Game Review - by James Allen
More and more companies are cross-selling their products: turning games into movies, movies into books, and, in this case, books into games. In Timeline, based on the Michael Crichton novel Timeline (coincidence? I think not), you assume the role of an archaeologist who must return to 14th century France to rescue your dear professor. Along the way, you encounter foes, tournaments, and general medieval stuff. Will Timeline be full of Dark Age goodness, or just full of it?
Michael Crichton formed Timeline Computer Entertainment just for this game, and oversaw all of its development. However, features are lacking. First off, there is no multiplayer, to duel with opposing knights across the world. You can take a tour of several areas in the game, with educational narration accompaniment by Mr. Jurassic Park himself. Sadly, this is not enough to add any replay value whatsoever to the game after you complete the single player mode. And, as you'll find out, the single player mode is pretty bad anyway. You are centered in a couple of villages in France, sent back in time to find your professor and bring him back to the present. Or something like that. The game takes so short to complete (usually under an hour), you'll be less interested in the story and wondering if there's anything more to Timeline. Stop looking, because there is not. At least the pain doesn't last forever.
In something that caught me off guard, sound is somewhat decent. The highlight of the game is that all of the characters verbally say what the text-based dialogue says. However, be prepared for sudden changes from olde Frenche to English and back again. It would have been nice if they would have done all of the French dialogue in French, and subtitled it above. It's strange when several characters talk in English then spontaneously switch back to French, and understand all of it. Were people that multilingual back then? The music is probably the best part of the game; an epic feel is conveyed, sadly the game does not deliver what the music promises. Apart from the dialogue and music, other ambient sounds are few and far between, and battle noises are repetitious and boring. Sigh.
There are many things wrong with gameplay. First off, it's totally linear; since it is based on a novel, you must do things in the correct order. This makes the game extremely difficult and frustrating when you can't figure out which button to push (a problem I am experiencing right now). The other characters are sometimes helpful, but they do spontaneously disappear on occasion. Luckily, you have a magic earpiece that lets the story move along when you get too far back from your friends. Thankfully, some of them die right off the bat: if you had a mean guy on a charging horse coming toward you, would you (a) step to the side to avoid the horse, or (b) attempt to run straight away from the horse, only for the horse to (obviously) catch up and kill you. That's right! B it is for Timeline. Fortunately, since you and your other partner are standing mere feet to the side, the evil horse rider doesn't hit you, or even attempt to chase and kill you. Good thing, or this would be a short game. Well, maybe that wouldn't be so bad.
The AI is really stupid and scripted at the same time. Once, while talking through a small window to your professor, the guards never notice you, EVEN WHEN THEY ARE TWO INCHES AWAY. They don't notice the professor talking to the heads in the wall? Who would hire these people? And things don't improve when you fight them. First off, you can't kill anyone, or the game is over. Secondly, the combat system consists of one thing: attack. Just hold attack, stand close to the enemy, and pray that you have enough health. They graciously surrender to your mighty sword/bow and arrow/stun gun. Oh, and you can't injure your friends either, even if they are standing in your way and you can't get by them. Trust me, it happens. It'd be nice to use the stun gun on yourself, to make this nightmare end.
The game is a potpourri of solving puzzles that make no sense and horrible combat. I think I'm having trouble with some of the puzzles because I think about them logically. When entering a castle, you must cross over to a roof, where the professor was taken. After wondering how he got up there with only one door, and the actual passageway on the roof serving no purpose, you try to find a way up there. First, you try to jump, but you can't clear more than two feet (plus, it's not a real part of the level anyway). Then, you eventually figure out that you need to move a crane up to a watchtower, and then climb on. It then MAGICALLY swings over to the other side. Laws of physics need not apply here. There are even holes in the story. When you enter the time travel machine the first time, you are told that the machine goes back to the exact same spot (a cave). That makes sense. However, on your second trip back, it magically changes locations to a chapel. Did they gain a new technology in the last half an hour? How can it appear in a totally different spot if they told you earlier it does not? You can even duel on horseback to unsatisfying results. I'll let you experience the exasperating fun of sliding down hills for yourself.
Graphics come in two extremes here: pretty good and downright awful. Most of the modeling for the buildings and people are nice, but once you encounter several specific areas, the graphics turn downhill really fast. Most of the textures are very low resolution, especially objects in the distance and certain objects in rooms. The coolest effect is fire, and everything goes downhill from there. I felt like I was playing a PlayStation game! If you include support for 1024x768, all of your graphics better look somewhat decent at that resolution. You can even tell how skies are done: you can see cracks where the walls and ceilings of the skies intersect. The movies are done at LOWER resolution than the game's textures! What is going on here? Obviously, corners were cut on textures in Timeline, and it conveys an overall unfinished feel.
Even Michael couldn't save this sinking ship. Poor graphics, horrid gameplay, and bare bones features all add up to a completely unrewarding and maddening experience. The only reason I can find to play this game is to realize how great other games really are. For a nauseating gaming experience, I suggest Timeline. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to free up 600 MB of hard drive space.