Version tested: Xbox 360
Relax! Do not adjust your internets! This is indeed a first-person shooter about manipulating the flow of time. But this one can do more than just slow it down! It can pause it and rewind it too! It might not sound like much, but this sort of evolutionary step gave us F.E.A.R., which took an old idea and made it all atmospheric and exciting again. Can TimeShift do the same?
It's certainly had long enough. Thrown back into development for an additional year, it now sees you, a scientist with a fancy time suit, jumping into an alternative timeline in search of another scientist with a fancy time suit, who has rebuilt the world in his image. Quickly dragooned into the local resistance, you set off in search of him, utilising your fancy suit's fancy abilities to press your new friends' case in violent fashion, solving the odd puzzle along the way.
Not that they need much solving, which is a shame. With your suit's built-in AI advising you of environmental obstacles (fire! electricity! etc!), and pre-selecting the appropriate time-shifting ability for a simple left-bumper tap, you won't have much trouble working out what to do. If there's a door that closes quickly in the vicinity of a switch that opens it, you can probably figure out the rest. If not, I doubt your computer made it out of the box and you're not even reading this. It gets a bit more complicated, but never enough to hold you up for longer than a few seconds.
Combat's more interesting. Slowing people down lets you smash them to bits with shotguns, assault rifles and sticky grenades, and you'll need to be on your toes in case one of those sails your way, because a quick rewind will detach it and save a chunk of your health bar. Although the game selects the most appropriate time tweak when you press LB, holding it and pressing a face button lets you pick and choose, so you'll need to get good at doing this on the fly. When you do, you'll be able to take advantage of the self-charging time-bar to pause enemies in a bottleneck and hurl a grenade into their midst.
Enemy AI isn't as advanced as F.E.A.R's though, and your radar shows you where everyone is anyway. And while the initial guns run out of ammo quite quickly, forcing you to sit back, pause time and dash in and out again, things get a lot easier when you can add things like the sniper rifle and particularly the crossbow to your three-weapon arsenal. The latter works like Gears of War's - fire a bolt, wait a second and watch your target explode - although the gibs aren't as delightfully silly as they are in Epic's alternative.
Which leaves, er, not a lot, actually. Unless you want to dwell on the bad. There's nothing wrong with simple puzzles, for instance, but they should always be satisfying. There aren't many in TimeShift that are. Slowing time to ride a spinning zeppelin blade is quite neat, but the abundance of see-saws (hop on, pause/slow, run, jump) and simple switch puzzles relegates them to a footnote. The lack of invention would be jarring anyway, but a month after Portal it just leaves you cold.
In combat, too, enemies are a bit too thick and generic to be troubling or interesting. Better ones, who dash around with their own primitive time-shifting gizmos, are more of a challenge, but once you pin them down and lash an explosive cross-bolt to their heads you're laughing. Albeit only on the first few occasions. And while we can understand enemies paused in time failing to react to being hit, surely the real-time one we've just shot in the chest with a shotgun ought to tweak a bit prior to the killing blow?
Environments and narrative development are a bit pedestrian too. The bleak dystopian opening is evocative of Terminator's future bits mixed with Half-Life 2's Breen voice-over opening, but quickly descends into a fairly simple set of running battles and siege elements, after which everyone says how amazed they are that you survived. You're amazing! You don't feel it. One good set-piece has you zipping through a building under heavy fire from the biggest ED 209 rip-off in history, but like the spinning blade it's the exception rather than the rule. Most of it lacks verve, and falls into bad old habits: snowy bit, sewer bit, turret bit, train ride. There's a certain satisfaction to riding a zeppelin doing a bit of Han Solo turret-gunning (don't get cocky) and using slow-mo to neuter the jet-planes, but that's more a case of laughing at a typical FPS scenario you've always groaned at because now you have the upper hand.
Played online, you get to deploy special time grenades, which slow down objects caught in their blast radius, and this has potential, which couples well to the overpowered weapons and makes things approachable for anyone who's spent a couple of hours tooling around the single-player. But it's by no means essential, and whether you're playing on PC or Xbox 360 (PS3 comes later), there are better ways to kill people already.
The latter point is TimeShift's problem all over. We've already had one good, and far more energetic time-fiddling shoot-'em-up recently with Stranglehold, but even if you didn't like that you can still reach for The Orange Box or Halo 3, both of which do offline and online FPS action with much more intelligence and imagination. It's not that TimeShift's a bad game; it's just a bit flat and uninspired, and doesn't add anything to the genre, or even the sub-genre, apart from a neat little phrase to use when you're referring to "time-shifting" abilities.
Graphics whores will like it - it's a solid 30 frames per second despite the occasional explosive indulgence, delivering tons of detail and some natty lighting effects - but, again, there isn't anything new here, and there needed to be if TimeShift was going to leave any sort of mark. As it is, the things it does are rife with potential it doesn't really exploit, and the result is adequate but nothing more - worth picking up in the January sales when you've overdosed on the competition, perhaps, but otherwise unremarkable. So, to return to the original point: no.
6 / 10