It's the 1st of January 1893. Herbert Wells prepares to realise a life's dream .. to travel through time. The design and construction of the Time Machine took almost ten years, but now it is ready to be tested.
Herbert starts the machine. With violent convulsions and bright lights, the machine is propelled into a temporal tunnel. Everything is functioning as it should, but suddenly the machine begins shaking again. With a blinding flash the machine appears in a strange city. According to the chronometer on the machine's console, he has traversed 800,000 years into the future.
Suddenly he is ejected from the seat, and the machine disappears. He is now trapped in the future, in a world totally strange to him. Temporal storms sweep through this world on a regular basis, robbing its inhabitants of their memories, and forever changing their period in life. You can be a child one minute, and an old man the next.
You soon learn that your time meddling has upset the very core of the universe itself, and you must help Herbert to unravel the secrets locked within the sand swept walls of Hourglass City, overcoming many puzzles and hazards in your quest to meet the man behind it all .. Khronos. Only then can you avert universal catastrophe and return home to your era.
The Book .. The Game
I love my adventure games to have a good solid story line, with believable characters, twists in the tale and for my interest to be held throughout. "The Time Machine" gets a head start straight away, being loosely based around the classic HG Wells book of the same name.
Indeed, the character you control is Herbert George Wells himself. Dressed in a Sherlock Holmes style costume, and speaking with an affable tone, he's everything you would expect from a late 19th century man.
The game begins with a stunning piece of video showing you Herbert's laboratory, and how he takes his machine on its maiden voyage. Video of equal quality can be seen in the middle of the game, and obviously the final scene. From the introductory video alone, you can tell the quality and attention to detail the developers have poured into this title.
Before We Begin
The Time Machine welcomes you with a neat menu interface, a construction of animated clock-cogs and golden rectangular menu buttons which makes it easy to manipulate.
From the menu you can change video resolution up to a maximum of 1600x1200, and I do recommend you try this. Even with my lowly Riva TNT2 the game still pumped out smoothly at this resolution! Audio and keyboard configuration can also be altered here. An option that is sadly lacking however is the ability to use a joypad of any sort. There aren't a lot of keys to memorise though, so keyboard play isn't too much of a hardship.
Finally you can load and save games through the interface, with a maximum of twelve slots available. A picture pops up in the middle of the interface to show you the stage you were at the time of saving. Useful if, like me, you give totally meaningless names to your save games!
City of the Hourglass
You begin the game in a side street, with empty pockets and no clue as to what you should do. In front of you is a crystal Nautilus, which you need to pick up, as the spiral shell acts as your inventory selector. It also shows your energy level via the internal spiral, and the amount of "Jad Garrul" you have in the outer spiral. Jad Gurrul allows you to cast spells, and if this runs out you will need to top it up again soon.
Further exploration will take you out into a street blocked by a cart, and a small market square. It certainly has you draw breathe in admiration - the world you are walking around is full of people, and you can press your 'use' key to speak to any of them if you wish.
Most you will find don't have much time to speak with you, but some will offer you valuable clues and suggestions that will help you understand what to do next. You will find old people stooped over and shuffling along, young children wandering around, sometimes alone, sometimes accompanied by an adult. People stand in the streets chatting, others go about their business.
The population of the city really gives a believable setting. You can quite believe that these people have done what they are doing for years. Their ways and methods are far different to what Herbert is used to though, with the main confusion starting with why they are so obsessed with time.
You will soon learn that time is everything in this game. You won't have travelled very far before you experience the first temporal wave ripping through the city, and when it has passed you will have turned into a child. But whereas the inhabitants have all lost their memories, yours remains intact...
Of course, like any game, you have enemies to contend with. The city guards will be quite happy for you to roam the streets in the beginning, but further down the line you won't be able to breathe without one of them firing on you!
As an Effahid (child) you are not well liked by some of the guards. Being small does have its advantages though, as you will discover. You will also be turned from Effahid to Vissahid (old man) later in the game, and back to your normal self. All very disconcerting...
The temporal waves themselves are a joy to watch. A big wave of blue light sweeps ominously across the lands, reverting anything in its path from youth to old age to middle age again. The sound the wave makes is like a hurricane, and sounds excellent with the volume cranked up!
