When murderous Dr. Aiden Krone steals an experimental 'Alpha Suit' from a research facility and performs a perilous time jump across the space-time continuum - leaving a trail of death and devastation in our world - the player is tasked with sliding into the remaining 'Beta Suit' prototype in order to track down the insane scientist before he can expand the realms of his madness. However, following Krone leads the player to a dark and dangerous version of Earth, where Krone rules as the evil 'Magistrate' and a ragtag uprising is battling bravely for freedom against his mercilessly oppressive military regime.
The big selling point of Saber Interactive and Sierra's TimeShift is, unsurprisingly, the physical manipulation of time itself within the conventional gameplay confines of a first-person shooter. And the action presented as the (unnamed) player aids the resistance movement in their struggle against Krone's forces certainly manages to conjure up interesting dynamics never before seen in the overcrowded FPS genre.
For example, the Beta Suit and its onboard S.S.A.M. artificial intelligence combine to provide the player with instant tactical assistance, medicinal enhancements, neural stimuli, and, most importantly, the power to temporarily stop, slow, and rewind the passage of time. By strategically utilising the Beta Suit's time functions during TimeShift's frantic battles, which are often against overwhelming numbers of enemies, the player is able to gain an (undoubtedly unfair yet thoroughly satisfying) advantage over Krone's troops.
When using time 'Stop', the entire screen freezes allowing the player to freely move around unopposed within any given environment while shooting at, or planting grenades on, any enemies within range, before time shifts forward once more. Damage is not afflicted on enemies until the Beta Suit's charged time gauge is exhausted, which then prompts some extremely eye-opening examples of blood-engulfed rag doll physics. Also, by stopping time, the player can remove weaponry from paused enemies, which offers a degree of amusement when time resumes and a puzzled foe stares bemused at his empty hands immediately prior to the player turning the liberated weapon back on him.
Time Slow works in a similar fashion to Stop, but enemies are still able to track the player's movements and fire upon him. Naturally, when targeted at, range enemies have little chance of delivering any significant damage, though that advantage diminishes when in close confines. Slow's main benefit over Stop is that the Beta Suit's time gauge empties considerably slower when only decreasing the speed of on-screen action, allowing the player to dodge and weave between targets delivering a much more effective payload of death in one fell swoop.
Both time Slow and time Stop are integral while in battle, which leaves time Reverse as the main point of interaction when facing TimeShift's sporadic and somewhat shallow puzzle elements. These arrive in various forms, ranging from the simple reversal of time to remove a sticky Clutch Grenade from the Beta Suit (an action that nets Achievement points), rebuilding a walkway blown out moments before by a rocket blast, or even changing the direction of a munitions conveyer belt so that the player can jump on and pass back into an area otherwise inaccessible. Time Stop is also occasionally required during a few puzzle obstacles, with the player pausing time so that the likes of electrified barriers, fire plumes, and motion-reacting minefields can be successfully traversed without sustaining negative physical effect.
In essence, the time powers in TimeShift are an excellent gameplay addition and are certainly compelling at the outset in terms of fun-filled immersion. Sadly, however, the genuine attraction of using time manipulation to progress the action occurs solely through the intermittent puzzle aspects, and they are too few and far between to really endear the gameplay beyond the idea that you, as the player, are cheating through an unfair advantage on the battlefield.
Specifically, while enemy forces are numerous and ever-willing to obliterate the resistance NPCs and the mysterious wearer of the Beta Suit that runs with them, performing Slow and Stop attacks while seeking cover between time charges sees initially thrilling gunfights quickly devolving into shallow rinse and repeat predictability. That feeling of being an all-but invincible one-man army becomes even more evident around the mid-point of the 10-12 hour single-player campaign, when the scoped Crossbow and its wildly powerful exploding bolts come into play. Needless to say, it deflates the action to a worrying degree when able to slow time and virtually clear a battle zone through the allocation of decapitating bolts that kill in a single hit - despite the multitude of fleshy explosions showcased as time finally ticks onward.
Reduced difficulty is magnified by the fact that ammunition supplies are rarely hard to secure, which is one aspect that would at least have forced the player away from their weapon of choice. Of course, players may wish to actively cycle through the rest of TimeShift's varied arsenal, but it's not as though the Crossbow is the only weapon that adds to the advantage laid down by the game's time powers. All of the weaponry available to the player comes with primary and secondary functions, be that the single and duel-shot Shattergun, the fully automatic and grenade-launching Karbine, the flame-throwing Hellfire pistol, or the multipurpose Rocket Launcher - and all are fairly devastating against enemies that are either moving at a crawl or not at all.
If it were stripped of its core time powers TimeShift would be lacking in originality but would perhaps be a stronger first-person shooter for it. Choosing to advance without the use of time powers (which is ridiculous given the fundamental nature of the experience on offer) reveals TimeShift to be a solid and dependable FPS experience that certainly outperforms a great many genre titles clogging up gaming's most popular category.
Aesthetically, TimeShift has no problem proving its worth once leaving the gritty and grey confines of Krone's rain-soaked Alpha District, where the adventure begins and ends, and some of the later missions are positively bursting with pleasing "oh, that's nice" visual touches. The same goes for the music, sound effects, and NPC chatter, all of which ably accompany the graphics performance without ever threatening to eclipse it.
That being said, while graphics might be the selling point for a great many consumers, they are not the foundation that (most) reviewers build their critical assessment upon; while vital elements such as design originality, feature innovation, and gameplay execution most definitely are. Oddly, TimeShift's unique gameplay sags beneath the weight of its own innovation because its developers have failed to follow the idea through convincingly, and its originality is also left limping from the battlefield when factoring in extremely linear level design and an unsettling sensation that Half-Life 2 was used all-too often as a blueprint for how to construct a working FPS game.
While the latter point isn't necessarily a bad thing considering the source material being used as inspiration, the recurring Quad bike segue missions and constant Magistrate public tannoy chatter while in the Alpha District swing perilously close to plain old theft. Ultimately, although TimeShift is a solid shooter in many ways and has the seeds of success sown into it, there are simply too many undercooked elements peppered throughout the experience for it to ably thrust forward from the shadow of much bigger and much better FPS entrants that have graced 2007 with genuine 'Game of the Year' wow factor.