlling device, envisioned in time-honoured fashion by a segmented energy bar at the bottom of the screen, isn't as daring as we'd hoped. Dropped into a partially destroyed subway on the first level, we first got to grips with the ability by freezing a fire hampering our exit, allowing us to pass through unharmed. We then reused it to pass by six automated gun turrets undetected.
In case you're in any doubt as to what to do, a pop-up window will tell you exactly what time power is required, and how to use it. This has the worrying potential to ruin any head-scratching in later levels, although we're told the team is still tweaking things - they're currently considering an on/off toggle option for the tooltips, wisely, in our opinion. Later levels showed few variations of the 'get out of danger/hit two switches' puzzles, which remained fun, but were uninspiring.
The puzzles seem a throwback to the days when you'd be lucky to receive any task that required even a modicum of brain-power, but TimeShift's heart is in the firefights, which represent an unashamedly balls-out riff to the greatest gun battles of yesteryear. We followed our renegade squad in a do-or-die mission, storming a Krone Stronghold. For the next 15 minutes or so the courtyard assumed an Unreal Tournament atmosphere as the battle with troops descended into an almighty scrabble for the biggest guns.
BLINX AND YOU'LL MISS IT
It's in these intense moments that TimeShift's time-altering ability is shown for what it truly is - an aid to survive overwhelming odds in the most enjoyably sadistic fashion possible.
An enemy soldier picks up a Plasma Crossbow, nailing one of ours with one shot. Taking cover nearby, we freeze time and run past the soldier, lifting the crossbow out of his frozen hands. A quick tap of Y unfreezes time and we allow him a brief moment of confusion at his situation before returning the favour with a plasma bolt to his head.