Meet the Shekandars
The key to your progression within the game is to learn about the Shekandar monks, and (with their help) to awaken your chronomantic powers. These spells are learnt inside Chronomantic Spheres, which look small from the outside but each contain a vast cavern.
Spells are shown as floating crystals, radiating a cool blue. Simply touch one of these spells and you will learn it. The sphere also enables you to practice your spell casting without any detriment to your Jad Gurrul. A key toggles between normal combat and spell modes, and when in spell mode the icon for the spell you currently have selected will appear to the right of your energy indicator. Simply press the action key to launch the spell at your enemy.
Perhaps the most clever of the spells is Slow Motion, which actually causes yourself or your enemy to slow, while the whole world carries on around you. Other spells allow you to shield yourself against magic and attacks. You can also freeze enemies, or drive them insane with the song of the Mermaids of Time. Don't ask!
It's not all magic and wizardry though. In fact, the first sort of weapon you will come across is the Wrist Jadgar. This is the weapon of choice for the guards, and fires out a blue bolt which can take the enemy down with four or five shots. You will find the higher priests later on will take more than the Jadgar to take down though.
The only other weapon I managed to find is the Chronophore, a weapon of pure chronomantic power. This little baby fires out bright green bolts, and makes mincemeat out of the opposition. There may well be other weapons in the game that I have not discovered, as there are a few secrets and sub-missions to be discovered.
The combat system is not the best in the world though. A lot of the time you just cannot see the enemy you are fighting. Getting too close in on the more powerful Priests or Lemurs is a painful exercise, so the need for keeping your distance is paramount. This often forces you to fire at an enemy off-screen, hoping you are making an impact.
Sometimes you will find that an enemy can quite happily fire at you from his vantagepoint, but you can't fire back, merely hitting the parapet the enemy is standing in. Not funny, especially when you have little or no health to risk close combat.
Graphics and Sound
Saving the best for last... The location graphics in the game are simply breathtaking. Although the locations are the usual pre-rendered backdrops, a rotational system is employed to make them wrap and rotate around the main character. The 3D effect this produces is remarkable.
The characters themselves are 3D real time rendered, and blend in nicely with the backgrounds. Animation is a little on the rigid side, with some of the characters walking more like robots than people. The whole look and variety of the models more than makes up for this though.
A lot of the location graphics also need fine-tuning. Although they look splendid, you will often see blocky groups of pixels on the exterior of the main graphic. This is particularly noticeable when a character walks behind part of a location.
The soundtrack to The Time Machine is perhaps one of the most original I've heard. Mixing all sorts of styles together, the composers have created a unique blend. I can only describe it all as a little bit of Chinese, a hint of Indian, and a smattering of New Age style. The result is a mysterious set of tunes, which compliment the equally mysterious game perfectly.
Unfortunately it's not all good news though - the voice acting is woeful to say the least. Things start out okay, with Herbert's voice being perhaps the only reasonable effort, but Herbert as a child sounds like the adult voice has been used again with the pitch ramped up. I may be wrong here, but helium balloons spring to mind...
The old women sound remarkably like the wicked Witch of the North from the Wizard Of Oz, while the evil Tetradon Logor Shar doesn't sound evil at all, sounding more like something from Doctor Who. They all speak so slowly too. Fortunately it is all subtitled though, so you can always read ahead and skip on to the next bit, although some scenes just can't be skipped. Gah!
The Time Machine had me glued to my seat from start to finish. That in itself gets the game a merit. Graphically it is possibly the finest 3D adventure to grace my PC yet. With an original soundtrack accompanying it all, the whole game oozes atmosphere.
Some will find the puzzles in the game a little too far fetched, but in the main they are logical and well thought out. The biggest problem I found was actually knowing what to do next! You don't have a nice friendly arrow pointing at the next person you should speak with, or the next object you should collect. You're very much on your own! The combat system is a little messy, and can result in frequent visits to the "Game Over" animation. The variety of spells at your disposal makes up for this though, allowing you to perform some nasty combinations.
But perhaps what stands out most of all is the brilliant story that unravels before your eyes. From start to finish it encapsulates you and never lets go. The game also boasts one of the finest end sequences to a game I've seen in a long while. Have you ever had one of those situations where you sit staring at the end credits in awe of what you've just experienced? The Time Machine certainly had that effect on me.
Download The Movie
Try before you buy! Download the (French language only!) Time Machine demo (165Mb)