Rewind. "Who the f*** wants a puzzle?" It'll be a while before I forget my first experience of TimeShift two years ago, and the bravado of the developer presenting it.
He clearly believed he was putting on a good show, selling his sci-fi FPS purely on how its time-control gimmick facilitated pretend-man-killing. Puzzles? For losers. After the event, games journalists exchanged uh-ohs about the gaudy, braindead and characterless game.
Fast forward. What a difference a redesign and a new publisher makes. Finished at last, sporting a more grounded and consistent look, TimeShift is still stupid, but it's a focused stupidity. Puzzles? Apparently we the f*** did want puzzles, so they're here, but most can be solved in under 30 seconds and with a single button-press.
Yes, it's a long way from Half-Life, but clearly Valve aren't the only devs to understand the importance of constant forward motion. For a game involving time control, there isn't much stopping in TimeShift - it's a breathless sprint.
Waitasec. Time control? Sort of. The time travel element is no more than a plot hook to dump you in 1939, thanks to a baddie from today fleeing into the past. The in-game clock-interference is best thought of as tweaked bullet-time rather than actual chrononautery. There's none of Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time's rewinding from death, for instance. In fact, there's little thought involved at all.
The techno-suit you wear makes three forms of timeshifting possible (pause, slow, rewind), and you're (almost) free to use any of them, but you won't. Press F and TimeShift will pick pause or slow if you're in combat, or whichever of the three is needed to solve the nearest puzzle. Enemies slowed? Calmly head-shot 'em all. Enemies paused? Lob a grenade into their midst, or nick their guns. Either way, you'll feel in control and oh-so-cool.
Playing this way - and you will - creates a certain guilt that you're sidestepping some of the game's tactical thinking and complexity, but that's not the case.
Partly because claiming there's tactical thinking and complexity in TimeShift is like saying you buy Barely Legal for the articles; partly because there's enough variety of enemies and locales to stave off ennui; and partly because reaching for a single button, rather than dithering about which of three to press, keeps the game fast and exciting - and keeps you feeling like a superhero. Because that's what TimeShift's about.
It's a big dumb shooter in a way many of its peers fail to be, because it totally understands the importance of pacing. The two comparisons that spring to mind are SiN: Emergence - which tried a similar meatheadedness but tripped itself up with lousy cutscenes, wild difficulty spikes and no variety - and Half-Life 2.
The influence of its setting is hilariously obvious: TimeShift's action occurs in a steroidal version of the Combine-ravaged Earth, though with an all-human cast and more visual variety.
HL2's storytelling also informs TimeShift. There are just 18 cutscenes, most of which are under ten seconds long. The narrative is advanced primarily in NPC radio chatter, but amounts to no more than 'keep moving and killing'. For once, here's a game that knows that's all people want; there's none of that misguided faith in a hackneyed tale that plagues most action games.
Even the protagonist has no name, voice or face, keeping the star of the game as little more than an arm to hold the gun so as to keep up your own sense of involvement.
Unfortunately, this also means you're not sure what's going on beyond the box blurb. Why has this Doctor Krone (ouch) gone to the trouble of hiding in 1939? Apparently so the game can have a vaguely art deco/Soviet kitsch look.
What's his plan for the Earth? Apparently just to be mean to it. The reductionism of the tale means there's no humour, no characters to care about, no sense of purpose beyond 'kill!'. For once, that doesn't really matter.
Everything I hate about first-person shooters is in TimeShift: total linearity (though there are some open outdoor segments), non-functioning doors, excessive gore, evil scientist villains and a refusal to tango with most of my brain. But it knows it.
It's yesterday's testosterone nonsense clad in today's slickness, and savvy about the nature of fun.
More Timelol than Timelord